It's having a hard time generating any positive reviews, but on watching the movie Battle: Los Angeles last night, I was pleasantly surprised.
In fact, better than that, I enjoyed it.
I don't usually hold much hope for disaster movies, especially considering the last one I reviewed: the much hyped - but ultimately rubbish - doomsday flick "2012." Scientific accuracy was forgotten in 2012, compounding an already weak plot, ultimately making a bad movie worse.
Enter Battle: LA.
An alien invasion? Check. Marines fighting in the streets of Santa Monica? Check. Michelle Rodriguez with a big gun? Check. Aaron Eckhart in an action movie?! Come on, it has all the hallmarks of being a laughable alien romp. How the heck could such a disgrace have any real science associated with its plot line?
Before I shock you and actually go on the record as endorsing this movie, there will be some mild spoilers, so stop now if you want to remain vague about what happens next. Otherwise, carry on.
Meteors! Aliens! Aliens in Meteors!
OK, so we start the movie being thrown right into the middle of the action. The military is being sent to the front lines (i.e. the hellhole that is Santa Monica) after aliens land off the Los Angeles beaches.
Director Jonathan Liebesman obviously wanted to give this a heavy Black Hawk Down feel, so the entire thing is shot documentary style. I don't think this was a bad choice (full disclosure: I liked Black Hawk Down), although it did take my brain a few moments to stop those travel sickness pangs.
After an intense beginning, we backtrack to get to know our main character U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Micheal Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) 24 hours before he is sent into the war zone. We also meet the rest of the Marines off-duty. Sure, the dialog is cheesy but who said Marines needed to speak like Shakespeare anyway? I don't care, I just want to see the alien invasion fleet.
And there they are. We start seeing news reports about a "swarm" of "meteors" that NASA is tracking. Apparently, they've never been seen before and they are heading right for us! EVERYONE PANIC!!
No, wait, no one is panicking.
It might be because the newscasters keep talking about these "meteors" - as we all know by now, meteors are only meteors when they enter the atmosphere. And meteors tend to be small. If I heard "swarm of meteors" on the news, I'd be thinking "Oh pretty shooting stars!" not "Oh no! We're gonna die!"
Before a meteor becomes a meteor, when they are floating in space they are asteroids, or if they're small, "meteoroids." But to be honest, scientific accuracy to one side, if this really happened, I wonder how many news anchors would bother understanding the difference between asteroids, meteors, meteroids and meteorites anyway.
So, these "meteors" start hitting off the coasts of main cities around the world (hint: they're meteorites now). What's more, before they splash down, scientists are pointing out on the TV that these objects are "slowing down" before they hit. "Hm, that's a bit odd," everyone thinks. At last, some mild panic and the Marines are mobilized. Something is looking fishy on the beaches.
This is when the fun begins. Sunbathers run, aliens appear out of the surf, reporters are shot at and mass hysteria finally takes hold. The "textbook" military invasion under way.
I think this portion of the movie was handled pretty well. Although it could have done with a little more suspense, it's certainly not deserving of the crappy press it has received. Plus, I was looking out for science atrocities, but so far, that was at a minimum. I think the reasons for this was that Liebesman didn't want to get into the reasons why aliens were invading, he wanted to show us - with acute realism - that they are invading. No time for explaining. And I think that tactic worked well.
The Marines are sent on a mission to rescue a group of civilians stuck in a Santa Monica police station... behind enemy lines. As many reviewers have commented, we are bombarded with news of wars elsewhere, bringing the front line to our back yard is pretty shocking and, well, alien.
So this sets the pace for the rest of the movie, eerie smoke-filled street scenes, alien ambushes and intense battle sequences. Think Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day (with less humor) and you have Battle: Los Angeles.
Although there's minimal explanation for the invasion, we get snippets of news reports throughout giving us hints about why we are being exterminated at a shockingly vicious rate. These aliens have absolutely no regard for human life, so why are they here?
A random scientist appears in one of those reports saying, and I'm paraphrasing, "We're the only planet in our nearby universe that has liquid water on the surface." These extraterrestrials have invaded Earth for its water, after all, 70% of the surface is covered in the stuff.
This part of the movie I really liked, it played right into the current discussion of exoplanets, in particularly exoplanets situated inside the habitable zones of their stars. As accurately explained, "habitable" planets appear to be rare, and the habitable zone is where water can exist in its liquid state. Earth is one of those worlds, and therefore we have the aliens' motivation for invading. They want our liquid water and they are using it to fuel their rampaging war machines.
I also liked the fact that this alien race wasn't overly technically superior to us. Their flying machines looked as if they used rockets (or jets) to get around, the aliens weren't foolproof and they adopted similar warfare strategies to us.
So, overall, Battle: Los Angleles was an action movie, with aliens. We didn't get to know our foes, because they were too busy killing us. Our platoon of Marines battle on and accidentally discover the alien's weak point. I won't explain what it was, but if you remember the plot of Independence Day, there are some similarities.
It's not the best movie I've seen, but it isn't as bad as the panning it has received by the critics. The story kept me on the edge of my seat, the characterization was fine for what it was, the action scenes were awesome and the science was, for all intents and purposes, generally sound (although I wish the aliens were a little more... alien). It's an alien-action thriller that does what it says on the tin.
UPDATE: Thanks to Marvin Radding for pointing this out (I forgot about it), but according to the news reports near the start of the movie, they say that the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the swarms of "meteors" when they were 4 hours away from Earth. Hubble would not have been used to image the objects, that would have been left to ground-based systems that specialize in near-Earth asteroid hunting.
Interestingly, over at RottenTomatos.com, the overall critic score is a woeful 33 percent. However, the average audience rating is 71 percent. Perhaps the critics have taken Battle: Los Angeles a little too seriously?
It's a war movie with aliens. In Los Angeles. Nothing deeper.