1. Long title. I'm going for a record here.
2. "Panning" is not the correct word. Critics aren't just panning, they're attacking Battle: LA, and though they've never quite agreed with the general public when it comes to films, their strong opinion when it comes to this movie is causing a lot of conversation, and I think it's time to throw in my hat.
I have to start out by saying that I really, really, enjoyed Battle: Las Angeles. I will give you the simple dialogue and lack of character development, but as far as an alien invasion movie goes, this one sure does hit the spot. It is a blockbuster "popcorn flick" that delivers on its promise, and so it is my opinion that you cannot fault it for its lesser elements. This film has been compared to video games (First Person Shooters as well as cut-scenes) and past movies such as Black Hawk Down. You won't find any argument from me on those fronts; especially the video game analogy. That's the reason I thought this movie worked on some level, because you had a sense of the goals and mission, but mostly because this movie kept to one perspective: that of the squad. More on that later.
They say that once you've been in the military it will ruin all films involving the military in some form. This has been true for me, being a veteran of the U.S. Navy, numerous times. The only exception to the rule so far has been The Hurt Locker, but even that straddled over the line a lot and was more cinematic than it was accurate. Movies like Black Hawk Down, The Thin Red Line, and Saving Private Ryan are other good examples, but you can still bet the filmmakers took their liberties.
That's not the case with Battle:LA. Here we have a story that is very accurate, as far as my experience, from start to finish. (well, maybe not the ending, but keep in mind we're talking about science-fiction and alien invasion here, so I'm really saying "as accurate as we can imagine.) This is mostly due to the representation of the soldiers, how they carried themselves and reacted to situations, as well as the subtle technical nuances of the military as a whole and as a unit. Some of my favorite aspects represented on screen were the setting up of the Forward Operating Base (FOB), the seemingly simple task given to the squad (as opposed to the "We'll drop you into the chaos and you shoot" mentality,) and also the individual focus each member of the team had on the mission instead of what was going on around them (which may not seem accurate, but trust me, it is.)
I can't say much about the accuracy of the representation of the aliens, but I will say their presence was effective. The film gave us very little information about them, and the ambiguity of it all played perfectly to the tone of the movie.
There were moments where my imagination could run wild because of the limited information/influence from the world outside of what the squadron was going through. One particular scene involves the soldiers trying to figure out the weak spot of the extra-terrestrials, and so they have to resort to some drastic measures. I won't spoil anything here, but I imagined being one of those aliens and stumbling upon the aftermath of the scene, and the anger I might've had once I saw what had taken place. This is obviously not represented in the movie itself, but I felt like it left room for that type of speculation.
One other subtle moment was when a little girl grabbed the hand of a marine, out of fear, while they were hiding from a major threat and trying not to be detected. The camera never panned to show us the face of that Marine, did not try an emotional beat by showing us the main character, and so it became like an image suspended in time. This was an anonymous marine that this girl just happened to be next to, and she grabbed the nearest hand she could find. There is a certain protection this girl was looking for, possibly we are all looking for, and knowing that it is a Marine's job to protect she latches on. This marine, I can imagine, could feel her need for protection, and I don't doubt it crossed his mind that, though he didn't know this girl and he had no time to be sidetracked, it was his responsibility to possibly lay his life on the line for this girl, so he let her take his hand to give her the comfort she needed; regardless of how much he might want to stay alive himself - regardless of his own fears.
It was only a split second, but these are the things I came up with in my mind.
With these things in mind this movie plays to the general public, especially those in America, a little biased. You will have no choice but to root for the home team, and indeed you will cheer. Somehow there is a sense of dread, of realism, that if this were to happen, "who would we want to win?" There will be no sympathy for the visitors, and regardless of how you feel about war on our own planet, this movie will make you proud to call yourselves, if not americans, but also human beings. At least, it wants you to feel that way, in my opinion.
That said, the perspective of this film is entirely on this one group of soldiers (and one airman), and this is where I get the most enjoyment. There is no political agenda. There are not various viewpoints in which we see this invasion, other than what these marines are seeing for themselves, and so it keeps everything focused. As to what is happening elsewhere in the world, beyond the small glimpses we get from this crew, it is left all to speculation. Basically, as an audience, we are along for the ride and nothing else.
I've heard it argued that in this movie all the marines look the same, that it is hard to tell them apart, and that they're basically cliches of every other movie. I'm arguing that all soldiers are, believe it or not, basically the same, and that this story was not about the characters, but moreso about what one squad did to help turn the tide in a war.
I received a book in boot camp that basically has tales just like this. Various stories of sailors who overcame great obstacles during the various wars in history. This is basically one of those tales. There may not be a strong sense of internal conflict with the characters, nor individuality, as is true with the military in real life, but it is a story of valor and integrity. We may not be able to relate to them individually, but we can get a sense of what they were going through, and that is more than enough.
There's another book that is like this, and it is World War Z.
WWZ is a fictional, yet very realistic, account of what the world would go through (or "went" through in the tense of the narrative) should the zombie apocalypse actually happen. It is a series of stories, separated by chapter, as opposed to a singular narrative with reoccurring characters throughout. We see the zombie apocalypse, in three stages, from the perspectives of many types of people including civilians, soldiers, and other cultures. The rights of the book have been bought and there has been a movie adaptation planned for a little more than a year now (with Brad Pitt supposedly attached). No word has come out as to when they'll begin shooting, but I can't help but wonder if the same people who dislike Battle:LA will feel the same with WWZ, and how will it effect the movie if it hasn't come out yet?
Battle:LA plays out like a singular chapter in that book, with the obvious exception that we're dealing with aliens, not zombies. People have claimed Battle:LA as "The end of cinema" because of it's lack of...well...I'm not sure what...but I can tell you that if they think that of this movie, then it won't bode well for the WWZ movie.
Let me backtrack by saying that WWZ, the book, is far superior to Battle:LA; though I believe the latter leaves the door open for multiple interpretations/perspectives/styles just like WWZ. That said, with the amount of perspectives needed to cover within WWZ, the movie, I doubt we'll get the chance to get any more in depth with the characters than we did in Battle:LA. Yes, it will still have more range, no doubt, to ease the minds of most of the cinefiles who felt like there was no scope in Battle:LA, but beyond the zombie apocalypse as a whole we're still not going to get much from the characters lives.
Each chapter plays a part, a snippet of the whole, and that's what I think Battle:LA did well if we consider it a singular chapter of the greater story. It's just unfortunate that the critics don't see it that way, and so despite the popularity of the WWZ book, I can imagine it will get still worse reviews than even Battle:LA was able to garner. The good news is that, as far as the population at large is considered, the movie seems to be a hit, and though I won't consider it one of my favorite movies ever, I will defend that it was by far my favorite outing to the theater this year.
What do you think? Did you enjoy Battle: Las Angeles? Are you excited for the World War Z movie or do you think it will fail based on the reviews of Battle:LA? Should they split up WWZ into multiple movies? With perhaps multiple directors?
Mattias is an actor, writer, filmmaker, and editor currently living in Los Angeles, CA. He often writes about his observations about life, the human condition, spirituality, and relationships. He also enjoys writing about movies, pop culture, formula one, and current events. Often these writings are 'initial thoughts' and un-edited, as authentic as possible, and should be considered opinions. If you're interested in commenting on his work, or continuing the conversation, you should consider following him on Twitter or share an article on social media, where he would love to engage even further. Consider subscribing via RSS for more.