While watching Battle: Los Angeles, I was reminded of Mike Davis' book Ecology of Fear. In a section entitled "The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles," Davis writes, "The City of Angels is unique, not simply in the frequency of its fictional destruction, but in the pleasure that such apocalypses provide to readers and movie audiences. The entire world seems to be rooting for Los Angeles to slide into the Pacific or be swallowed by the San Andreas fault." Davis also claims, "No city, in fiction or film, has been more likely to figure as the icon of a really bad future (or present, for that matter)." But although it's part of a long, rich, and perverse American artistic tradition, Jonathan Liebesman's hyperactive yet enervating new film cannot be excused.
After 20 minutes of forgettable character-development footsie at a military base, Aaron Eckhart and the gang of scrappy Marines of Battle: Los Angeles spring into action when aliens land off the coast of Santa Monica and start annihilating surfers and newscasters. The next 100 minutes are chock-full of shouting, shooting, and chaos. But in an unforeseeable coincidence, this fictional — and therefore "fun" — scenario rubs up against the real-world disaster unfolding half a world away. Its first line of intelligible dialogue announces a "meteor shower off the coast of Tokyo." One wonders if this unintentional prophecy dampened anyone's enthusiasm for the explosions and carnage that follow.
Probably not, because the film's abominable editing offers little time and space for reflection. Battle: Los Angeles is a landmark of ADHD filmmaking: Perhaps six shots in the whole film last longer than seven seconds, and the average shot lasts about four. This sweaty, shifty-eyed, twitchy rhythm, which may have been used to convey the Marines' anxiety during combat, quickly grows exhausting. It also destroys meaning, because the shaky story, flat characters, and peekaboo action sequences are reduced to rubble.
But duh, this film isn't pitched at people interested in cinematic style — it's for people who want to see some ass-kicking, goddamnit! And based on this weekend's box-office returns and Internet comments, this movie has its fans — folks who are excited by the notion of "Harvey Dent killing aliens" but mad as hell because "most movie critics will not like [the movie] because most movie critics are liberal therefore they won't like anything that portrays the military in a fair manner which is sad to say."
If anything, though, the soldiers in the film are portrayed very well indeed. Every harebrained hunch or scheme about how to defeat the alien attackers turns out to be correct. No, the soldiers are fine; it's the rest of the movie that should be carpet-bombed.