Or World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles, but certainly NOT Battle of Los Angeles.
When the trailer for this film was released, I was really keen to see it, because the trailer was just so good; however I still had some apprehension and didn't actually see this until someone bought me a ticket. Then... well my opinion on this film was so confused that I didn't really know how to explain it.
Someone would ask me what I thought about it and I would say: "It's great and it sucks." Finally I said that one too many times and now I have to try and explain myself, the only way I know how - through a timely review!
The essential problem facing this movie is that it decided to mix two extremely different genres, which at first don't seem all that different to begin with - which might be why the filmmakers thought it would work really well. I'm going to get back to this topic later, but what I want to say here is that in my mind, this is two movies. One is an alien invasion movie, and the other is a hyper-realistic war film.
The alien invasion movie is really good.
The hyper-realistic war film? It fucking sucks.
You guys have had military training... right?
To begin, I am not in the military, and I don't consider my five odd years in cadets as any form of military training; but I have been around the military my entire life and watch quite a lot of war movies. It was actually driving me insane how stupid these people were acting. I don't want to go on a long rant of everything they fucked up (that and I saw this movie months ago, so my list is a little incomplete), but the thing that really killed me was the lack of radio silence.
So, you're a soldier and are thrown into an urban battlefield against an enemy whose biology and technology are completely (and literally) alien to you... and you aren't maintaining radio silence? Hello! They could have any number of surveillance equipment we know nothing about. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the military play it safe on this one? The first scene I saw these idiots pull out their radios I wanted to start screaming at the screen, and when it became a plot point I just wanted the soldiers to get their just desserts for being so STUPID.
Arg! Who are these people!?!
One of the most painful things about this movie is the lack of character development. The movie suffers from what can only be called Army Boy Syndrome (ABS?). When you put a bunch of young men in IDENTICAL uniforms it gets really hard really fast to tell them apart. I knew which one was Aaron Eckhart, but the rest of the boys were just soldiers in my head. When the audience can't tell the characters apart - they stop caring about them.
There are ways to introduce military characters properly. For starters, focus on less of them. Three or four are really all the side characters you need in an action movie anyway. Then, spend more time introducing the characters. This movie really, really, really wanted to get to the aliens, which makes me think the characters were really a last-minute addition to this movie. As though Christopher Bertolini wrote a great script about Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez fighting aliens, only to be told afterwards to add fodder for the aliens to kill. And there we have it, I can't think of these other people as characters, only fodder to die.
Hiveminds... or Whatever
The big "twist" at the end of this film is that all the robots/spaceships that the aliens used are controlled by one super computer/mother-ship/thing, and if you take that out you've essentially destroyed the alien army.
You know. I'm not really complaining about this point. I sort of groaned inwardly when it happened, but it wasn't a complete cop-out. Unlike in Independence Day, for example, destroying the mother-ship didn't destroy the ENTIRE alien army, just the one in Los Angeles.
What does annoy me is just what a tired and silly cliche this is. I refuse to believe any civilization would base their technology around relying one thing to control everything.
Suffer the Children
I never thought children in a war movie where it would be illogical if they weren't present would feel so damn out of place, but my god I wanted them to lose these kids. I think part of this has to do with them having no character, so like all the other soldiers, I could have cared less about them. The worst moment really comes when Eckhart gives the little boy the inspirational speech at the end. Oh gag me. That was so out of place it was painful. I bet you any amount of money that scene was also added as an afterthought, possibly because the studio wanted more emotion in what, frankly, is a film lacking all emotion.
Why This Works
By this point you're probably wondering why I think any part of this film is good, but hear me out. As alien invasion movies go, it's the most original one I've seen since... fuck, I can't even think of an alien invasion movie that isn't a War of the Worlds clone. This is the first time I've thought: "Yes, this is what would happen if aliens invaded us."
The reactions are genuine and completely logical (radio silence aside). I not only believe this is what it would (essentially) look like, I also completely buy it being the U.S. military who figures out how to defeat the aliens. Because, let's be honest, they do have the best military in the world. Their serious misstep was hiring a horror film director instead of getting down on their knees and begging Ridley Scott to direct what could, in some twisted world, be renamed Black Hawk Down 2.
The concept for this film is so good that I honestly have a hard time hating it. I really want there to be sequels, where hopefully they can fix up some of the stuff they clearly rushed through this first time. Or at the very least, alien invasion movies should take a cue. Ground combat in an urban environment is exactly what alien invasion movies NEED.