Aaron Eckhart as Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz.

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By Jason Apuzzo. While watching Battle: Los Angeles, which is an intense, stirring and highly patriotic ode to America’s fighting men and women – and in particular to the Marines – I was reminded of that great line from Casablanca, in which café owner Humphrey Bogart drily informs Nazi Conrad Veidt: “There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

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As a long time resident of Los Angeles, I can similarly assert with conviction that there are certain areas of Los Angeles that I wouldn’t advise any foreign power to invade – not even aliens – especially if those areas happen to be held by Marines. Battle: Los Angeles explains why.

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Those of you who read Libertas regularly, or who are familiar with our regular Invasion Alerts! here, know that we’ve been following this massive new wave of ‘alien invasion’ movie projects for some time now. There was even some major news on the ‘alien invasion’ front today, because the first full trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was just released (it’s great) – and that trailer is apparently running in front of Battle: Los Angeles in theaters.

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As I’ve said on prior occasions, it’s my sense that many of these ‘alien invasion’ films are – in their own way, and using the unique vocabulary of science fiction – commentaries on our current War on Terror in much the same way that sci-fi films of the past were commentaries on the Cold War. Battle: Los Angeles is one such vivid case in point; it is, in point of fact, primarily a war film and only just barely a sci-fi film, sketching out the most basic and familiar sort of ‘alien invasion’ scenario, with hostile aliens landing in force across Earth in order to plunder one of our major natural resources (more on that below).

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These particular aliens are not interested in talking with us, or in negotiating. They couldn’t care less what our private problems are – or what we were planning to do with our weekends. Like the creatures from War of the Worlds or Invaders from Mars or Independence Day, they are simply here to dominate and/or exploit – and they’re possessed of the savagery necessary to impose their will.

And so the question is, when such catastrophic events as this take place – as they essentially did, one cold September morning almost ten years ago in lower Manhattan – who precisely should free peoples turn to in defending civilization? Battle: Los Angeles is there to give us an unequivocal answer: the courageous, resourceful and endlessly tenacious United States Marine.

And this, really, is the most important thing to know about Battle: Los Angeles. Not only is the film ‘respectful’ of our Marines, and of American military culture generally, it could easily serve as a recruiting film for the U.S. Armed Forces. Whatever problems James Cameron has with the U.S. military – problems that led him to portray our military in Avatar as psychotics and killers, and worthy of defeat at the hands of an alien menace – Battle: Los Angeles is having none of it. Battle: LA’s basic purpose is to revel in the honor and valor of military service, the basic code of fidelity to the mission and commitment to one’s fellow soldier – even and especially in the face of overwhelming odds. Battle: LA is a film that feels a lot like Howard Hawks’ Air Force or Delmer Daves’ Destination Tokyo – basically a World War II movie, except that the context for this film today involves wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, yes, those wars are frequently referenced in Battle: LA – essentially as noble testing grounds for this apocalyptic battle-of-all-battles for humanity’s survival.

Marines rescuing civilians.

Battle: LA centers around a retiring Marine Staff Sergeant, played with rugged, low-key machismo by Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart has been in the Corps for twenty years, is losing a step or two, and feels like it’s probably time to hang it up. As the film begins, we also learn that some of the men in Eckhart’s platoon hold a grudge against him because of a firefight that went badly in Iraq, leaving several of his men dead – unnecessarily? We’re not sure. We only know that Eckhart is clearly burdened by the tough command decisions he’s had to make in the field, and is now ready to walk away so that younger guys can take over.

We also spend some time early in the film with the men of Eckhart’s platoon. As in a World War II movie, we’re introduced to a variegated group of young guys of all backgrounds and ethnicities. Whereas in a World War II movie you’d meet all the Jewish and Italian guys, here you meet the African-American, Asian, Filipino and Hispanic guys – with names like Guerrero, Mottola or Adukwu. I love this part of war movies – when you get to see all the different types of guys who serve together. It’s really a big part of what makes America special – this ability of people with completely different backgrounds to blend together and cohere. This blending and cohering is something that’s been happening in the U.S. military for generations.

At this point we learn that what appear to be ‘meteors’ have suddenly begun landing in the water outside of many of the world’s major population centers. What these ‘meteors’ are, nobody knows, but – suspiciously – they appear to slow down as they approach the water. That seems ominous, right?

Suddenly all hell breaks loose, as the aliens – who, sticking to current trends, look more or less like walking calamari with guns – storm the beaches of Santa Monica in a massive, coordinated assault. [Incidentally, I'm not giving away anything here that isn't in the film's trailer.] Initially I laughed at this, because for those of you who don’t know, Santa Monica is already for the most part occupied by space aliens – odd, otherwordly beings with names like ‘Tom Hayden’ and ‘Sean Penn’ – and has been this way for my entire adult life. So basically I had no real problem with the aliens carving out a slice of SAMO for themselves, maybe even opening up a nose-ring boutique on Third Street. But as the aliens proceeded eastward toward the downtown area – and within shouting distance of more valuable areas like the L.A. Coliseum and the USC campus – it became obvious even to me that something needed to be done. Enter Eckhart and his platoon.

Intense urban warfare.

What we’re treated to at this point is essentially about 90 straight minutes of intense urban warfare, street fighting suitable for the era of the Iraq War. Since I’m not personally a combat veteran, nor have played one on television, I can’t attest with any authority to the ‘realism’ of the fighting; I can only say that it certainly felt as ‘real’ as it could, given that we’re talking about street fighting with aliens, after all. Suffice it to say that things get quite intense, and we also get the sense that the aliens have a crucial edge in technological firepower, physical durability, and sheer brutality.

Along the way, Eckhart and his men are taking casualties – and also rescuing civilians. For example, Eckhart rescues a Hispanic man and his young son. Both the man and his son show the greatest respect for the Marines and their heroism, and Eckart feeds off this. [Remember, dear readers, to always show the greatest respect toward our soldiers - and personally thank them whenever you can.] The rapport Eckhart develops with the young boy is important to the emotional arc of the story, as Eckhart is regaining the feel of being a decisive leader in the field – and the young boy is getting to see a genuine hero in action. Eckhart also has to knock some sense into a rookie Marine Lieutenant leading the men; the Lieutenant here is getting a first-hand taste of how combat decisions are often made with no clearly ‘right’ option, requiring a leader to simply be decisive, regardless of consequence.

If any of this sounds familiar or basic to you, it’s because Battle: LA keeps things fairly straight-forward as a war picture. Although the film often feels like James Cameron’s Aliens (his greatest film, in my opinion) – or perhaps something like Halo: ReachBattle: LA really owes a lot more to war movies like John Wayne’s The Sands of Iwo Jima in terms of its depiction of the American fighting man. The actual ’sci-fi’ premise behind Battle: LA is really quite thin, almost a fig leaf, as the filmmakers seem much more interested in the honor code of the American warrior than in hard science fiction.

America under attack.


On the sci-fi front, for example, the aliens themselves are kept rather opaque. We never actually get a very good look at them. Tellingly, however, they appear to have no individuality. And as far as their motivations, it’s intriguing to learn that they’ve apparently arrived on Earth in order to take our water – indicating that they may come from a hot and arid climate? A desert climate, one might even say? We certainly seem to be fighting people from such climates a lot lately. Ahem.

On this point, incidentally, the film pauses to make one, pseudo-snarky liberal comment midway, as a Stanford professor on MSNBC asserts that our own planet is going dry – due, if I remember him saying correctly, to climate change. Whatever. [Stanford professors often say such things.] In any case, my suggestion to this professor would be to blame the Chinese for that, as they’re currently the world’s worst polluters.

Los Angeles in chaos.

The film otherwise gradually builds to a climax, as Eckhart’s platoon members gamble their lives on a hunch – specifically, their ability to knock out the aliens’ command-and-control center for the LA area. I won’t tell you how that goes, but suffice it to say that the Marines acquit themselves honorably – and make living in LA an even bigger headache than it normally is for our would-be conquerors.


So how good is Battle: LA, exactly? I would say that it’s excellent – although I would stop short of calling it great, or a classic. What it is, without question, is old-school – and by that I mean redolent of films from the 1980s, or from the 1950s, eras when we generally had our heads screwed on straight. Eras when our moral compass wasn’t thrown off course by trendy relativism, or cultural self-loathing.

A few words about the cast are in order. Aaron Eckhart is really superb in his role as Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He captures the character of the many Marines and military guys I’ve met over the years in terms of their steadiness, focus, civility and quiet resolve. He also has what is quite possibly the best chin in cinema. As far as Michelle Rodriguez, she has a lot to make up for in my book for appearing in Avatar and the godawful Machete; her performance here helps with that, although she isn’t really asked to do very much.

Battle: LA is a straight-up war film, and an enjoyable one, gussied up with a classic sci-fi premise. It’s not exactly what one would call a ‘visionary’ work of science fiction, and a little more creativity would probably have helped it, but it’s nonetheless an entertaining show. I suspect that somewhere Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) is smiling over this film – because American science fiction has always taken a keen interest in our wars and in humanity’s struggle for freedom. And since political cinema in America is dead for now, at least there is science fiction to carry forward great stories about heroism and nobility in the face of threats from aggressive, collectivist societies.

An apocalyptic landscape.

One final note: science fiction is, of course, not merely a vehicle by which to examine wars or political questions; it’s also a genre that deals with man’s fragile place in nature and in the cosmos. Battle: Los Angeles begins, oddly enough, with news reports of a massive, destructive meteor shower off the coast of Tokyo – and proceeds in short order to an onslaught coming at us from the shores of Santa Monica, the very site of real-world tsunami warnings from this morning. If you’ve been following the news for the past 24 hours, Battle: Los Angeles may seen eerily ‘timely’ in ways that the filmmakers could never have anticipated. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan today as they struggle against a calamity of incredible proportions. They will need all the courage they can muster, and I know America will be there – as ever – to lend a helping hand.

Posted on March 11th, 2011 at 9:17pm.

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43 Responses to “Send in The Marines! LFM Reviews Battle: Los Angeles

  1. Globetrottr says:

    Wonderful review Jason, I really enjoyed reading that. I chuckled at your comment about how the aliens would not want to invade certain parts of LA. I know what you mean. I’m also glad that Hollywood has finally made a film that portrays the troops in a positive light. It’s about time.

  2. gn says:

    I heard it was horribly shaky-cam. I think any review of it should go, “HORRIBLE USE OF SHAKY CAM!!!!!! but (20 paragraphs on how apolitical and inspiring it is).”
    This is the kind of movie I really wish I could go see, but shaky cam, not gonna happen.
    Note for all movie reviewers: What we want to know is whether we can see the movie without getting sick. THEN all the rest about content. It seems the industry has a conspiracy to hide whether a movie is shaky-cam.
    Sorry to rant, but SHAKY CAM ALERT! Nothing else matters.
    Hundreds of millions to make a movie but not one dime for a friggin’ tripod.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Forgive me, GN, but that’s actually a rather odd comment. Have you taken your medication this morning? If not, it shows.

      Have you ever actually watched combat footage coming out of Iraq, or Afghanistan? It generally doesn’t look like it was shot by Dean Cundey wearing a Panaglide. In any case, unlike you I’ve actually seen the film, and can tell you that the camera work in no way affected my ability to enjoy it – and, actually, the camera was generally steady throughout. So stop being a loser-killjoy, OK?

      Also: the film is very definitely not apolitical. Very much the opposite: it’s a ringing endorsement of the American military and its commitment to freedom. Back in the 1950s, such a message might have been considered ‘apolitical’ – but after the 60s, I’m afraid such a message carries entirely political connotations.

      • gn says:

        I’m sorry, but neither my wife nor I can sit through these movies that were directed by people with Parkinson’s disease because someone still thinks it looks “cool” and “realistic” if it looks like it was shot by amateurs. I applaud the themes, but it’ll have to wait until the small screen. If people want to be literally in a war zone, I’m sure they can buy a plane ticket and smuggle themselves in. To inflict us with it on the logic that real footage looks like that makes about as much sense as ushers shooting people in the leg while they’re watching it so that they can feel the wounds.
        I don’t know why these filmmakers deliberately sacrifice a good percentage of potential viewers just for some lame “artistic choice” that was old ten years ago.
        I really don’t know what’s so “odd” or medically intriguing about being sick to death of shaky-cam. I didn’t think that the view was all that controversial any longer; is there anyone outside of film connoisseurs who PREFER shaky-cam? I prefer movies that are colorful and crisp and look professionally done, rather than all these silly first-year-film-student amateurish gimmicks.
        In any case, my points stands, nor is it flameworthy – let us know about shaky cam. The best content in the world means nothing if you literally can’t watch it. My wife and I have been tricked too many times by reviewers into seeing movies that we literally can’t stomach.

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          Hey GN, you’re sounding a little unbalanced there. My recommendation is that you take some Dramamine or Benadryl – or perhaps scopolamine if things are really getting bad for you.

          • johngaltjkt says:

            For realistic combat scenes check out the first Act of Saving Private Ryan and most of third act. (forget the second act melodrama) Even better is all of Band of Brothers and brief scenes in Dr. Strangelove. (In particular the brief scenes of the retaking of the Air Force Base that excludes main characters) Ironically the battle scenes in Full Metal Jacket are terrible. (A movie that’s a huge guilty pleasure)
            As far as shaky cam is concerned the only time that it was integral to the story was Cloverfield. (Another guilty pleasure) Otherwise I feel the filmmaker is taking the easy way out and is probably incapable of skillfully displaying combat scenes. Think Enter the Dragon versus Kickboxer.

            • Jason Apuzzo says:

              The camerawork is superb, and in no way an issue. The combat scenes are excellent, and in fact the Marines and the Defense Department were advisors on the film – and are prominently thanked in the credits.

              I love your take on Strangelove, by the way. I agree – those movies are completely guilty pleasures.

          • gn says:

            As long as we’re doing medical-based flaming instead of addressing criticism, is there a medication that can cure liking The Phantom Menace and not liking The Dark Knight?
            I’m starting to think you take some of these positions just to be contrary. I raised a perfectly valid, widespread criticism of shaky-cam and all I get is flames. I would have thought that a conservative would be a little more sympathetic to criticisms of these artsy gimmicks that turn people off. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of conservative movie reviewers out there, or I’d be long gone already.
            Someone doth protest too much, meesa thinks.

            • Jason Apuzzo says:

              GN, here’s why you’re difficult to take seriously. You’re identifying yourself as a ‘conservative’ here, and you’re showing up for the very first time at our site to carp about the camerawork on a film that is both completely patriotic, and that you haven’t even seen. Isn’t that a bit odd? I mean, why choose this film in particular to complain about?

              But here’s the funniest part. Meesa knows only one person who has this bizarre, fetishistic revulsion toward shaky-cam. Meesa laughing at this entire exchange.

  3. shinsnake says:

    It was blindingly obvious that this film was going to have a pro-Military theme once Roger Ebert flung the opening salvo that anyone who likes this movie is an idiot. I was sold on the film from the trailer even if it did become an Iraq occupation allegory, but I’m so glad it’s not. I know I shouldn’t be, but it still surprises me that all of the liberal outlets line up in lockstep against this film. I’m going to see it tomorrow morning with my two brother in laws and my father in law and I can’t speak for them, but I’m actually excited for a movie. That’s a rare thing in my lifetime, so I plan to soak it in, enjoy the machismo and America love and splash in all the puddles formed of liberal tears. Christian Toto said the 8 year old boy in you will be cheering at the end. Wrong. It’s happening to me even before I enter the theater.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      I think you’re going to have a great time. And believe me, I’m always happy to report positive things – it makes doing this site so much easier and more fun.

  4. Vince says:

    Okay, so, you’ve thrown all kind of key words that are going to make me see this as soon as I can:
    1. Howard Hawks’ Air Force
    2. Robert Heinlein
    3. Sands of Iwo Jima
    4. Halo Reach

    It also looks like I found something else to disagree with you about, besides the merits of Christopher Nolan and his films: The Terminator is, in my opinion, James Cameron’s greatest film. I think Aliens showed that Avatar was coming — evil corporations coming to wipe out indigenous beings, inept Marines, blah blah blah.

    Awesome review, as always — and GREAT job getting this out there before your competitors.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Hey, thanks, Vince – I really appreciate it!

      On the Cameron thing: I agree with you that Aliens definitely foreshadowed Avatar, but I still rate it as tremendous cinema – exhilarating, dramatic, funny, visionary and frightening. Also: it did something extraordinary, which is to broaden the universe of its classic predecessor. It’s easily one of my favorite films.

      One other point: I don’t want to oversell Battle: LA. It’s a fine film, but it needed to broaden its vision a bit – or dig in to its characters more – in order to be a really top-notch effort. But for the moment, it will do …

  5. VW says:

    I’m sold. This is all the endorsement I need. Gonna watch it a few times and do my part to get more of such movies made.

  6. CharlieSays says:

    Thanks for the review, Jason.

    As to Heinlein:

    I’ve had about a bellyful of reboots. If there is one movie, though, that need to be taken back to its roots it’s “Starship Troopers.” The only thing that movie had in in common with Heinlein’s firecracker classic was the title.

    Better yet, I’ve always hoped that a conservative filmmaker would take up “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and do it properly.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Charlie, I’m totally with you on the Starship Troopers thing. That really needs to be adapted properly – as opposed to what Paul Verhoeven did. [By the way, have you seen the animated series that got made out of that? I've always been curious about it.]

      As far as Moon, that comes across to me as a little tougher to adapt – but still worth it. My personal choice would be to adapt The Puppet Masters.

      • CharlieSays says:

        I didn’t even know there was an animated adaptation of “Starship Troopers.” I will have to investigate that. “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is sprawling–maybe a better pitch as a mini-series for HBO or Showtime.

        Wasn’t there already a film adaptation of “The Puppet Masters” a few years back? I think Donald Sutherland had the lead. I never saw it, so I’ll have to investigate that, also–see if it does Heinlein justice.

        The only movie I know of that stayed true to Heinlein’s vision was “Destination Moon.” RAH was technical advisor. The movie is very crude by today’s standards, but it is scientifically accurate.

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          Yes, I love Destination Moon – it’s a great one, with important themes about beating the Soviets in the space race. You might also want to check out 1953’s Project Moonbase, which Heinlein wrote. It’s actually a TV pilot that got changed at the last minute into a feature film, with a very forward-looking attitude toward ’space age’ women. (The film features, among other things, the first depiction of a female U.S. President.)

          There was indeed a Puppet Masters adaptation with Sutherland – but it looked lame and I haven’t seen it.

          Here’s the animated Starship Troopers series. I don’t know much about it:


          • jic says:

            The animated Starship Troopers was OK. It was based on the movie, but had more elements from the books, and less of the ’satirical’ tone.

            I read somewhere (I have no idea where) that the script for the movie was originally intended as more of a parody of the book than as a straight adaptation of it, hence the Nazi-style uniforms and propaganda films (due to the common, but completely unfounded, perception that the society in the book is in some way ‘fascist’). That did however lead to the movie containing Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser, S.S.. When I first saw the movie I’d never read the book, and enjoyed it in it’s own right as an Evil Dead II-style splatter comedy – although I don’t think that was what the filmmakers actually thought they were making. When I later read the book, I understood why fans hated the movie so much.

            • Jason Apuzzo says:

              Yes, the movie was quite obviously trying to be a pseudo-parody.

              I may check out the animated series.

          • CharlieSays says:

            Gee thanks, Jason. With that reference to “Project Moonbase” you’ve given me even MORE to do.

            Seriously, thanks for the info & link.

  7. jic says:

    Does the movie address why the aliens are landing grunts and fighting street-by-street, rather than just bombing us into oblivion from space?

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Not really. The implication is that they need reasonably pure water – so presumably no nukes would be allowed. They do have air power, though – which ends up being an important aspect of the story. I didn’t want to give too much away about that.

  8. jic says:

    I found where I thought that I read that the movie was “intended as more of a parody”, and it doesn’t actually say that outright, although I think it’s still a reasonable conclusion. Anyway, the article and the whole site are well worth reading.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Part of the problem with the film is that it’s trying to have it both ways – as both a partial parody, and kick-ass sci-fi action flick. Verhoeven is obviously in love with the material, while fighting its basic meanings. The result is a film that never quite fires on all cylinders.

      • jic says:

        Verhoeven claimed that he hadn’t read the book before he made the movie, so that ambiguity is probably down to the writers.

  9. Tim Irwin says:

    Jason -

    Would the initials JN be appropriate to describe this one person with an anti-shaky cam bias instead of GN?

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Yes indeed, Tim, the initials JN would be quite appropriate!

      You get a gold star, Tim. ;)

      • jic says:

        Assuming that we are all thinking of the same JN, he loved Battle: Los Angeles and said in his review that “the story was so engrossing [he] hardly noticed” the shaky-cam.

  10. Matt says:

    I am a OIF combat veteran. I served 2 tours in Iraq, 2003 and 2005 with the 3rd ID. I really enjoyed this movie (just watched it last night) because of the heroism, team work, camaraderie, brotherhood amongst troops, the Marine’s dedication to serving their country and protecting their interests as well and the fact that there were Army Soldiers and an Air Force tech babe in there. The movie while not 100% accurate of a military platoon was damned close enough for me. It has emotional, had hard combat & urban warfare which in this movie really does give me some memories of the street fighting we endured in Iraq and not knowing where the enemy was too. Making decisive decisions for your troops beneath you in a war or combat situation is not really cut and dry most of the time. That’s been my experience and being out here in the civi world has made me miss my days as a Soldier and serving my country and most of all being with my men.

    The movie was obviously pro-U.S. Military which I appreciate. Not alot of movies are like that anymore. Thanks for the movie review, it was awesome.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Matt, I’m very touched that you would write in. Thank you so much for your comments – and above all, for your service. I’m very glad you enjoyed the film. You guys deserve a lot more films like it.

  11. MistressKoloth says:

    Thank you so much for an excellent review of an excellent movie. While Skyline was visualy appealing, this was gritty and dynamically different. What a great film and I think you captured it’s essence in your review. Thank you.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Thank you, MistressKoloth. That’s a helluva name you’ve got there, by the way!

      • MistressKoloth says:

        LOL! I’m part of a Klingon club. :D And we Klingons love sci fi battle of alien movies.

        • Jason Apuzzo says:

          Hey, fantastic! By the way, my current hunch is that the villains in the next Star Trek are going to be the Talosians. But you didn’t hear this from me …

  12. Patricia says:

    I saw Battle LA and loved it! And I usually don’t like action movies. This one was different because we spend the first 15 minutes getting to know the Marines and the corps, so by the time the ordnance starts flying, we know them and love them. Mostly, we respect them and their deep knowledge of history and of war strategy, all part of their superb training. They are much more than brawn and a little brain thrown in.

    By the third act, when the guys make a decision re Eckhart, I actually cried I was so surprised and moved. (I won’t spoil it.)

    The plot was xlnt. The aliens and their aims are straightforward, so it’s all about strategy rather than FX. Very good choice on that.

    All in all, great script and acting, like the best of the WWII movies.

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