Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Retreat, Hell! Battle: Los Angeles is fought admirably

In 1996, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin brought us the greatest Extra Terrestrial invasion movie ever, Independence Day. Since then there been a few attempts to address the very real possibility of invasion; Signs, War Of The Worlds, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Skyline to name but a few. Alas they were all exceedingly boring in comparison to ID4. Why? Because no one was shooting back at the aliens and killing them.

I followed the development of Battle: Los Angeles for many months ever since my aggregation software pulled the search term "U.S. Marines" and "aliens" automatically from the news wire. I became intrigued when I discovered that Chris Bertolini the writer of one of my favourite military thrillers - The General's Daughter, was scripting a tale of invasion focusing on a small unit of Marines with Aaron The Dark Knight Eckhart and my favourite Hollywood bad-girl Michelle Rodriguez [Avatar] in starring roles. In addition, director Jonathan Liebesman said he would take his inspiration from modern war-movies and adopt a style from watching footage of real U.S. Forces in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eckhart plays Staff Sergeant Nantz who has had his discharge papers signed on the morning that Extra Terrestrials inconveniently decide to invade the planet. Nantz is pressed into service to replace an absent platoon sergeant in Echo Company, 2/5 when they are quickly mobilised to defend Los Angeles. Nantz and newly-minted butterbar lieutenant Martinez [Ramón Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Rodríguez] lead their men on a mission which plays out pretty much like Saving Private Ryan but then soon becomes Black Hawk Down, but obviously with the added elements of Extra Terrestrials.

Eckhart was a great if unusual choice for Nantz, he's square-jawed enough for a battle-hardened Marine NCO and went through a tough training cycle in weapons training and drills before he and the other actors were in a boot camp situation for 3 weeks. Eckhart adopted "the method" for the movie and "became" SSgt Nantz for the duration of filming. Upon breaking his upper arm when he fell off a ledge during an action sequence, he continued to work for the remainder of filming without having it put in a cast as that opportunity would not have been available in the field. Rodriguez portrayed Air Force Intelligence Technical Sergeant Elena Santos and should be given credit for not following her usual moody authority-bucking persona as she joins up with the Marines after being separated from her parent unit. The rest of the cast is rounded out with Cory Hardrict, Gino Anthony Pesi, Ne-Yo, James Hiroyuki Liao, Adetokumboh McCormack and Michael Shooter Peña with Bridget Blue Bloods Moynahan.

Character development sadly didn't seem to be on the agenda for this movie. Only Nantz really got fleshed out in any way. He is retiring despite not knowing what he'll quite do with himself. He has a certain amount of survivor's guilt after being the only one to remain alive after his entire platoon was ambushed in Afghanistan and he doesn't have any children although somehow he's learned to communicate with them. We learn all this of course throughout the course of the movie and it's somewhat lacking script.

The script is fairly diabolical, let’s be honest here. This is so far from Shakespeare it’s not even as good as a small child attempting to rewrite Shakespeare with a pack of crayons. The only explanation is Bertolini must have had some sort of stroke or something since he wrote The General's Daughter. The judgement of the script is highlighted by one extraordinarily dramatic moment when Nantz is challenged by one of his men, whose brother was one of the Marines that died under his leadership. Nantz proceeds to list the name, rank and service numbers of all the men KIA under his command including Cpl. Lockett’s brother proving that he will never forget them [yes Guns I used to be able to do that before I made Major – but by then there was just too many to recall from memory] but then an instant later he says: “but that’s not important right now” – a heinous sidelining of something that is always important least we forget that we are not invincible.

Despite the script's flaws, it does work in delivering several motivational speeches, while not quite President Whitmore’s flawlessly magnificent speech from ID4, do serve to increase heart rate and adrenaline production at key moments before major battle sequences. The Marines from Pendleton who advised the cast and crew obviously did a lot with the lingo and terminology and there was none of the bullshit as I'd notice with many other movies these days. There was no Bay-alogue is what I'm saying and that's refreshing.

Liebesman as it turns out is a competent director and is successful in delivering what he promised me so many months ago. He instructed cinematographer Lukas Ettlin to rely on shaky cam a lot and unfortunately some people whose brains can process images fast enough complain about that sort of thing but those of you with correctly functioning eye to brain processing speeds won't find any problem. One of the most sought-after and prolific composers in the movie, TV and Video Game industry Brian Tyler, composed a magnificently powerful and deeply haunting score that fit this movie like a fingerless glove leaving room for the the incredible scoundscape which made more use of DTS then any other movie I've seen this year.

Aaron Eckhart said that the objective of the film was to make as realistic an alien invasion movie as possible and for the most part it was. You won't find Biplanes with nukes or Apple Macs disabling motherships here. What I was glad to see was that the invaders were not depicted as having extraordinarily superior technology beyond the wildest imagination of man. Instead, they used projectile weapons and portable rail-guns. While armoured, they had weak spots that could be exploited as well as a command and control system that could be eliminated. They seemed to operate in a military structure with officers, grenadiers, heavy weapons personnel, scouts, medics, support aircraft and drones, basically the gamut of conventional forces that Marines have been defeating for 236 years. There have been some who have said that it’s unrealistic that only a handful of Marines accomplished what an entire army could not during the course of the film. Those that think that’s not plausible obviously have absolutely no comprehension of the specific history of 2nd BN, 5th Marines or even the tenacity, resourcefulness, courage or the most basic capabilities of every United States Marine. Oorah!!!

Final Verdict: This is not Independence Day 2, it cannot be universally liked and will not gross $800m. It's not grotesquely violent, yet is not suitable for children. It is an war movie in the vein of Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker. It's niche is in it's realism and factual portrayal of Marines in urban combat against a fictional enemy and it will appeal to both those who seek that out as well as "the video-game crowd." Only cowards will miss this one.

Colonel Creedon Rating: *****

The Colonel would like to take the opportunity to categorically deny at this point that UNETIDA provided funding for this movie as anti- Extra Terrestrial propaganda or as a public information service to give people prior warning that the events in this movie are about to happen.


Master Guns said...

Hah! I'm sure my name, rank and S/N was a similarly discarded memory before long Colonel.

What about those of us you "mercy-killed"? Do you remember theirs?

Civilian Overseer said...

Guns, I'm sure that the good Colonel remembers the method of execution if nothing else.

Lieutenant General Creedon said...

They were all justified I assure you. Sadly it is is necessity of war when the mission is at stake...