I think there’s a lot to be said for going into a movie with appropriate expectations. Do your research ahead of time, know what you’re in for and you’re much more likely to enjoy a film.
That said, I have to say I’m quite surprised that the reviews for Battle: Los Angeles are so scathing. What did people expect from a movie that never claimed to be anything more than Aliens vs America?
Personally, I’m confused and I feel like the cinema going public wants to have it’s cake and eat it too. District 9 looked like it was going hit a sharp mix of Blair-Witch / documentary / alien movie tone with added bonus of a clever twist on apartheid. However, after a half hour it degraded into a generic shoot-em-up, and yet somehow ended up critically acclaimed. Battle: Los Angeles never made any false promises and yet has ended up utterly maligned.
Fine, it’s not a perfect movie. Certainly the film never attempts to tackle any fundamental questions of the human condition, and the plot is admittedly ‘by-the-numbers’ at times; the twist at the end of the second act can be seen mile off and it quickly becomes apparent that anyone who gets any character development (and isn’t Aaron Eckhart) has 5 minutes to live, tops. But it’s a film that knows what it is and never tries to be more than the sum of its parts (those parts being the aforementioned aliens, bullets, explosions, Marines, dirt, and not much else). But hey, I went in expecting to see explosions, aliens and a war movie that didn’t require much thinking on my part and got what I paid for.
When the moment comes for the big, rousing speech, I was worried that the movie would attempt some lofty, ‘rally-the-troops’ diatribe on the glories of war and the unfairness of young men and women being cut down in their prime; it would have come off as over the top if they’d laid it on that thick. However, they were smart enough not to overdo it, and Eckhart has the chops to make the scene touching as he pays tribute to the soldiers under his command he’s lost.
Roger Ebert has bemoaned the editing of the fire-fights and apparent lack of geometry to them, and I’ve read critiques elsewhere that the movie is too close-up and too hectic too follow easily. But guess what; that’s what real firefights are like. There’s no comforting line of sight, you don’t always know where the enemy is; it’s chaos! Why should a movie powered solely by military action sequences comfort you with clear, stable shots?
In fact, I strongly suspect that there’s something here in terms of why the movie is being panned. I’ve often found myself distracted in movies like Transformers 2 that thoughtlessly obliterate military men and women en masse in throw-away shots to communicate… what? That the giant monster is big and tough? As if we couldn’t work that out for ourselves. While not from a military family myself, I have seen the effect on people who are when such visceral depictions are forced down their throats, and I’ll let you in on a little secret; they don’t like it. And, frankly, I’m right there with them on this.
Is this what we’ve reduced war to? It happens on the other side of the world where we only have to see it if we turn on the nightly news? And this is how we honour our brothers and sisters who heed the call of country? They’re now expendable cannon-fodder for the big-budget scenes in our summer blockbusters? It wouldn’t surprise me to find that, subconsciously, this is part of the reason the American cinema-going public has passed on this movie; still embroiled in Iraq and not quite able to extricate themselves from Afghanistan after a decade there, perhaps it’s just not entertainment to watch their troops have their asses handed to them on home soil and to see LA razed to the ground.
They certainly don’t miss any opportunity to flash an American flag. Eckhart’s strong resolve through the film and character development from ‘I’m retiring tomorrow’ to ‘back into the fray’ showcase the tough-as-nails military spirit. But at the end of the day, the film is meant to be 2 hours of Cowboys and Indians, or… er… Army & Aliens. Expecting anything deep about about the indomitableness of the human spirit in the face of aliens is the result of unreasonable expectations.