If the day ever comes—and it will—when insect-like aliens with electronically enhanced body suits surprise-attack us with weird weapons and apparent savage disdain for our complicated cultural and emotional histories, you can count on the Marines to melodramatically bicker among themselves on the nature of bravery and determination just before single-handedly kicking their collective ass. Or at least that’s what Battle: L.A. says, which helpfully distinguishes it from the far more inventive and essentially scary-weird Skyline, where a bunch of narcissistic civilians argued about the nature of doom in a Marina del Rey high-rise apartment before being sucked into the belly of a very similar set of feckless extraterrestrials. Either one you choose, though, you can be sure that the filmmakers saved a bundle on effects by making turgid indoor drama seem heightened in the light of ray guns blasting outside the windows.
Here, Aaron Eckhart plays a Marine staff sergeant named Michael Nantz, who was planning to retire (natch) on the day the bugs come in from outer space, and, as the day develops, we learn he also has a bit of a question mark on his résumé, concerning a doomed platoon he once led. Thrust into a new company of colorful, fresh recruits, the sullen, pouty Sgt. Nantz must prove himself to them with a newfound indomitable will, while convincing himself to be human even when surrounded by so much that is inhuman (the aliens, not the grunts).
It doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but Battle: L.A. is really only half good. Besides the very problematic shaky camera work—even in pre-bogeymen scenes, the jumpy photography makes you feel that the film couldn’t afford a good tripod—it’s too hammy, and sometimes feels like a recruitment commercial for the Semper Fi outfit. But there’s also an undeniably poetic element; as we watch a bus ride through smoking wrecks on the 405 South, we realize that no city says apocalypse like good old L.A.