THERE ARE BETTER “SCARY” MOVIES TO WATCH FOR HALLOWEEN. Hell, this one isn’t even the best “army versus aliens” movie that’s been on Netflix in recent memory. But the underseen and underrated BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, however messy, is the movie you need to watch before it leaves Netflix this week on OCTOBER 26.
Released in 2011, several months before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Battle: Los Angeles follows an aging, nearly retired Marine staff sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) who leads a platoon against the very first wave of an alien invasion. There are no major stars in the movie, but we do get singer Ne-Yo as a Marine, Michelle Rodriguez in a surprisingly minor role, and Michael Peña acting as a serious father — unlike his two-bit, fast-talking Luis from Ant-Man.
The hook of Battle: Los Angeles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is that it’s an ultra-realistic take on the alien invasion movie. Standing out from War of the Worlds and Independence Day is its eye-level view of the men and women in camouflage, who in most other movies only march and ten-hut in the background.
It’s a change of pace how Battle focuses the camera on these soldiers. If you feel dizzy watching the first 30 minutes, that’s because cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (who has also worked on shows like Daredevil and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) attempts documentary-like immersion with a severely verité camera.
The goal is realism. The cost is a firm grasp of spatial awareness necessary for action scenes to really work. There’s a lot of yelling, a lot of gunfire, and a lot of confusion until the action slows to a crawl before the next sequence begins. Ettlin shoots with a long lens for most of Battle. Whether it was intentional or not, it often feels like we’re in the breathing space of the soldiers. You can almost smell it.
Battle: Los Angeles is a lunkheaded movie. There’s no intelligent or coherent design to the aliens who invade, and it’s clear it doesn’t matter. Battle isn’t a thoughtful science-fiction world-builder. It’s an action movie, with space aliens as targets because that’s the least offensive enemy Hollywood can imagine for soldiers to shoot at haphazardly. It’s Call of Duty without the war crimes, and that’s why it’s kind of fun.
The utter simplicity of Battle: Los Angeles is almost something to behold. It’s soldiers against aliens, with the odds heavily stacked against the soldiers. If October means marathoning horror movies where protagonists feel helpless, Battle: Los Angeles is an injection of adrenaline and an armful of firepower. If the movie doesn’t make you vomit from its zig-zagging imagery, it’s a pretty gnarly thrill that hits all the right notes.