Aliens attack Earth’s coastal cities with overwhelming military force. US Marine Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), recalled to duty, is assigned to a platoon who are ordered to perform a rescue mission in Santa Monica before the Air Force bombs the city to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
There’s one tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in Battle Los Angeles which hints at an interesting film director Jonathan Liebesman – the man who brought you the Texas Chainsaw prequel and that Tooth Fairy movie Darkness Falls – chose not to make.
Early on, a couple of grunts wonder aloud in thudding dialogue whether the aliens they’re fighting are soldiers following orders just like them. Later, after much computer-game style ET-blasting carnage, there's a busy skirmish between Our Side (the US Marines, hoo-rah!) and Them (Evil Alien Bastards) in which it’s easy to miss a little vignette of two aliens pulling a wounded comrade out of the line of fire. So they’re not a hive mind or zombies or robots or insects and might have more complicated characters than we’re allowed to see.
Liebesman isn’t interested in competing with District 9 or Monsters, though, just in trashing Los Angeles (a city of no strategic value whatsoever) and shooting aliens. The menace comes from spindle-legged, semi-armoured, mushroom-headed, welded-on-weapons monsters the like of which we’ve seen a dozen times before, and the heroics are delivered by the sort of soldiers who were cliché as John Wayne hit The Sands of Iwo Jima let alone when Clint Eastwood stormed Heartbreak Ridge.
Here are the types we get: a veteran sarge on the point of retirement with an ill-earned rep for getting his men killed, a wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant who was top of his class but has never been in combat, the hot chick who’s just as tough as any man (Michelle Rodriguez owns the patent on this), the guy with glasses who’s getting married soon, the combat-stressed infantryman eager to be declared battle-ready again, the cool guy with a moustache, etc. Civilians and kids show up to be rescued and related to, but they’re only the sort of baggage which comes with video game war challenges. The burning wreckage of Santa Monica isn’t played for the sacrilegious frisson of America invaded found in Red Dawn or even 1941. The hand-held camera, in-the-thick-of-the-action confusion and clouds of smoke tricks of Saving Private Ryan now feel so familiar that what was once innovative is now rote.
Pretty much cardboard, down to the heroic patriotic speeches, and less distinctive even than last year’s scarcely stellar Skyline, which trashed the same city. Things blow up good and Eckhart is a classier actor than his role warrants, but we’ve all been here before.