If it's crap ... We'll tell you
The first trailer to BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was sheer brilliance. It showed very little, just some pretty amazing scenes and a very effective song over it. It created one of the most effective teasers I've ever seen. It made that chill go up my spine every time I watched it. Then the second trailer came out and I was less impressed. It still looked great, but two things worried me: Kids and PG-13. Luckily neither of those detract from the overall experience of what could best be describe as a war movie with aliens instead of a foreign country.
Probably the best comparison you can make for B:LA is a cross between BLACK HAWK DOWN and DISTRICT 9. It's got the visual style of D9 and follows the same basic plot movement as BHD. It opens in action for a bit, then cuts back 24 hours to give us some time to get to know the characters a bit. The frist act takes about 20 minutes to set up characters and slowly introduce the situation as it develops.
A lot like BHD, once the second act kicks in and everything starts going crazy, there is little down time. There are moments through out for the audience to catch their breath, but the movie never really takes much of a break.
B:LA isn't completely plotless. Much like BHD, it's an extraction mission. B:LA follows a unit of Marines as they try to locate civilians and escort them out of the city before the place gets completely decimated. Though there is a nice turn in the last act where the remaining Marines have a new objective which leads up to a nice stand off to cap the movie off.
As I said, there is almost no character development in this movie. There isn't enough time or any need for it. Almost everything we need to know is established in the first 30 minutes and the last 90 minutes is used just to put you in the middle of this war right beside this small group. This will split the crowd. Some people will hold it against the film, and they have every right to.
There are also a lot of the typical clichés with war movies, but not all of them play out like you'd expect them to. Those moments where you automatically know "that person's going to die" (i.e. the guy with a picture of his wife-dead. the guy talking about his plans when he gets home-dead. the young rookie on his first tour-dead) are surprisingly played with pretty well. A lot of them are present, but not all of them are necessarily the death sentence that you'd expect. There are some character you KNOW are going to live, while others that you think and know are going to die actually don't, and some you think might live bite it. The movie has no problems dropping characters off and even cut 1/4 of the cast in one second.
Unlike the lack of character development, the dialogue isn't an arguable check against the film. While you can argue either way with the character, the dialogue in this film ranges from ok to awful. Aaron Eckhart does his best to make most of his lines believalbe, not many actors can do that, while the others just don't have the charisma to pull it off. But it's not really their fault. Anyone would have trouble delivering some of the lines in this film. Luckily those scenes are few and far between. And while things are moving, the characters are mostly reacting to what's around them and trying to figure out what's going on. And in those scenes, everything works.
Now that I got that out of the way, let's get down to brass tax: the action. Oh boy, the action in this film is awesome. The set pieces in the film are incredibly well done and nearly everything about them works on many levels. One thing it was able to do very well is the use of the infamous "Bourne Camera". There are some pretty shaky moments with the camera work. It's usually one of the biggest peeves of mine, but it's used to great effect. The Director actually knows how to use it. Example: The area is filled with a fog like dust and none of the Marines have any visability. Then there's an ambush by the aliens and the Marines are struggling to see what to shoot at. This is a great scene to use that "Bourne Camera" technique as it creates that disorientation that the characters are feeling and you're feeling just as terrified as they are.
Luckily B:LA isn't all close up shaky cam. There are plenty of scenes where the camera pulls back enough to show everything going on to let you indulge in the chaos surrounding the characters. Some of the wide shots of a completely decimated LA were breathtaking and terrifying. It really gives a great scope even when the focus of the movie is on this small plattoon.
I also want to adress my two fears that occured with the second trailer. First, the whole "We got kids!" element. I can not express how happy I am that they did not go the typical Hollywood route and make the kids any more apart of the story than necessary. The movie is an extraction film, and there just happens to be kids among those being extracted. Once they come in, they stay in the background for 95% of time from when they arrive to when they leave. They stay out of the way like they would have in real life. And I can't thank the filmmakers enough for that.
Second: The PG-13 rating. I hardly even noticed. When I see PG-13 on a film like this I think: "Oh crap, they're going to dumb things down and take out all the good stuff." Again, I was wrong. The only thing they really took out was the blood squibs and the hard swearing. And really, I hardly even noticed their absence. The action wasn't turned down at all and the intesnity wasn't lost.
A few things worth notings, this isn't really an Alien Invasion film. Yes, it surrounds an alien invasion, but this is a straight up war movie. If you replaced aliens with Samolians, you basically got Black Hawk Down. If you replace it with Russians, you got Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
And what really works about this is the aliens themselves. Yes, they are more advanced than us, but they aren't invaulnerable. The aliens have limitations and you see them fight and even organize accordingly. It gives it more of a grounding with reality and while they do have a clear advantage over us, it's not too much of a stretch for us to actually stand a chance.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a very competent film. It's a sci-fi war film that will assault you until you're sore. While the dialogue definitely does hurt the film and some will complain about lack of character development, it does what it sets out to do. If you like action films, more specifically war films and sci-fi, definitely check it out. And see it in a theatre where it's big and loud, preferably with a large crowd.