So front-loaded with clichés that it initially feels as if it might buckle under the weight of its own derivativeness, Battle: Los Angeles eventually finds its footing during an explosive bridge battle around the midway mark, and subsequently muscles through with the efficiency of a battle-hardened Marine.
After decades of speculation about life on other planets, the people of Earth discover that they are not alone in the universe when destruction rains down from the stars on 12 major cities all across the globe. Our new overlords have arrived, and they won't rest until the entire human race has been exterminated. When the alien warships begin laying waste to Los Angeles, however, the ferocious invaders discover that humankind won't go down without a fight as gruff Marine Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) and his fearless troop of jarheads vow to hold their ground and make one last stand for humanity. But how do you defeat an enemy when you don't have the first clue about their biology, or their technology? As the countdown to a massive bombing campaign along the Santa Monica shoreline begins, Nantz and his battalion race to rescue a group of citizens trapped in a nearby police station. Along the way, they're joined by Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) and a ragtag group of desperate soldiers. Upon reaching the station, the group succeeds in locating the survivors, who include devoted father Joe (Michael Peña) and his young son, Hector (Bryce Cass). Just as the desperate group is about to make their escape, however, they realize they are surrounded on all sides. Getting out won't be easy, but to stay means certain death. Now, if they can just manage to make a clean getaway, they may still have a chance to take out the invader's command control center, and unite with all of humankind to save the only home they've ever known.
It's just another war for oil in Battle: Los Angeles, a film so chaotic and incoherent that it nearly self-destructs before miraculously gaining enough momentum halfway through to offer a bombastic take on humankind's fight against a technologically advanced -- yet not impervious -- race of malevolent alien invaders. Presented in a handheld style that gives the impression of a wartime documentary, this unorthodox take on the traditional combat film feels as if screenwriter Christopher Bertolini simply dusted off an old script in which Nazis invaded a major American city and replaced Hitler's henchmen with bio-mechanical Martians. From the retiring, battle-scarred military veteran drawn reluctantly back into battle, to the virginal rookie, to the shell-shocked combat vet, to the brave grunt just fighting for citizenship, Bertolini's screenplay is so saturated in wartime stereotypes that it feels like it might just sink until characterization mercifully takes a back seat to action. Even then, it's difficult to feel as if we're actually witnessing anything new, though by that point the combination of rapid-fire editing and an over-emotive score at least succeeds in stimulating us enough to create the illusion of excitement. Later, when the purpose of the invasion is finally revealed in a throwaway line, it quickly becomes apparent how uninterested Bertolini is in flexing any creative muscle.
Likewise, the generic creature design feels just about as uninspired as the storytelling, though the special-effects team does manage the impressive feat of making the alien technology seem at once highly advanced and vulnerable to attack. Performances are standard-issue grunt all around, with the exception of capable lead Eckhart, who provides the film's only discernible human emotion with a pair of heartfelt speeches that could have had genuine impact if only the earnest dialogue didn't waft with banality. Those speeches, combined with all of the other combat movie clichés found in Battle: Los Angeles, reveal the film to be little more than a traditional war film disguised as an alien invasion flick, tailor-made for a generation of kids raised on first-person shooters and jitter-inducing energy drinks.