1. "Battle: Los Angeles" is a much dumber movie than it needs to be. It actually requires considerable effort for a movie like this to be as hackeneyed and boring as it is. This is an alien invasion movie, after all, and with an alien invasion movie come certain expectations. Huge spaceships. Laser air battles. Humans being vaporized. Cool aliens. Hit those marks, spend some money on CGI and you can't go wrong. It might not be a quality movie, but it will deliver what is promises, what we expect when we pay for an alien invasion movie. "Battle: Los Angeles," for reasons that are baffling to me, decides to excise everything that is cool about alien invasion movies and focus on everything that is lame.
2. This is not an alien movie; this is a war movie. And a bad one. Aaron Eckhart, who could work himself into a Bourne-esque action star if this movie doesn't sour him on tentpole Hollywood films forever, playes a Marine Staff Sergeant with (all together now) a tortured past and who (once again now) is just days away from retirement. (It's the first exhausted cliche in a film littered with them.) Right when he's about to file his papers, the aliens land off the coast of major cities and start attacking. He thus leads a platoon of Marines through the streets of Los Angeles to save various civilians and escape Santa Monica before the military nukes the whole area. And that's it. That's the whole movie, this platoon. We meet the sensitive guy who's about to get married, the bookish leader with no experience in the field, the shell-shocked Iraq veteran, the "funny guy," the "kid who has never been laid," every stock war movie character in the book. Again, it's bewildering to me why "Battle: Los Angeles" would go this way in the first place, focusing on a smattering of soldiers who rarely interact with the aliens we're in the theater to see, but if you're going to do that, at least give your soldiers an inkling of a personality. I couldn't identify a single non-Eckhart actor from this film right now if my life depended on it (the tough lady from "Avatar" is hanging around, I think), and they are the focus of the film. The aliens in this film are beside the point. This platoon might as well be fighting communists, or sand lizards, or gnomes.
3. By the way, not to be a spoiler here, but Santa Monica doesn't get nuked, because that would require the film to make some sort of dramatic choice. It's difficult to make a movie about aliens attacking the planet without dramatic stakes, but it's odd: The world never appears to be in all that much peril. This is a movie about the end of the world that wants to please everyone; at least "2012" had the decency to make Los Angeles slide into the ocean. Here, not only does our merry gang of eight faceless Marines fight for survival, they actually take down the aliens by themselves. That would require so much effort that you'd think they wouldn't have time for petty disagreements and Long Speeches About What It Means To Be A Hero, but nope, they somehow fit those in. The film lurches from scene to scene with zero narrative momentum, with a dilapidated Los Angeles looking suspiciously like it always looks, only with a few burned cars and palm trees scattered about. With about a half hour left in the film, after Eckhart and company have escaped one ploddingly directed sequence after another, finally someone just stands up and says, "Hey, why don't we just go ahead and beat these aliens by ourselves?" (Essentially.) This movie appears to have been written by someone who was being chased.
4. I'd like to devote a little bit of time to the aliens themselves, but I sort of can't, because this sentence has already put more thought into them than the film does. There's no explanation for their appearance -- there's a TV voiceover line about them needing our water to power their ships, which begs the question of how they got here in the first place -- no explication of a plan, no real exploration into them at all. Even their weapons are boring; they shoot lasers, and that's it. There's a scene where Eckhart attempts to find out how to kill one of the aliens, and can't. After about five minutes of screen time, we learn: You have to destroy their heart. Thanks, doctor. I wasn't as crazy as everyone else was about "District 9," but at least that movie put a modicum of consideration of what its alien civilization was like. "Battle: Los Angeles" turns them into Stormtroopers with scaly heads and perpetual pus. Yet, as empty and unformed as they are, you wait impatiently for them to return to the screen, because you're stuck with that platoon, blathering on, roaming about.
5. Is it rude, as someone who doesn't even understand iMovie, to point out how scuzzy and sloppy the special effects are? There aren't that many, not nearly enough, but the ones we have are muddled and dark and ugly. They're also confusing; director Jonathan Leibesman doesn't seem to understand how to construct a battle sequence, and you'll spend long sections trying to figure out what's going on, who's standing where, why this is happening in the first place. He also shoots the film in "Black Hawk Down"-esque shaky-cam, you-are-there fashion, incompetently, with no real reason other than to remind you of "Black Hawk Down," to the point that you just want to grab the cameraman by the head, point him in the direction of an alien and just yell "shoot THAT. That right there!" This project might have sounded compelling in the beginning, a war movie taking place on American shores with aliens, but it takes the worst tropes of each genre and excises anything that might inspire awe or even basic consequence. This is a movie that misses the point of its existence, which is bad enough. But what it does do, it does so incompetently, it ends up landing on that rarified axis of ill-conveived and poorly executed that is so rarely achieved that it's almost an accomplishment of its own. "Battle: Los Angeles" misses every mark it's aiming at, and then misses countless more.