As war movies go, ho-hum. Saving Private Ryan set a good example of how a war movie should look like, and still directors don't achieve that level, even if they are inspired by it. I can't quite figure out what's holding them back. It does work.
But as alien invasion movies go, it's the most "grounded." You won't find any brain-sucking aliens in this movie, or U.S. presidents in fighter jets, or Microsoft viruses infecting the alien mothership, or aliens suddenly catching the flu and dying off soon after the attack. Because what I mean by being very "grounded" is the opposite extreme. It's not a movie about aliens, it's a movie about Marines at war, and while they are fighting aliens, there is nothing particularly "alien" about them when it comes to battle -- they're just tougher to kill.
Therein lies the reality-flaw: aliens able to travel from another star (presumably) and swarm our planet shouldn't be using ballistic firearms, they'd be using something a lot more deadly and advanced. Gas? Lasers? Chemical / viral drops? And even if they went ballistic, the shells ought to at least be armor-piercing and heat-sinking. While the alien machinery was tough to beat, it wasn't impossible, and it didn't seem to possess technology that was in advance of ours. In fact, they didn't even seem to have gravity control, but rather their ships flew rocket- style. That's just so 50's, isn't it?
There are many complaints about the shaky hand-cam effect in Battle: Los Angeles. Really? NOW everyone's complaining, after a hundred jiggling action movies in the last 10 years that have driven me to CVS upon leaving the theater? Even as a shaky-cam movie, it wasn't nearly as hard to watch as just a few minutes a Michael Bay movie.
It's like all the cameramen these days have Parkinson's.
And yet despite that I gave it 7 stars out of 10 here, which is pretty high, and I suppose I did that for a couple of reasons.
One, it was the most superior alien invasion movie that's been done to date. It divorced itself from the ideas behind Independence Day, War of the Worlds (remake), The Day the Earth Stood Still (remake), and Skyline, and tried to deal out all-out destruction without any over- ambitious science fiction ideas or save-the-earth-from-humans propaganda. I appreciated that, although I wished there was more "Sci-Fi" and less "Marines." Aliens struck a much more satisfying balance between the two, and had better plotting, better pacing, and a cooler foe.
Two, while the movie didn't take a lot of time to develop characters, the actors were strong performers that felt tangible and empathetic. I felt I was there with them, and that's where a lot of genre movies fail. They felt more like real people than actors playing people from a memorized script.
But as a science fiction movie about alien visitation (not necessarily war), it's way, way down on the interest list. District 9 was much more compelling.