Dir. by Jonathan Liebesman - 1 hr. 56 min.
Thrill rides don't really hold up to criticism. Either they work (which means that you're into the ride) or they don't. If they don't work as a thrill ride, you can pick them apart, searching for reasons why, but the result is the same: a less-than-exciting experience. This one worked, in the sense that the film hit all the points it needed to in order to get to the end. That's called a formula. The explosions and carnage were big and loud (and there's always a little satisfaction in seeing Los Angeles leveled), but there wasn't anything more to the story.
Short version of the story: unstoppable aliens invade the planet, and a platoon of Marines (led by Aaron Eckhart's character) fight through impossible circumstances. And, shit gets blown up.
While I was watching B:LA, I was carried from point to point just well enough not to start picking things apart (mostly). But in retrospect, there are a lot of problems. While it seems somewhat unfair to take aim at a movie that aims so low, I'm going to do it anyway. Going in, it's clear that all this movie wanted to be was a spectacle. Having seen the movie, that fact is laid bare. Literally everything is stock (TM Lars Ulrich), all the way down to the standard-issue shaky-cam approach and use of that font that lets you know you're watching a military/war film. I can't stress this enough: the adherence to an existing formula is so complete that the director doesn't even have the balls to mess with a font. It's a testament to the formula itself that the movie functions on the levels it does. And I'll give credit to Aaron Eckhart and the other members of the cast - it's not easy doing all those sit-ups and eating all those vegetables to get in shape for a movie like this.
One of the things that an alien invasion movie hangs it's hat on is how cool the aliens and their gear look. No one would be talking about movies like "Predator," the Alien saga, or even "District 9" if aliens looked stupid. Here, the movie takes as long as it can before revealing the actual look of the aliens; for a long time, they're only seen in the distance or obscured by haze. It's a smart move, because the actual design isn't very impressive. And the technology is even worse, using the same "magnet rolled around a junkyard" aesthetic seen in the "Transformers" series. Visually, the stuff doesn't make any sense, which is a complete failure. I know that it's getting easier and easier to pile details onto computer-generated imagery, but less is more, especially when it detracts from the story itself. If I can't figure out what's going on, I'm pulled out of the story.
This isn't a terrible film, it just doesn't aspire to much (other than at times veering into a recruitment ad for the Marines). The good news is that the formula works, and that Los Angeles looks awesome getting blown up and on fire on a big screen and at maximum volume. I'm not saying not to see this, but I can't think of a single compelling reason to recommend this over any other variation on this theme.
2 / 5 - Theatre