Spoiler Level: Medium-High
First off, I want to apologize to all my readers. It's been a good ride, I'm glad you've kept reading my posts, and I'm going to miss you all.
For, according to Roger Ebert, I am an idiot and you should consider spending less time around me. Because I can not tell a lie; I enjoyed this movie.
It's not high art or anything; from what I've read, director Jonathan Liebesman wanted to do an alien invasion story that treated the military more realistically, something along the lines of Saving Private Ryan with aliens. Now I will confess I have yet to see Saving Private Ryan (it doesn't have spaceships in it), but I always got the impression that was a very emotional film, which this film definitely is not. We get to meet every single member of the platoon before the fighting begins, but to be honest once they got into their combat gear I couldn't really tell which one was which or remember who had what story. So I really wasn't able to have a whole lot of empathy for them as characters once they start getting killed in combat. But once the platoon is reduced to four or five soldiers and they start referencing each others histories I was able to figure out who was left and keep track.
No, what Battle: Los Angeles succeeds at is giving us a very gritty take on War of the Worlds, completely from the military angle and with lots of boom. We get the occasional TV news footage to show us that this is happening all over the world, and there are some civilians that our heroes have been ordered to rescue, but even those civilians are seen solely from the perspective of the marines' interaction with them-- they have no opening shots telling us about their lives, and when they're rescued and handed off they're out of the film.
Which, for me, is where this movie succeeds over Spielberg's 2005 War of the Worlds. Spielberg tried to do an alien invasion story that was a family feel-good movie, with the estranged dad trying to reconcile with his wife and kids. Now I can respect that the original book focused on a man having been physically separated from his wife during the invasion and trying to get back to her, but an end-of-the-world alien invasion story is no place for a feel-good "get to know your kids again" kind of story. By contrast, there are kids in Battle: Los Angeles, but they're obviously going through a traumatic experience and, while one little boy and his father are featured quite a bit, their relationship is not intended to be the main part of the film.
The movie suffers from the usual Hollywood conceits; this one platoon manages to learn all the critical intel and has opportunities to attack all the right spots to turn the tide in the war. And of course, the invaders have the crucial weakness of a Master Control Center, but at least in this case it only controls the spaceships in the LA area and not the entire alien army all over the world. In that sense, this movie does a little better, in that it doesn't have a lot of the glaring flaws in logic that always seem to be in movies these days. (Such as Jeff Goldblum's laptop being able to interface with an alien computer network in Independence Day, for example.)
Speaking of the spaceships, I loved their design. They could all join together as a disc or have sections that would break off into individual fighter drones. The aliens themselves looked fine; it was a design that looked very alien, but what I really enjoyed was their tech.
So with no disrepect intended to the esteemed Mr. Ebert, who's a real critic and not just some fanboy with a blog, I got out of this movie exactly what I was hoping for-- a shoot-'em-up between humans and spaceships with lots of cool special effects.