We’ve seen this kind of movie before with Independence Day, Signs, and War of the Worlds being the most well known of it’s kind. By adding in a mixture of heart, coupled by a fantasticly rugged performance by Aaron Eckhart, the 2011 film Battle Los Angeles compares favorably to those counterparts.
We begin the film with one of my favorite storytelling techniques. We start in the middle of the action, show how dire the situation is, and pull back from that situation to the past. The film centers around Aaron Eckhart’s character Staff Sargent Michael Nantz. Sgt. Nantz recently filed his papers to retire from the Marines. After the men he’s training are combat ready, Nantz will leave the military which as he states, is all he’s ever known. There are other quick glimpses into supporting characters and their lives but with many of these movies involving military characters, it’s difficult to get to know them too well as they look very similar once in combat. The film early on begins to talk about meteors that are to hit near the coast of many cities. The problem comes when scientists realize that the meteors are slowing down.
From here we have the majority of the film where the meteors are revealed to be aliens set on using Earth for its water. They are taking over major cities across the world, including an attempt on Los Angeles. After Nantz and the men, led by William Martinez are cut off from the rest of the military, they try to survive and make it back to the military post. When they eventually get there, they realize the invasion has gone much worse than they had imagined.
I admittedly had very low expectations going into this film. I knew it was a mash-up of the films I listed earlier but the thing about that is, with one exception, I like those films and I liked this film. What it all comes down to in a film like this is do you like the characters and hope for them as they try to survive? Also, how do the film makers handle the alien force in the film. To start, I thought Aaron Eckhart delivers what can best be described as a Hollywood movie star performance. In other films that I’ve seen him in such as Rabbit Hole, and Thank You For Smoking, Eckhart was an actor. In those roles he was specific and a character yet remaining the charming and well intentioned persona that he plays in most of his roles. In this film, this character is nothing like any performance I’ve seen from him. He’s a movie star in this role and good for him. The character in this film is ideally what I would have wanted from a very serious take on Captain America that I reviewed recently. I thought a couple times during this film how Eckhart’s character inspires everyone around him at one point to follow him into battle by leading from example. This is something the character of Captain America would inspire onto people and it’s something that I felt was a bit lacking in that film. Yes, there isn’t anything new with this role or really new with this film but like I always find myself saying, it’s the execution of this film that did it for me.
From the performances, to the visuals, this felt very grounded and except for the last 30 minutes, was only about survival. One thing I really enjoyed about the film was the way they kept the aliens hidden from view for the most part. I liked not really being able to see what the overall story was, which was the best thing about the invasion in Signs. Getting into the look of the aliens themselves, one of the things I’ll never understand is why almost all aliens in movies are shiny. It’s as though every weapon, every piece of machinery has never been used before. It’s a little thing for sure but it would add more depth of character if some of the aliens had equipment that looks as though it’s been through a war before. An aspect about this film that I really liked again is that the aliens seemed to be smarter than the humans and their firepower was much more advanced. It’s nice in films when the American forces are the underdogs in the fight and it makes for a much more believable battle. With those low expectations, I expected a rehash or B-level version of films I’ve already seen. What I got was a film that was fun, exciting, with a tremendous performance.