Theatrical Review: Battle: Los Angeles

It’s August of 2011 and the world is gripped by the news of groups of meteors headed to Earth.  The meteors are poised to hit 12 major populated seaport areas around the globe. The evacuation of these cities is taking place under military control and soon they reason that there’s more to this than an act of nature.

U.S. Marines Staff Sergeant Mike Nantz is a 20-year combat veteran.  Though his last mission was a success, he lost men to achieve it.  Nantz is ready for retirement and on the day before the meteor strike, he gets it, but is quickly called back into service.  He’s set to fill in for another sergeant for a group of men under the leadership of a green lieutenant.

As Nantz and his men learn of the true nature of the meteor strike, an alien invasion, they’re given a mission to rescue a group of civilians who have found shelter in a police station deep behind the front lines of combat.  Now, Mike Nantz and his men have a limited amount of time to rescue the civilians and get back to safety before bombs are dropped along the coast line of Los Angeles.

That’s the premise to Battle: Los Angeles. When I first saw the trailer to this, I thought I was seeing an immediate sequel to last year’s Skyline. Other than the idea of an alien invasion centering around Los Angeles, this is totally unrelated.  Thank goodness, I wasn’t the biggest supporter of Skyline though I do think there’s a lot of good stuff in it, but where it failed for me is that I didn’t care for it’s main characters at all.

That’s not the case for Battle: Los Angeles. Here, I did give a damn over what happened to these people.  While deep characterization isn’t necessarily director Jonathan Liebesman’s central focus, he gives you enough for most of them to make you care. With the case of Michael Hantz, he gives you a lot more. But more on that in a moment.

I just have one little gripe about the movie and that’s it.  This is primarily shot in a shaky camera style that suggests the idea of a cameraman being imbedded with the men.  For the most part, this really works for me here and in other movies, but where it didn’t work was near the beginning of the film.  Before going into combat, the movie flashes back to the day before to set up Nantz and each of his men.  I found this style of shooting a little annoying here because it really wasn’t necessary.  This is the calm before the storm and here we’re given bits and pieces about each of the men.  The shooting style becomes just a little too intrusive during this brief period.  This is a pretty moot complaint though, the set-up doesn’t take too long and the rest of the style works tremendously well with the rest of the film.

On the whole, the movie looks terrific.  It has great production design and the special effects are about as top drawer as it gets.  That terrific look gets punctuated with a great musical score from Brian Tyler.

As you’re watching this, you’ll certainly see similarities to other movies out there.  I thought it was like taking military movies like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan or We Were Soldiers and mixing them with movies like the above-mentioned Skyline or Independence Day. Is it derivative?  Sure it is, I certainly recognize that and I don’t mind it at all when it’s well put together, and Battle: Los Angeles is well put together.

Before this, Liebesman directed movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Darkness Falls neither of which I’ve seen or didn’t really care to see, and so I wouldn’t necessarily think I was going to get something that great from him for this big film.  Obviously I was pleasantly surprised.

Aaron Eckhart plays Mike Nantz.  I’ve been a big fan of his ever since first seeing him in Neil LaBute’s In The Company Of Men. While I’ve not seen everything he’s done, I’ve seen quite a bit of it and Eckhart always brings in some standout work.  I mention In The Company Of Men because in that, Eckhart plays about as vile an individual as it gets.  With Battle: Los Angeles he goes to the other end of the spectrum to play what I think is his most heroic role to date.  Eckhart was always my pick to play Marvel Comics’ Captain America on the big screen, and Battle: Los Angeles shows he would’ve made a great one, but I digress.  Mike Nantz is the most fleshed-out character in the movie, and though he does have this heroic exterior, Eckhart is a strong enough talent to show you that there’s more to the man than just that.

The trailers that I’ve seen for the film only show Eckhart clearly in a few brief moments.  He’s not the big push for the film, that belongs to the special effects and big action.  I actually think it’s a good way to push it, that will be a clear draw for the audience going to see this and further, I hope they’ll be satisfied with it.  They’ll be further rewarded though with this fine bit of work from Eckhart.  This may not stand out in the same way as In The Company Of Men or The Dark Knight, but still it’s a solid and grounded performance.  Hell, I’d follow him to hell and back after seeing him in this movie.

The rest of the cast is filled with some solid younger acting talent that I’m not really that familiar with, with a real standout for me being Ramon Rodriguez, who plays the young lieutenant leading this mission.  Other recognizable faces include Michael Pena and Bridget Moynahan as two of the civilians.  Pena gets a nice chance to step up to the plate as a brave father, and I wish Moynahan would’ve had  a similar type scene, just because I like her.  She doesn’t do anything wrong here and the movie isn’t necessarily wrong to not do more with her, she’s just someone who I like and would’ve liked to have seen a bit more of.  Also in the cast is Michelle Rodriguez who plays an army Tech Sergeant who joins up with Nantz and his crew on their mission.  Compared to what she did in Machete this is quite a bit restrained, but it still works.

Now even though I said that deep characterization wasn’t the focus here, that’s not to slight the cast (or the writing) by any means at all.  I think it’s evident by just how physical this movie is that there’s a tremendous amount of hard work put into this.  Further, I’ve got to hand it to Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini to not burden this cast with a character who would be there to deliver the snark.  You’d almost expect that with a movie like this, but it’s played totally straight and for that, I really applaud these guys.  It’s very cool to see a story about people heroically stepping up to the plate played with a totally straight face.

Battle: Los Angeles is a whole lot of big screen big fun.  It’s an intense ride that rarely lets up, but when it does, it does at the right periods and for the right amount of time.  It’s look and special effects are fantastic and it’s held together by a terrific lived-in performance from Aaron Eckhart.  Don’t miss this… highly, highly recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

12. March 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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