Battle: Los Angeles (2011; dir. Jonathan Liebesman) has an ample amount of CGI special effects. Aliens attack the major cities of the earth, and Los Angeles proves to be the one place where resistance is not futile. A staff sergeant on the verge of retirement (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself called back to duty, and he and a platoon of Marines square off with the aliens. Much of the film focuses on the efforts of the soldiers to rescue civilians trapped in a police station. What sets this film apart from most films of this type is that it focuses more on characters than special effects and space creatures. It’s basically a battle movie, with all the standard clichés and formulas. The staff sergeant, Michael Nantz, of course, has a past—a decision he made a few years earlier in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of four men in his unit. His confidence is shaken, and this event helps convince him to retire. He finds in the platoon he’s assigned to the brother of one of the dead soldiers, who makes everyone in the unit aware of the sergeant’s past. So, in addition to fighting the aliens Nantz must battle his own self-doubts and those of the men he's leading. As is the rule in many battle films, we find our time occupied with wondering which soldier will die next, and how. We wonder whether the sergeant will overcome his self-doubt and win the confidence of his unit. We wonder how only a few men could possibly do anything to defeat the nasty and apparently invincible aliens, who have invaded the earth to harvest its water.
CGI spacecraft mostly hover in the background, with a few close-up encounters. We recognize some borrowings from other films-- Stephen Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005) seems to be an influence on how Battle: Los Angeles shows alien weapons that disintegrate human bodies, and the appearance of some of the alien ships.
Like many battle films, this one is entertaining but in no way distinguished. There’s a lot of action, gunfire, and explosions, and the narrative moves fast. It’s fortunate the aliens hover mostly in the background. The one time we get to see them up close, they look like poorly made puppets. Staff Sergeant Nantz is the character who lends this film what virtues it has.