I remember playing Battleship with my dad not too long ago. I remember the elegance of the strategy needed to sink the opponents ships. It is the basis for trial and error, learning from your mistakes and changing your tactics to accommodate a diverse battlefield. The movie Battleship, is nothing like the game it is supposedly based on. The antithesis of the big summer blockbuster motif, the film itself absconds with the plot, the acting, and other things that make sense to an audience to give us the most formulaic, base shot of dope to satiate our soft tissue brain and keep our eyes engaged. To say the least, Battleship sunk itself in its cinematic outing.
With a plot line that would please auteur Michael Bay, Battleship does away with the time-honored tradition of man-of-war combat ships engaging one another in a strategic chess match and has modern naval ships battling a group of intergalactic naval ships. Not how I particularly remember the board game, but I will placate the need of director Peter Berg to weave us a summer blockbuster movie about aliens fighting humans. The film stars Taylor Kitsch as Lt. Alex Hopper, a Naval officer assigned to the USS John Paul Jones. He is that typical slouch of a hero who is brilliant at his job if he wasn’t so lazy about exceeding expectations. Of course he paired off with the eye candy Brooklyn Decker as the daughter of the Admiral of the Navy who is played by Liam Neeson. Anyways, Earth tries to contact extraterrestrial life on another planet, they hear us and send some ships that also happen to be aquatic in nature, which is a nice convenience and they are not here to be friendly. Long story short, shield goes up, our plucky hero is trapped and must battle the ships in order to stop them from phoning home. Explosions, terrible dialog and the two-hour naval boner fest that is military porn ensues.
There is nary an original idea in the overblown film. Borrowing so heavily from Bay-like films doesn’t really do the film justice as we could have had something unique in terms of a naval combat film, but instead the action set pieces are over as quickly as they begin and that isn’t a great thing when you have 2+ hours to fill. The sound effects seemed like it came from the Transformers soundboard, the action becomes repetitive as there isn’t a lot of variety to it and the villains of the film are just, well plain, even being aliens doesn’t help give them some sort of identity. The film does stick to the familiar more than anything since we are accustomed to frenetic action scenes, quick edits and the love of explosions, so the film does deliver on all those aspects. For what it’s worth, it’s a pretty film with the effects looking stellar and the explosions can probably be heard in neighboring theater screenings. It’s the sort of heralding that the Summer movie season needs to let everyone know that big budget blockbusters are here to stay.
I can’t speak much on the acting as it all falls well within the bounds of stereotypical, character types. Kitsch plays the reluctant hero who is placed in the seat of captain after all the CO’s are out of commission. Think Captain Kirk from the 2009 Star Trek film where he is the brash, but brilliant captain when given the opportunity. Then you have Rhianna, who the marketing department was really pushing to be like a Michelle Rodriguez type character, which they just should have hired. She doesn’t really offer anything instead of the wise cracking, fast talking stereotype we see from black actors. The lines are delivered stiffly and the only convincing acting comes from the Japanese naval crew who brings a very calculated and stoic persona to their characters.
What the film does well, besides being a visual spectacle, is the encompassing incorporation of generations of servicemen, from veterans of wars long ago to even the recent vets of current combat. Lt. Col. Mick Canales (decorated Iraq War vet Gregory D. Gadson) has a role in this movie to show the enduring fighting spirit of the military, one that doesn’t stop just because you are handicapped. Bringing together generations of veterans does more to show the cohesive nature of the military and strengthens the two-hour recruitment video that Battleship ends up becoming. I did find it a bit comical that the motley crew of the decommissioned Battleship, U.S.S. Missouri, were just hanging out and ready to fight the good fight.
Overall, Battleship is the long, loud, summer movie that I expected it to be. I came in with low expectation cause, let’s be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for a film based on a board game. The high points of the film are the visuals, which Berg does a fine job at capturing, but the single best part of the film is when the intrepid crew of the USS John Paul Jones must play a literal game of Battleship in order to engage the enemy. It’s the sort of insane, brilliance that Berg had to include an obvious nod to the source material, right before it goes back to being a Michael Bay clone. There is never a sense that the aliens are going to take over or even really control the battle and they are just as quickly introduced and discarded in the end as the closing scene just sort of comes up without any reflection on the notion that Earth just got invaded. It’s an afterthought to the audience and director that the villains of the film are just as forgettable as this movie will be. It’s a one time “see and leave movie” and you can probably have more fun playing the actual game than watching this. It’s meant for the ADD, Bay crowd (a lot of Bay comparisons I know, but probably the most appropriate) that want all fluff and no substance.
Rating: 2 sunk battleships out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes