Movie Review: Battleship
By Shalimar Sahota
April 19, 2012

I *said* Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!

Midway through Battleship, Taylor Kitsch’s Alex Hopper references a certain sci-fi franchise by telling a fellow officer that he has a bad feeling. When asked how bad, the response is, “like we’re gonna need a new planet kinda bad feeling.” It’s an unintentional moment of weird irony, for it hasn’t been that long since some of us actually saw Kitsch on another planet, one that left Disney with a bad feeling.

Universal has some pretty risky product out this year, including a “Grimm” Snow White blockbuster, a Bourne sequel without Matt Damon and a foul mouthed comedic Ted. Their biggest and most expensive is Battleship, a film based on Hasbro’s board game. The use of Hasbro’s name in the marketing seems to have resulted in comparisons to Transformers, but apart from massive machine like structures, I don’t really see the similarity. If anything, Battleship is essentially Independence Day at sea. Aliens come; humans take them out. A reference to The Art of War tries to make it look cleverer than it actually is, when really it’s as simple as sour sweets.

The film opens with a bunch of scientist types having set up The Beacon Project, which involves sending a signal to some distant planet (which they’ve named Planet G), believing that its atmosphere could house intelligent life. The signal was probably a very rude word in disguise, because Earth soon gets a response in the shape of big massive alien things that crash land off the coast of Hawaii. Naval ships taking part in an annual exercise are soon forced into action. After a force-field blocks off incoming assistance, the only one left in charge to issue orders is the rash, laid back, new-planet-wanting whipping boy Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), leading the attack with his destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones.

There’s a moment in this film where characters Hopper and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) are literally playing something akin to virtual Battleship with the aliens. With the Navy’s radar system down, they attempt to use buoys designed to track water displacement as a way of taking out alien ships in the hope that they don’t give away their own location. They shout out co-ordinates, missiles are fired, and sometimes they miss. Everyone else is just standing around looking serious, hoping that they don’t die. In this respect you could argue that the film succeeds as a better then authentic adaptation of the board game. And therein lies part of the problem - the source material itself.

It appears that the best thing to do with an idea like Battleship is to turn it into a big effects driven action blockbuster. Won’t argue with that, yet Universal brought in Peter Berg to direct. His previous blockbuster Hancock proved to be an original take on the superhero story, so there was a bit of a wondering as to whether he’d shake this up in any way. He hasn’t. Instead Battleship turns out to be a $200 million military propaganda exercise, a love letter to the US Navy, though you’d be hard pressed to read anything bordering upon emotional depth here; the ink has largely been provided by ILM. Battleship Potemkin this is not.

I believe visual effects can provide a degree of substance, but that’s not the aim here. Battleship goes by sluts’ law that bigger is supposedly better and aims to wow the audience with huge flashy visuals. For the first half hour there is a bit of character build up, as we witness Kitsch’s Hopper go from unemployed screw-up to sailor screw-up. After that, it’s all out action. To be fair, some of it looks pretty damn spectacular. The effects are so good that you’ll believe a ship can float. There’s a crazy, one-take shot with the camera swirling around a destroyer that’s in the process of being obliterated while slowly sinking, and a tense standoff with Hopper trying to take out an alien onboard his destroyer also proves to be a highlight. If you really need an action fix or just love seeing wanton destruction, then it delivers.

The characters are largely stereotypes, though it was interesting to see Japanese and American sailors working together, along with former war veterans. Regardless of race or age, the film shows people working effectively as a team. Kitsch has leading man qualities, which means standing all heroic-like, spouting out lines about how we’re not going to die today and drinking Coke Zero. In a conventional role as Petty Officer Cora Raikes, I don’t quite understand the flak that Rihanna is receiving. It may not be a real breakthrough venture, but she’s quite competent. Plus, we get to see Rihanna firing a minigun. The advertising does a hell of job promoting Liam Neeson’s appearance as Admiral Shane, yet his screen time amounts to nothing more than an extended cameo. All words and no action, means he actually doesn’t beat a single person up in this film. In fact, the trailers promote quite a few scenes that aren’t in the final film, suggesting that an extended edition for Blu-Ray is in the works.

“Who we shooting at?” asks a nameless Navy soldier.

“I don’t know,” is the response.

In fact, we don’t really know much about these aliens or why they’re attacking the Earth. They were probably just bored. They also have some sort of color-coded eyesight which detects threats. If what they’re looking at is green, then it doesn’t pose a threat. If it’s red, then they’ll blast the hell out of it. Because of this these aliens are quite unusual. If they want to take over the Earth, they should just annihilate anything that gets in their way. At one point they send razor wheel-like thingies to destroy an airbase. Yet why they’re deployed to wreck a freeway and disrupt a children’s baseball game is anyone’s guess.

Battleship is your standard blowing shit up blockbuster, full on visual effects and loud explosive action (bring aspirin), mixed with cliché day-saving dialogue. Berg has not brought anything new, for it’s practically indistinguishable from Michael Bay malarkey (hell, there’s even an orange sky moment). It’s proof that you can indeed make a film out of Battleship, but it also proves that just because you can turn pegs into bombs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Still, even if no one says, “You sunk my battleship,” I found it worth watching just to hear the reaction from the film’s Secretary of Defense (a wasted Peter MacNicol) after something in particular veers off course and crashes in Hong Kong, resulting in him crying out, “You’re saying a flying telephone cratered and took out 25,000 people?”

Directed by - Peter Berg
Written by – Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber
Starring – Taylor Kitsch (Alex Hopper), Liam Neeson (Admiral Shane), Alexander Skarsgård (Stone Hopper), Rihanna (Cora Raikes), Tadanobu Asano (Captain Nagata), Brooklyn Decker (Samantha Shane)
Length – 131 minutes
Cert – 12A / PG-13