Movie Review: Battleship
By Matthew Huntley
May 23, 2012
What’s surprising about Battleship is its most entertaining scenes are the ones where the two opposing forces battle each other in a manner similar to the Hasbro board game. I wouldn’t have thought this possible, since watching two people play a board game, or a video game for that matter, can be one of the most boring activities around. But watching U.S. and Japanese navy soldiers seek out alien ships on a radar screen and then yell “Fire!” hoping they chose the right coordinates, actually proved exciting. Not exciting enough to recommend the movie, but at least we’re never bored.
On a general level, Battleship is too full of extraneous and perfunctory scenes to make it worth your time. It’s supposed to be a big, dumb and loud, I know, but even that description puts it upon the movie to entertain us and not just have us rolling our eyes, least of all in the opening scenes. We want to laugh with a movie like this for its absurdity, not just at it. Granted, it doesn’t take itself as seriously as Michael Bay’s Transformers pictures, and we don’t leave the theater feeling angry or offended, but we also don’t leave feeling happy or satisfied, either.
If there’s one thing Battleship proves, it’s that board games can, in fact, be adapted into feature length movies and still turn out okay. Heck, if video games can do it and prove to be successful (albeit not necessarily good), why can’t board games? Not that I’m suggesting there be a Scrabble, Chutes & Ladders or Chinese Checkers screenplay written, but there could be worse things.
The story behind Battleship is an expectedly goofy one. We’re told that in 2005 NASA discovered a distant planet close enough to the sun that its climate can sustain human life. Using a series of powerful satellites, NASA sends a communication signal into outer space in an effort to make contact with extraterrestrial life forms. As the story usually goes for movies like this, aggressive aliens respond to the signal and send destructive ships down to Earth that crash land in Hong Kong and the ocean surrounding Hawaii. For reasons that never get fully (or even partially) explained, the aliens attack and erect a force field around Hawaii and enclose the U.S. and Japanese battleships that have come together for the RIMPAC naval war games.
Aboard one of these ships is the impulsive and undisciplined Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch of John Carter). He was forced into the navy by his older brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), because he was unemployed, directionless and drinking his life away while sleeping on Stone’s couch. Now Alex has gotten more serious, but he’s just as egotistical. He’s also in a relationship with Sam (Brooklyn Decker), the beautiful blonde he met in a bar and for whom he broke into a convenient store to get a chicken burrito. Alex wants to marry Sam, but she’s of course the daughter of the highly decorated Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) and Alex doesn’t quite have the nerve to ask him for his blessing. The admiral wouldn’t think Alex worthy anyway since it’s rumored he’ll be kicked out of the navy once the RIMPAC games are over.
Gee, do you think Alex will prove himself worthy by the end of the movie, perhaps if he shows bravery and quick-thinking to rid the planet of those pesky aliens?
The plot and characters of Battleship are essentially stock movie assets that director Peter Berg uses to bridge the battle scenes, which, aside from the aliens and navy trying to sink each other’s vessels using strategy as well as chance, are relatively routine. They’re serviceable and more coherent than those found in the Transformers movies, but they’re far from awesome or inspired. Looking back on the movie, I can’t help but think of Independence Day and how I still get excited and giddy over that movie’s diverse characters, the alien attacks and the climactic battle scene when the humans finally retaliate. Independence Day is every bit as cheesy and mindless as Battleship, but its style, attitude and freshness somehow make it more fun and exciting. Battleship, by comparison, is mediocre and doesn’t feel as grand.
Still, it’s not a painful experience, and it’s arguably amusing at times. Taylor Kitsch, though stiff and monotone, makes for a likable hero. In fact, all the characters - Petty Officer Cora Raikes (played by Hip Hop star Rihanna), Boatswain Jimmy Ord (Jesse Plemons) and Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (Gregory D. Gadson), a paraplegic who’s lost his will to fight but who will no doubt gain it back by the end - are likable, but that’s not enough. Just because Battleship isn’t as bad as we expect it to be doesn’t mean it’s necessarily worthy of praise. The dialogue is laughable, the plot is recycled and often nonsensical, and we don’t walk away really remembering or caring about what we just watched. There is one inspired sequence toward the end that I won’t reveal, but it involves veteran naval officers and it admittedly makes you smile and want to cheer.
On the whole, Battleship is simply a forgettable experience. It’s big, dumb and loud, sure, but it’s not exactly fun, which is the most crucial ingredient for a summer blockbuster like this. If it’s a fun movie with similar credentials you’re in the mood for, check out Independence Day or The Avengers. They’re mindless action extravaganzas too, but with higher standards and greater payoffs.