Thanks to the truly biblical stacks of cash hauled in by Michael Bay’s flashy, trashy Transformers movies, toy company-cum-movie studio Hasbro obviously had the stench of pay dirt in its nostrils – how else can you explain the studio blowing a multi-million dollar budget on a huge tent pole sci-fi action movie on a concept inspired on a board game?
Ok, so the practice isn’t THAT strange; after all, zany comedy Clue was also based on it’s dice rolling equivalent and intergalactic goof-fest Mars Attacks! was inspired by a bubble-gum card set, but even with these facts in mind, bringing Battleship to the screen would require a heroic amount of imagination…
That or someone just shrugged their shoulders and went “Fuck it, aliens…”
Alex Hopper is an astronomical fuck up; a guy without a single, solitary, sense of responsibility whose his brother, Stone, exasperated with his siblings immature behaviour, forces him to join him in the Navy. Meanwhile NASA has discovered a brand new planet with a suspiciously similar atmosphere conditions and a team of scientists in Hawaii have just completed a state of the art communications array to communicate with any life that may exist on this mysterious Planet G.
While you openly wonder if anyone from NASA has ever watched an alien invasion movie in their lives, we jump ahead to 2012 and the younger Hopper brother has somehow managed to excell in the Navy despite being as big a jackhole as he always was, but he’s also managing to hold a relationship together with Sam, the daughter of Liam Neeson’s terrifying Admiral. However, while predictably screwing up during RIMPAC, the international maritime warfare exercise, Alex is on the verge of being discharged when alien craft, using the NASA signal as a beacon descends on earth tearing Hong Kong a new asshole and covering a large portion of the coast of Hawaii under a huge force field. Inside this force field are three battleships and a trio of water-dropping alien hovercraft and they have to indulge in a hugely destructive game of cat and mouse while an extra terrestrial strike team split off to capture the NASA installation for their own, invasion-y ends. While Alex, Stone and their various quirky ship mates fight for their lives in this real life game of… well, Battleship, physical therapist Sam and her belligerent patient, the multiple amputee Mike, are caught up with the invader’s ground force.
Can Alex curb his natural instincts to be a gung-ho deuche bag and actually listen to his crew when working out how to outfox these other worldly wankers or is world domination assured by a force so confident they only deploy three warships at a time…
If I’m being brutally honest, the first time I saw Battleship was like an exercise in mind control; as in 20 minutes after leaving the cinema I’d almost completely forgotten almost everything about what I had been watching for the last 2 hours and 11 minutes – and yet, I could remember what trailers were shown…
Such was the fate of Peter Berg’s Battleship, a film that stands today as having virtually no cultural impact whatsoever in the years since someone selected B12 and sent it crashing down in box office flames. Berg at the time, was enjoying big budget success with his previous movie, half-decent, Will Smith superhero comedy Hitchcock and was yet to indulge in his unbroken streak of movies featuring Mark Wahlberg doing that heavy breathing thing he does with his voice – but here he got to play in that petrol-soaked sand box usually only reserved for the likes of Michael Bay.
Ironically enough, Bay and Berg actually have very similar tastes, both employ huge splurges of sparkly CGI, massive earth rattling explosions and inordinate amounts of military porn when given the cash and permission to do so and thus Battleship inevitably has the feel of a loud, bombastic love-child formed by the unholy coupling of Pearl Harbour and a Transformers sequel. While you reel from the fact that someone actually wanted to mimic Bay’s trademark style (right down to the Transformers-heavy, sci-fi sound design) it’s worth stating that Berg has a much better eye for making character feel a little less than screaming, cardboard cutouts than Bay does and despite quite a few shortcomings, manages to turn in a perfectly acceptable, if boneheaded, alien war movie that somehow has to remind you of a board game you probably last played when you were eight.
It sort of succeeds (although no one would have complained if it hadn’t), with the aliens explosive mines looking like a scary, sci-fi version of the pegs you place on the game board and a whole scene dedicated to the remaining ship’s crew sailing blind and using a screen reminiscent of the game to track their quarry but all the nods in the world isn’t going to protect from yawning plot holes and a tin ear for dialogue (choice line: “It’s gonna be like Columbus and the Indians, only we’re the Indians!”).
The cast are serviceable – although if Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgärd are both supposed to be close brothers why the hell do they both have completely different accents – but Rihanna’s much ballyhooed debut as a nuance-free, textbook tough-chick barely registers, while Jessie Plements counteracts that with another thick faced dumb guy role as Liam Neeson picks up another easy payday as he just fixes everyone with that patented Taken stare…
With decent sized roles giving both disabled and elderly, ex-military characters a chance to kick alien ass without things getting TOO cozy with the military (although, at numerous times it’s damn close), the film is flush with good intentions, but all the fist pumping and flag waving in the world (even if it’s to AC/DC) isn’t going to mean anything if the audience doesn’t care and having villains from outer space who have incredibly strange battle plans really doesn’t help.
Looking like rejects from Halo, the aliens refuse (or are unable) to fire upon non-attacking combatants, have weaponry that’s unable to shoot in a straight line and have bizarre gadgets that make no logical sense whatsoever except to look fucking cool – why would you have a spherical device that’s covered in blades and bores through things like Skynet’s made a Sonic The Hedgehog model of Terminator when you could just drop a fucking bomb on things. The aliens seem destined to lose not because we’ve got the grit, guts and determination to win out, but because these alien ass-clowns don’t seem to have the first clue on how to organize a piss up in a brewery let alone perform interstellar colonization.
It passes the time fairly easily but on the whole, consider this battleship well and truly sunk.