Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Liam Neeson
The “story” of Battleship is one that like its visual aesthetic is a combination of many other, inferior and slightly superior, films. Alex Hopper (Played by John Carter himself Taylor Kitsch) is going nowhere in life and is forced by his older brother (Played by Alexander Skarsgard) to join him in the navy in order to give his little brother not just a job, but purpose. The film then skips ahead to a time when Alex has now got a haircut and is a fully-fledged member of the navy, the filmmakers could clearly just not find the room in their two hour and ten minute running time to display such a character transition. With an attitude that threatens to waste his potential, Admiral Shane (Played by Liam Neeson in a thankless role, the film literally forgets about him for the entire second act) cannot see what his daughter (Brooklyn Decker) does in Alex, who is planning on asking for Shane’s permission to marry the daughter that is oh so precious to him.
To in the words of Tim from Spaced, “Skip to the end” aliens attack (Due to signals sent by scientists) and Alex is left as commander of one of the ships stuck in a force field against alien invaders. I imagine that if you have seen even one film in your life that you can from that plot outline guess exactly what is going to happen and to not spoil anything too much...you’re not wrong. This is a film where elements are introduced in the first act and you can immediately guess their pay off in the third. Half (If not all) of the fun in watching this movie is to revel in the joy and unintentional laughter with your friends when your predictions become a reality.
Like this year’s Man on a Ledge, this is a truly cliché ridden and predictable film. However, Battleship does not spend much time dwelling on its lack of a story, as instead the majority of this film is comprised of, as Brick would say in Anchorman, “LOUD NOISES” with military personnel quickly yelling instructions to each other amidst the destruction leading me to think, as Brick would say in Anchorman, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT” The dialogue is for the most part so cliche that a character saying, “Nobody talks like that” is the most relatable line in the film. The sound editors and mixers are the ones who provide the most memorable work in this film, when recalling Battleship in a months, weeks or even days time, all you will remember is sound...a lot of sound. The visual effects while very expensive and impressive have had their impact lessened by the fact that we have seen this all before. 50% of the shots in this film could have been cut and paste from Transformers, you even have the Michael Bay sunrise and sunset shots, accompanied by a Steve Jablonsky score.
The only thing that tells you Michael Bay did not direct this film is that for the most part, during the action sequences, you can tell what is happening. During many of the action sequences Battleship steers into guilty pleasure territory, as the sheer noise and ferocity of it (Akin to having a drill right next to your ear and a fire cracking in front of your eyes) eventually pummels you into submission. It is at times just too big and loud for you to ignore or zone out of, in that sense it is oddly commendable that in stretches over its over two hour running time, it just simply won’t allow you to get bored, the same way how a small child who keeps pleading for your attention is eventually going to wear you down and get it.
In the film there are these spinning wheels of destruction that basically serve as a metaphor for the film itself (Unintentionally I’m sure). It spins through everything in its wake, causing destruction, making a lot of noise along the way. Much of the film takes place within a force field and again that is an apt visual representation, as the whole film seems to take place within a bubble. For the brief moments that it does consider the worldwide implications of such an event, British viewers will get a double whammy. First we get obviously fake ITV News footage followed by clips of the London riots, shown to demonstrate how the alien threat is causing worldwide panic. There is no point trying to make sense of anything in this film, basically stuff blows up and every now and again this concept of talking and story gets in the way. In a way I wish they had just cut the dialogue and story altogether, it would have significantly trimmed the running time. Just give me 90 or less minutes (Preferably less) of what you are here to do and then leave my memory.
For any of you die hard, hardcore, Battleship board game fans out there, do not get excited about this film. This is about as closely related to the Battleship board game as Pirates of the Caribbean was related to the ride. We’re told they both got their origins from their respective game and ride, however apart from perhaps one scene, if it weren’t for the title, you wouldn’t make the connection. It is as if the screenwriters were just told the studio wanted a Battleship film and they took that as a film, with battles...and ships.
Some people may see it as obvious that there is little connection between the film and the board game from which it is supposedly based. What story could you possibly spin out of a board game? On the evidence of this film the answer is none, however believe it or not there are many interesting things they could have done with a Battleship film. Perhaps make it an old school World War Two film where it is actually ships on ships (Hollywood needs to drop its alien obsession), at one point in the film a character says, “Is this a top secret Navy test? Because if it is they have gone way too far” giving me the idea of a film about the extremities of military training, a Hunger Games esque satire perhaps? Or expanding on that theme with a different premise, a simple war film where generals are shown treating the battle like a board game, while we cut to people dying from their decisions.
The problem with those, interesting, ideas however are that they insinuate war is bad and that the military aren’t perfect. When you strip all the effects and action down, Battleship is at its heart, a propaganda film. It is a film that says no matter how old, disabled or lost you are, there will always be a place and a role for you in the military, and in the struggle to defend this nation. There is actually a scene where the young officers turn to the veterans to save the day, cut to a scene of a group of old men walking towards our main characters in slow motion, dramatic music playing, as the sun rises behind them. These veterans are then told how much they have done for their country and how they have no right to be asked for more but of course, we are going to ask for more (Perhaps another interesting idea underneath the surface of that line) Battleship isn’t interested in ideas, themes or story however...its two primary goals are, blow stuff up and promote the U.S. military. Many European critics have labeled this aspect of the film, jingoistic, a term that I doubt will be frequently used in reviews for the film in the U.S., where Battleship may receive an Act of Valor-esque pass, unless the majority of American critics decide U.S. military propaganda on film is only acceptable when the stars are themselves military personnel (As was the case in Act of Valor)
What some parents may object to however, is the surprising amount of swearing in a film whose largest fan base will be in the 6-13 year old boy region. Two times in this film, it cuts away just before somebody can finish saying a word that bears a lot of similarity to this made up word, brotherlucker.
The one thing every review of this film must cover is the performance of Rihanna. The pop singer makes her acting debut with this film and, can she act? I wish I could give you an answer but the fact is, she doesn’t have to. All Rihanna must do is sit in the background, look angry a couple of times and look happy a couple of times. While her dialogue is limited words such as, “Boom” and “Awesome” It is Taylor Kitsch who is arguably most impressive here, as in John Carter I couldn’t get interested in him at all, whereas in Battleship he came close to maintaining my attention, however I still cannot fathom why he has been chosen to lead two, 200 million dollar, early year blockbusters.
This review is way longer than I expected it to be and I thank you if you have made it this far. It is ironic a film as forgettable as this one is my longest of the year and could remain so, in fact many critics should be thankful to Battleship, it gives us so much material, spawning some of the funniest reviews I have read and probably will read this year. Many will hate Battleship either for its arguably jingoistic, definitely propaganda nature, its lack of logic or its aesthetic affiliation with the work of Michael Bay. However I did not hate Battleship and if you turn your brain off, sit well into your seat and see it in a big loud theatre with a friend, there is some guilty pleasure fun to be had with this film. It didn’t bore or anger me as much as John Carter (Perhaps because that film had so much more promise and potential) and the film was always doing something loud, unintentionally funny or stupid enough that it never REALLY bored me. Although that might have something to do with the fact that, as a sixteen year old boy, I am probably still slightly susceptible to the appeal of big action sequences.
Disagree with this review? Give us your thoughts on Battleship in the comments.