Directed by Peter Berg
Written by Jon & Erich Hoeber
Featuring Taylor Kistch, Liam Neeson, Rhianna, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Gregory D. Gadson. 131 mins., PG-13
Plot: When an alien invasion force threatens all of planet earth, only one battleship float betweens the salvation of mankind and its extermination – until the sequel, when it gets re-threatened.
The trailers, those wonderful trailers. There’s circumstances where a well-cut together trailer can make even the most boring of movies sound utterly engaging, like you have to see it this blood second. Right off the bat, I’m thinking off the Doubt. And then there are trailers of flicks that look so ridiculously bad and unappealing, that a project you were once marginally intrigued by has suddenly become one of those Avoid At All cost releases. That’s pretty much Battleship. Now, the premise of military versus aliens ain’t something new, but I liked this take of it – the war at sea, the Navy being the first and only line of defense before shit gets really real. Sounded interesting, but the trailers made it look freakishly bland (freakish, because it’s an action movie, and action flicks at least should come across a tad ‘woah’) and I was slowly beginning to have a aversion to star Taylor Kitsch, who sadly didn’t wow me all that much with John Carter months earlier. Long sad story short, I was wrong. Battleship is all kinds of fun. It’s not clever and surprising like Mr. Whedon’s Avengers, but damn if it isn’t entertaining as hell, and shoots through the screen as a confidant action flick fully giddy at its premise and explosions.
Making Something Out of Nothing
There’s character development in Battleship. Go figure. That, my friends, is something I was not expecting. Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is a troublemaker, a dude who likes to spring into action without a thought of the consequences or much less a plan. That makes him irresistible to the ladies, but a huge pain in the ass for his brother Stone (Skarsgard) who tries his best to clean up Alex’s messes. Finally, enough is enough, and Stone forces Alex to enlist in the Navy, and even that level of orders and ‘yes, sir’’s don’t seem to make a dent in his skull. Enter the alien war. Nearly no one else is bothered with much work on character, but that’s all fine and dandy, because the writers have their hands full with Alex. One thing leads to another, and he’s thrown into the chair of command, and it’s growing up time. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one of the reasons why I was quite impressed by this action film – because they bothered. Does the progression of Alex’s arc feel completely organic from start to finish? Not entirely, but they do a marvelous job at providing points for Alex to grow and mature, and for his new-found maturity and sense of purpose to shine, and that makes the scenes when horribly-rendered CG aliens aren’t crashing about watchable and, perhaps, much more interesting.
Another fun aspect of the Alex character and his arc is his continued rivalry with a Japanese captain, Nagata. The interaction between these two men are truly some of the film's highlights; they work off each other very well, both snarky and stubborn and pushed to their limits - if the flick was just Alex and Nagata firing off insults at each other and trying to run a ship, that'd possibly be one of the most entertaining movies of the summer.
As far as the other characters, they are hardly worth mentioning. We have Rhianna of all people playing a strong but scared shipmate, and Brroklyn Decker as Alex’s girlfriend Samantha, who is forced into the narrative in a rather embarrassingly convoluted manner. Sam spends her time with a Army veteran Mick (Gadson), who involve themselves in the race to stop the aliens before they can screw the earth over even harder. Their scenes together – sigh – not the best, but they do rub in the tone of Battleship: the movie knows precisely what it is and what it’s aiming for, and doesn’t cater to anything else but that. Battleship is fun, and furthermore, Battleship is a movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t want the audience to, either. Take this humorous exchange: “We can still buy the earth one more day”, says Mick, ready to drive into a kamakazie mission to, well, give the earth one more day, while Mr. Stuttering Scientist Dude rightly comments, “Who talks like that?” The Transformers movies take themselves seriously while having a good time – Battleship is the less straight-faced version of that franchise.
Sunk Your Battleship, Motherfrakker!
For this type of movie, what matters most to the general audience is one thing: being blown away by the action scenes. And holy frak, director Peter Berg delivers. When the aliens first pop their mechanical hides out of the water and engage the ships, that is some real devastation they bring (the aliens, not the Navy), and the loss of life is (surprisingly) felt and very real and emotional. At night, a game of cat-and-mouse is tense in that edge-of-your-seat kind of way, and a sunrise kill-or-be-killed is gorgeous to watch. This action delivers, and if the presence of Liam Neeson ain’t enough to persuade you to seek out Battleship (although, really, he ought to, that man is amazing), hopefully your interest in pretty damn thrilling action scenes will be enticing enough.
If there’s one overbearing negative that prevents a person from really falling in love with the insane action beats and briskful narrative, it’s the presentation of the aliens. One word: lame. Eh, second word: disappointing. In regards to J. J. Abrams, a lot of his creatures are designed a bit too similar to make each one unique enough, and thus hinders that jaw-dropping ‘woah’ moment. Here, the alien designs are just lazy. When the masks do come off and the aliens can be seen in their full glory, I get what they’re trying to go with – the physical similarities between us and them, and the differences – but their armor makes me feel like this is a ‘Don’t Sue Us!’ iteration of Halo and the aliens’ actual appearance gives me Bad Aquaman Villain vibes. So the aliens and Rhianna – those I could do a mecha-change-up to a otherwise fun film.
Bite the Bullet
Yes, worth seeing. A greater understanding of the human race will not be revealed to you during the running time of Battleship, but you get to see some beautiful alien and naval destruction as the earth is on the brink of annihilation. And Liam Neeson. And there’s actual character work in the movie, making it a tiny step above the typical summer blockbuster. Point is, if you’re willing to suspend every ounce of disbelief and just sit back and dig the tone Battleship is going for, this will be two hours very well spent. 8.0/10