“My dad said they’d come, said it my whole life. He said one day we’ll find them or they’d find us. Know what else he said? He said, ‘Hope I’m not around when that day comes.’”
Director Peter Berg kneels at the altar of Michael Bay and lovingly creates a clone of his most bombastic, military-fetish, slo-mo obsessed, whiplash-cut-driven movies with Battleship, based on the Hasbro (the same company behind the Transformers movies and yes, it definitely shows) board game of the same name. In fact, it kind of feels like the Sea Monkey version of Transformers, just add water and watch the mech monsters grow before your eyes.
Yes, once again, highly advanced aliens are attacking the Earth, and we have to muster our entire naval might to fight back, but the real enemy in this movie is the incredibly familiar clichés and wooden “bigger than life” dialog, with greatest hits like, “Yes, I’m going to die, you’re going to die, everyone on this ship is going to die… just not this day.” Or (after over a half an hour of unstoppable alien barrages), “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” And of course, “Let’s see if we can buy the world another day.”
I’m not sure how much I should expect from a movie based on a 69-year-old board game. I was amused at how they worked the game into the film, including alien explosives shaped like the game pegs and even a blind shootout working off a grid much like the one across the face of the playing board. However, it says a lot that the most effective action sequence happens long before the arrival of the aliens and concerns the illegal acquisition of a chicken burrito. In fact, once the endless explosions and emotionally sterile, bloodless battles began, I was forced to go out to the concession stand and buy a double shot of espresso just to keep awake.
OK, so here’s the basic plot. Our scientists have located a “goldilocks” planet in a neighboring solar system. It is explained that a goldilocks planet is not too close to its sun making it too hot or too far making it too cold, but just the perfect distance to make it “just right” for sustaining life. Ignoring Stephen Hawking’s famous warning, “”If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” (a line mercilessly plagiarized by an ignored harbinger-of-doom scientist early in the film) we design an exploratory signal to let them know exactly where we are and, much to our chagrin, their response is to send four scout ships to presumably prep our planet for takeover.
Our entire naval fleet of battleships just so happens to be in the area for RIMPAC, the largest international maritime exercise, and, before you know it, it feels like you’re watching an extended Navy recruitment video. Yes, this is quite the love letter to the Navy. There was no question of the Navy’s full support and involvement here. Unlike with the military’s refusal to support The Avengers due to questions on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s placement in the chain of command, this is a full on naval love fest, and it shows on an impressive level onscreen. However, if our planet is facing a possible extinction level event, where are the Army, Air Force, and Marines? No scrambled jets? No nuclear option? No meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Nah, the Navy is badass enough for these pesky aliens; even retired vet senior citizens can kick their bald and spiky-goateed asses.
Our intrepid hero is perpetual screw-up Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch –better in this than in John Carter, but still a wooden, emotionless performance) who, in trying to follow in the footsteps of his big brother Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård, Eric Northman in True Blood, broadly overacting to try and compensate for Kitsch’s lack of emoting), manages to royally piss off Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson trying not to look too embarrassed to be in this), yet win the love of the admiral’s beautiful daughter, Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker, pretty, but with not much else going on) and save the world with tactics crazy-enough-that-they-just-might-work.
Battleship left me confused about the motives of the aliens, which all resemble clones of Scott Ian, the rhythm guitarist for Anthrax. I was completely unsure about their intent or if they even meant to go to war with us in the first place. They won’t kill unarmed humans, they mainly target offensive weaponry and they seem desperate to tell their story to us via a touch-based telepathic link. I am not sure if they didn’t really come here to enlist our help somehow, but we decide to shoot first and ask questions later.
Throw in a little stunt casting with Rihanna’s debut as Petty Officer Cora ‘Weps’ Raikes (who gives one of the best performances in the movie even if she looks completely unbelievable in a naval uniform). Mix in shameless sentimentalism concerning retired veteran tour guides manning an out of commission battleship and a disabled Army vet going hand to hand with the aliens (both of these scenes caused the audience to erupt with applause) and Battleship presents a mindless, summer movie spectacle which will please undiscerning audiences, pre-teen boys, and armchair admirals everywhere.
You’ve seen it all B-4… you sunk my Battleship! Well, actually Peter Berg did, but that won’t stop audiences in love with things that go boom from flocking to see this derivative action cheese-fest. Incredibly dumb and instantly forgettable, somehow Battleship still manages to stay afloat by the time the final credits roll.
“If five ships can do this, what do you think fifty could do, or five hundred thousand?”