Battleship – Review


The aborted spawn of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor and Transformers.

Days leading up to the release of Battleship, I read an article which had a laundry list of what to look for in movie trailers in deciding if it was worth seeing or better off skipping. To say that the marketing of this so-called adaptation of the Milton Bradley board game was atrocious is an understatement. Of the three trailers cut to promote the film none showed any resemblance to the game we remember from our youth with that signature phrase “You sunk my battleship!” Nope. In what has become standard practice, filmmakers try to up the ante of a product by stripping out most of what made the original great and adding stuff that shouldn’t be in there.

The development of this feature was in a Catch-22 the moment the announcement was made that it was going into production. Try reading “Battleship, Coming Soon” and not giggle. The makers could have stuck to the basic concept and produced an intriguing naval thriller full of tension on the high seas, but instead the end product becomes a platform for heavy metallic alien invaders attacking U.S. Navy destroyers off the coast of Hawaii. What is this – some Transformers/Pearl Harbor nightmare directed by Brett Ratner? An absurd descriptor, but not far off point. The addition of otherworldly, heavy metal warships to the equation just screams of this being the unofficial Transformers sequel. Transformers: You Sunk My Destroyer! (It should be noted that the toy and board game company Hasbro has developed film adaptations for its toy lines of Transformers, G.I. Joe, and now Battleship.)

Pearl Harbor and Transformers are far from the only influences on display. This special-effects heavy tent pole release samples from several sources, including James Cameron’s Titanic (abandoning ship before complete submersion) and J.J. Abrams’ iteration of Star Trek (lens flares).

At a taxing 131-minute run time, audiences may be a little disappointed to know that they’ll have to sit through 35 minutes of setup before the alien baddies arrive and wreak havoc off the coast of Hawaii. This disruption occurs while the biennially RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise) is ongoing with naval forces from several countries engaged in some maritime wargames. Knowing you have thirty minutes until the explosions come, you could use the half hour to contemplate if this development of character and situation is even necessary. Or just drift off to sleep. When a loud boom occurs from all surrounding speakers you’ll know to awaken and see humankind’s encounter with the aliens. And boy is it a letdown. These aliens have no qualities to either love or loathe. They’re just uninspired movie xenomorphs designed to seek and destroy humans and colonize Planet Earth. We have no idea their purpose for colonization only that they take offense when weapons are aimed in their general direction. However this does lead to a few games of “Battleship” so to speak, yet not once is that signature line uttered.

It’s unclear how the alien spaceships go from being invulnerable to penetrable. Maybe it’s the transition from machine-gun blasts to big-ass turrets that did the trick. Or perhaps the alien ships fell victim to greenhouse gasses and depleted ooze upon entry into our atmosphere. Nah, that’s too technical, summer blockbusters are supposed to push the envelope effects-wise, not logic-wise.

Not that it matters, but there is a cast of characters in this thing. Taylor Kitsch, fresh from his starring role in John Carter, and Alexander Skarsgård are brothers. At the start, Kitsch is trying to woo Brooklyn Decker with a chicken burrito (and no that isn’t a euphemism). Being the f-up that he is, he screws up royally and like The Village People goes “In the Navy” to escape a jail sentence. Six years later, Kitsch is ready to marry Decker, only he needs her father’s permission. And wouldn’t you know it, her dad is Liam Neeson, an Admiral. It’s going to take more than a heart-clogging chicken burrito to seal this deal. But before he can get the courage to ask, the aliens show up and set up shop in the Pacific with a force-field dome preventing outside forces from entering and assisting those ships stuck inside.  There’s another subplot where Decker and a disabled veteran hike up a mountain only to find themselves involved in the aliens’ colonization plan. But it is an unneeded subplot that drags the movie, sinking it faster than a battleship (if the movie won’t reference the signature line, hell, I might as well do it).

In what might happen, Taylor Kitsch could be the fall guy for yet another $200+ million blockbuster disaster. But Kitsch isn’t the major fault here. He’s got the look of an action star yet lacks the charisma of what it means to headline a tent pole flick, let alone two in a calendar year. What’s more troubling is the stunt casting of pop star Rhianna as a petty officer. Though in hindsight she fits in better than someone like Liam Neeson, who has been burning the candle at both ends jumping from project to project. He could be secretly trying to be in more movies than Nicolas Cage and/or Danny Trejo this year.

For actor-turned-director Peter Berg, this project seems like a one-off he did in kindness for the studio (Universal) that has backed three of his last four films – the lone exception being Hancock with Will Smith at Sony Pictures. Six films into his film-making career it is unclear as to what Berg is aiming to accomplish. By that I mean in terms of style. Influences by Michael Mann have been well established – one of Berg’s last major acting roles was in Mann’s Collateral back in 2004 – in terms of photography and going hand-held, yet the tripod was clearly in use this go-around. Maybe word is getting around that audiences don’t like ingesting Dramamine as a preventative measure against motion sickness for poorly choreographed action sequences.

Battleship is a mess that fits what is expected of a summer movie. Something big, dumb, and loud. The marketing was key in sealing its fate. To go from an easy-to-sell tagline of “You sunk my battleship!” to “The battle for Earth begins at sea,” well you’re just asking for trouble. Better to avoid this expensive turd and play the game instead. Not only is it cheaper, but also more enjoyable.

Director: Peter Berg
Notable Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson
Writer(s): Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber

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