I don’t know the history behind how this movie based on a Hasbro board game got made, but I have an idea. I’m pretty sure director Peter Berg must have found himself at a Hollywood party where the alcohol was flowing freely and he stated emphatically that Michael Bay was a hack and anyone could make one of his movies. Battleship, I assume, was his attempt to prove this point.
Even for a movie based on a board game, Battleship is dumb. In fact it’s incredibly, inexcusably, mind-numbingly dumb. And for a film filled with explosions, big budget special effects, and alien attacks, the film is neither all that exciting nor enjoyable.
We begin with a nearly half-hour of “dramatic” set-up in an attempt to showcase background of our main character, typical generic charming slacker-with-potential Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). We watch as Hopper wins the heart of a girl by breaking into and robbing a convenience store to grab her a burrito. Rather than scare this remarkably attractive, and at least resonably intelligent, woman away, Sam (Brooklyn Decker) decides Alex is boyfriend material. Ain’t love swell?
Kitsch’s Hopper is Top Gun‘s Maverick without the charm or any discernable skills. Oh, we’re told (countless) times in the opening half-hour that the man has wasted potential but we see no examples of this (at all) until most of his colleagues are dead at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean almost a full hour into the film. And since Brooklyn Decker thinks he’s a catch that must be enough, right?
Of course Hopper’s latest romantic screw-up has the opposite effect on his brother, Commander Stone Harper (Alexander Skarsgård) who signs him up for the Navy against his will, where coincidentally Alex goes to work for his new girlfriend’s father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). If this sounds to like the stuff bad romcoms are made out of, that’s because it is.
Meanwhile NASA has discovered a habitable planet similar to Earth and has sent a radio signal into deep space in hopes of finding life in space. Fast-forward a few years, Hopper is still an Naval officer (but still perpetually one bad move away from a dishonorable discharge) and while the Hawaii fleet is off on joint maneuvers with Japanese war ships the aliens track the signal back to Earth, crash-land in the ocean, and make their way to the satellite relay in Hawaii to call for reinforcements.
With the rest of the fleet cut off my a force field, the Hopper brothers have only three ships (which quickly dwindles down to one) to fight off an enemy they can’t find on radar. When the two other ships are taken out by the enemy, Alex Hopper finds himself in command and his Destroyer the only thing to stop a full alien invasion of Earth.
Every frame of this film screams Michael Bay’s name. From the paper-thin cliched characters to the hamfisted patriotism, giant hulking metal monsters, actresses whose man job appears to be to look startled while the camera tries to lovingly frame their curves in each shot, to the slow motion cutaways set to rousing music. Sadly, even Michael Bay only manages to create a handful of good Michael Bay films, and it turns out Berg isn’t that much better playing with Bay’s themes.
And much like a Michael Bay film, the film makes absolutely no internal sense. In the most egregious example, the script informs us early on that the alien ships are made of a mysterious compound that is not metal. Yet in every subsequent shot we see big metal ships transforming and clanking their way around the ocean.
The aliens are basic movie monsters with no defining characteristics. They simply need to be destroyed. And although their weaponry is impressive it’s also quite oddly suited to a planet for an invasion of a planet that’s mostly water. You’d think an advanced race might take something like that into account. It’s the combination of the advanced technology of the enemy as well as the Navy’s inability to find the giant hopping metal frog-like ships (which is the best way I can find to describe them) on radar that leads to the film’s best (if still insanely stupid) sequence.
Using buoys Hopper’s ship starts to track the alien vessels by wave displacement and begins anticipating their movement and firing where he believes the ships are located on the grid. That’s right, the film’s best sequence is when the entire enterprise is boiled down to the characters actually playing Battleship (even calling out grids before getting a hit or a miss) with millions of dollars of Naval equipment.
The supporting cast includes Tadanobu Asano as Kitsch’s rival who eventually will become his ally (let’s call him Iceman), Skarsgård as the main character’s more down-to-earth best bud (let’s call him Goose), Neeson as the head of the operation who respects Hopper’s talent but can’t stand his antics (let’s call him Viper), and Decker as the love sex-bomb love interest whose given her own plotline for no apparent reason (let’s call her whatever the hell Megan Fox‘s character’s name was in those truly awful Transformers films).
John Tui, Jesse Plemons, Gregory D. Gadson, Jerry Ferrara, Rico McClinton, Adam Godley and Rihanna round out the cast as characters aboard the ships or who find themselves on land fighting the aliens alongside a supermodel. Surprisingly, or maybe not given the level of writing, it’s the recording star who has the film’s only real break-out performance as the spunky weapons officer aboard Hopper’s ship. She’s also the only one involved in the entire project that appears to be having any fun on-screen.
Battleship just goes to prove if aliens do decide to attack the US Navy we should be sure to have a supermodel, an R&B star, and a total fuck-up on hand to fight back. If you like Michael Bay’s brand of loud but empty summer action flicks you’ll probably have more fun than those involved in making the film. But in a summer where you can see a film like The Avengers which gives you characters to go along with the big-budget effects there’s really no reason to sit through this one just to find out who sunk your Battleship.