Directed by: Peter Berg (Hancock)
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano
I’m not proud that I’m about to defend Battleship. This is, after all, a science-fiction film built around the old board game Battleship, that indulges in the worst kinds of noisy, overstuffed popcorn flick tendencies. We’re strictly in the vein—thanks a good bit to the fine people at Hasbro Toys—of Michael Bay’s god awful Transformers movies here, right down to the gaudy color palette and overbearing lens flares. That being said, Battleship understands that it’s noisy and overstuffed, never giving off that arrogant Bay air of being worthwhile filmmaking. Strictly looking at this movie as compared to those Transformers pictures, Battleship is already leagues ahead simply by not including robots with testicles, or robots who double as racist caricatures, or robots who urinate on John Turturro ... well, you get the idea. It’s stupid, but not offensively so.
Yeah, Battleship is formulaic, and silly, and often outright dumb, but it does this in a way that isn’t insulting. People who like alien-invasion flicks full of gratuitous explosions and one-liners will enjoy Battleship. The movie revolves around a very straightforward plot, involving some aliens landing in the Pacific and wreaking all kinds of havoc, and the small group of Naval officers—and their ship—that must stop them from whatever it is they’re here to do. (In one of the movie’s odder choices, it’s never clear what these aliens want—whether it’s invasion or just hanging out). The film proceeds via summer-movie-basic screenwriting, following our protagonist Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) who is thrust into being the ship’s captain after a lifetime of being a general screw-up. Whether or not he’ll finally redeem himself and live up to his potential is pretty obvious from the onset, to the point that it’s borderline painful.
This matters little, since the film’s true purpose in life is to blow up all manner of things. This happens a lot—and loudly, I might add—but the film has enough good ideas, a quick enough pace and is occasionally sufficiently aware of its own absurdity that it works. I can’t quite decide if Kitsch is an honestly good actor or not, but he has a certain gruff gravitas and charisma that lends itself to this kind of matinee hero type. This is something that came in handy in John Carter (2012) as well, and if we want to go back to comparing Battleship and Transformers, then the fact that he’s not Shia LaBeouf certainly helps, too. Beyond the cast—which is serviceable—there are a few small touches that help. After a dearth of alien invasion films, seeing a film that goes a different route—in this case, we get actual spacemen in spacesuits—is refreshing by being just enough out of the ordinary. And in a strange twist, we get a movie that’s actually a pretty good—and surprisingly subtle—approximation of the Battleship board game, in case that is a deal breaker for anyone.
It’s a goofy movie that exists in a goofy world that understands little—and cares less—about science or believability, but still has no shame in being mawkishly sentimental towards our armed forces. And it works just because it’s so silly. Look, don’t go into this movie looking for anything more than some aliens and explosions. But if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, I promise you can do much, much worse. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language.