Battleship – Movie ReviewMay 25, 2012
Battleship is a generic sci-fi blockbuster. Nonetheless, it’s not as bad as it could have been, and there is some fun to be had.
In recent years, Hasbro has become infamous for turning old toy and board game franchises into films with overblown special effects, stories wide in scope and intense action. Michael Bay introduced this trend with his Transformers saga, which supposedly ended with Dark of the Moon last summer but now has a sequel planned for 2014. In the same year that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was released (2009), director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) brought us G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which also has a sequel named Retaliation set for release late in March 2013 (previously set to release in June 2012). Now that Hasbro is seemingly ready to shift over to films based on board games, can the classic strategy game known as Battleship work as a sci-fi war blockbuster?
In 2005, astronomers working in Oahu, Hawaii discovered an extrasolar world that had the right conditions to sustain life, which they soon named “Planet G.” Soon afterward, the station in the mountains of the volcanic island sent out a signal to Planet G in the form of a laser beam, in the hope to receive a response. Around the same time, we are introduced to the main character of Battleship. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) hasn’t made the best decisions in his life, for at this point he is unemployed and is living off of his more responsible brother Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard), who is a decorated and respected officer in the United States Navy. One night (Alex’s birthday, to be exact), Alex gets in such a bad situation involving a girl named Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) that Stone forces Alex to join the Navy. Fast forward seven years, and now the 2012 RIMPAC International War Games off the coast of Hawaii are about to begin. What’s bad about this is that Alex’s commanding officer is Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), who is Sam’s dad (at this point, Alex is now Sam’s boyfriend). Soon after the start of RIMPAC, five ships from Planet G enter into the atmosphere, although their communications vessel collides with a satellite and then crashes into Hong Kong. The four remaining ships create a force field around Hawaii and attempt to seize the comm. station atop Oahu in order to call for reinforcements. Extreme circumstances then leave the fate of the world in Alex’s hands as him and the crew aboard the U.S.S. John Paul Jones are the only ones left inside the barrier that separates them from the rest of the RIMPAC fleet…
I’m going to shoot straight: Battleship is not as bad of a movie as I thought it would ultimately be. Still, it’s just an average action flick, not a good one. To help address some of the flaws of Battleship, let me quickly compare this film to The Avengers (another high-profile action film that involves saving the world from an alien invasion). In that film, there was not a moment in which I wasn’t entertained, for Joss Whedon managed to cram humor, human drama and spectacular action into each scene. As a result, it was one of the most exciting and satisfying films I have ever seen. I wish I could say the same about Battleship, but despite having some intense action here and there, this film is nowhere near as exciting, just fun in small doses. I have to admit, Battleship gets off to a pretty hilarious start (involving a chicken burrito robbery) and I thought that perhaps it could have been a decent human drama the likes of Top Gun (Taylor Kitsch’s Alex is much like Tom Cruise’s character). Even so, as soon as the whole situation with the aliens starts to actually become important to the human side of the story, Battleship takes turns for the worse. Dialogue is pretty lame throughout, but yes, it does get worse as the film drags on.
This film then begins to take hints from Independence Day and Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy in terms of sci-fi clichés. Basically, the ingredients for a generic alien invasion move are here, and I suppose that this can be considered 2012’s Battle: Los Angeles, except that this film focuses on naval warfare and less on realism. Thus, this movie does feel more generic and not unique enough as an alien invasion movie (not even as a board game film, for that matter). Still, Battleship does have its awesome moments in snippets throughout its runtime, for the writers did incorporate some good humor in there occasionally and I was engaged in the (nonetheless standardized) story to the end. Also, the action in the film is pretty good, if not as exciting as it was depicted in the trailers. Even so, it’s hard to deny that Battleship has those narrative flaws, laughable dialogue and clichés one might expect from a movie like this. Fans young and old of the board game will definitely be disappointed, for the ideas and concepts involved in playing the game are incorporated into the story pretty lazily, although a scene later on which consists of blindly attacking the alien ships by using a grid (sound familiar?) is somewhat interesting.
As if only the story had problems… the acting in this definitely needed some work. If Taylor Kitsch keeps accepting roles like this (I thought he was good as John Carter, but most apparently don’t agree), I have a feeling that his career will be doomed. In this film, he does try too hard to emulate Tom Cruise from Top Gun, and some cases it works, but in other cases I was taken out of the film for attempting a hard-edged, Christian Bale Batman-like voice (I may be exaggerating that one a little bit, but that’s just how he sounded to me). Brooklyn Decker is pretty terrible, for she isn’t capable of giving an investing performance aside from showing off cleavage in a bikini top in one scene and then just serving as Alex’s hot girlfriend. Who’s even worse than Brooklyn Decker, you may ask? Well, let’s see… oh yeah, Rihanna was in this movie. She could have been reason enough not to see Battleship if it weren’t for some decent action and other things that save this film from being an utter travesty.
The supporting cast has some other actors that are sort of unbearable to watch, but at least they don’t have a lot of screentime compared to others. What disappointed me (along with seemingly many other critics) is how little attention Alexander Skarsgard and Liam Neeson get, because although I’m not really familiar with Skarsgard he does do very well in the scenes he is in during the beginning, but he is soon taken out of the story and we lose one of the best actors. I can watch Liam Neeson in pretty much anything (especially an action movie), for he is just that awesome and appealing of an actor, but sadly he only has scattered appearances in the beginning and the end. If you saw Liam Neeson’s name on the cast list and thought that this film would be good because of his inclusion, you will be sorely disappointed, because the much less talented ironically get more attention here.
What makes Battleship even more reminiscent of the Transformers movies is in Peter Berg’s direction, visuals, and music (come on, composer Steve Jablonsky wrote the score for the whole freakin trilogy). To me, Peter Berg didn’t seem like the right director for the job since the material he previously handled in the director’s chair (well, except for maybe Hancock), but I suppose he does decently with how he directed this movie. The performances could have deserved better direction, and as I’ve said this evokes bad memories of the last two Transformers films (I loved the first one so I won’t bash on that one), but even so I appreciated that Berg’s film doesn’t take itself as seriously and sometimes even has fun with itself. It’s also a nice thing to see that greater care was taken to give the Navy its dues, for the production values, accuracy and nostalgia regarding Pearl Harbor are all here. Special effects are sometimes a little overdone, but they are nonetheless spectacular, and they complement the cinematography. The music is forgettable in comparison to Jablonsky’s scores from the Transformers films, but there were some great melodies such as in a scene in which the crewmen of the John Paul Jones team up with aged veterans to fight off the aliens (yes… that happens). As a culmination of all of these things, Battleship is a treat for both the eyes and ears.
Once again, Hasbro has let us down when it comes to adapting an old toy, board game or some other similar license into an awesome film. Mostly terrible acting, narrative flaws common for an alien invasion movie and a lack of excitement in some cases keep Battleship from being a summer blockbuster that matches up to The Avengers (can anything top that though, aside from maybe Prometheus or The Dark Knight Rises?). Even so, considering the awfully corny trailers, Battleship didn’t end up being a bad movie as advertised. Just, don’t expect a good one, because you will only get an average action flick that only mirrors some elements of the board game it’s “based on.” Now, only time will tell if Hasbro’s film future will continue on its maiden voyage or sink to oblivion.
Jason Bakker, Editor-in-Chief, Metal Arcade
I won’t take up too much time on my opinion of this film. I’ll echo what Zach said in his review – this movie is not nearly as bad as most would have anticipated. I got a free ticket to see it with my copy of the Battleship videogame (review here), and I found it to be a pretty fun movie. Yes, Rihanna was terrible, yes, Liam Neeson was criminally underused, but the filmmakers have done what I thought was impossible: turn a board game with literally no story into a decent action flick. For that alone, they should get a damn medal. I also thought that the ways the film chose to incorporate a lot of the board game’s mechanics was very interesting and clever, and I respect them for doing so, when it wasn’t even necessary for them to put that in the script. Now when I play the game in the future, I’ll be thinking about the Japanese officer who helps out the Navy with the water buoy “grid” system.
Jason’s Score – 3/5