Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 18 May 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Apr 2011 (General release); 2012)
Battleship is about as good as you’d expect, and those expectations likely vary depending on how you feel about the phrases “from the studio that brought you Transformers” and “featuring Rihanna.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone that you have to check your IQ at the door for this film. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s dumb. Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, there’s virtually no characterization whatsoever. But is it fun? Well…if you go into it with impossibly low expectations, as I did on a rainy afternoon with nothing better to do, then yes, it’s possible that you might have fun. For the first hour and a half or so I kept checking my watch, wondering what could have possibly possessed me to pay for this. But something happened by the end of the film that I found nearly impossible – I was actually enjoying it.
To begin with, the script is terrible. Try as the actors might, there’s just no way to bring believability to lines like “If aliens ever came here, it’d be like Columbus and the Indians. Except we’re the Indians.” That’s a duh statement if I ever heard one. All of the film’s money was apparently spent on the CGI, with little left over for some quality actors. Virtually everyone here is just plain bad, the worst of which is Taylor Kitsch, who lacks any sort of charisma whatsoever. He barely changes the inflection of his voice from one scene to the next. Thank God we have Liam Neeson, however briefly, whose barking tough-guy image is perfectly suited for an Admiral. Then you’ve got the crazy scientist (Hamish Linklater), the hot girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker), and the wounded veteran (Gregory D. Gadson), none of whom are very compelling but all of whom get their moment to shine in one way or another.
The third act saved the movie for me. While I never felt quite like bursting into spontaneous applause (like I did in The Avengers), I did swell with some pride when a few hardened Navy veterans play a crucial role in the climax. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a Navy man, and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that even in a preposterous summer action flick, his generation’s contribution is held in very high regard.
In fact, the film is a huge missed opportunity, not because of its action potential but because of its subtext. The battle for Earth takes place, of all places, off the coast of Hawaii, near Pearl Harbor. It shouldn’t escape anyone’s notice that American and Japanese naval forces are forced to work side by side to save the planet. I suppose it’s to the screenwriter’s credit that this isn’t ever made explicit, but it’s also never expanded upon. Now therein lays a truly compelling idea: one-time enemies joining forces in the very spot that once set them at war with one another.
The whole thing begs the question, why base this movie on a non-narrative board game? Why not just make a movie about battleships, and call it, well, anything else? The unfortunate answer seems to be that marketing and franchises rule the creative sphere these days. And if we’re going to see a movie based on a board game, I suppose I’d rather it be Battleship than Chutes and Ladders. Actually, scratch that, I’d rather it be Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Hey, there’s still time…