Battleship Directed by Peter Berg Starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano Universal Pictures Rated PG-13 Release Date: May 18, 2012
Prepare To Be Boarded… More Like Bored-ed
Battleship was first released by the Milton Bradley Company in 1943 as the pad-and-pencil game, Broadsides: the Game of Naval Strategy, and then as a traditional board game in 1967. Of course, if you’re reading Geeks Of Doom, you’re probably most familiar with the 1989 Electronic Talking Battleship and the classic catchline, “You sunk my battleship!”
After the success of toys-to-films franchises like Transformers and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, toy mega-giant Hasbro reviewed its catalog and selected Battleship as its next project, with director Peter Berg (Hancock, Friday Night Lights) at the helm. In the film adaptation, NASA discovers an extrasolar, Earth-like planet with conditions suitable for life. Using a high-tech communications array in Hawaii, NASA transmits a signal to the far-off planet in an attempt to make contact with potential intelligent life forms.
Needless to say, contact is established and the technologically-superior (and hostile) life forms trace the signal back to Earth. Five alien starships enter Earth’s atmosphere, one ship slams into an orbital satellite and crashes in Hong Kong, while the others land in the water near Hawaii.
The result? An international naval fleet finds themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed by extraterrestrial invaders, forced to rely on strategy and cunning to defeat their otherworldly foes. It’s up to Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, John Carter), commanding officer Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard of HBO’s True Blood, Melancholia), and weapons specialist Cora Raikes (Rihanna, making her motion-picture debut) to stop them.
In the spirit of mindless popcorn movies like Independence Day, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and The Day After Tomorrow, Battleship is as epic as it is absurd. While I usually don’t make it a point to introduce spoilers in a film review, you’ll probably think the second half of this review is a figment of my imagination. With that I say:
The first 20 minutes of this film focuses on Taylor Kitsch’s Alex Hooper, who attempts to impress a beautiful woman (Brooklyn Decker) by getting her a frozen chicken burrito, the result of which has Alex breaking into a convenience store and being tasered by the police.
Yeah, you read that correct – in an effort to build character, the first 20 minutes of this action-packed blockbuster involves a drunk slacker breaking into a gas station (cue The Pink Panther theme song) to give a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model a chicken burrito. I know what you’re saying, “Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad – in fact it sounds mildly amusing!” Well, you’re wrong. There’s nothing funny about it at all, except the horrible dialogue and atrocious overacting by Kitsch, Skarsgard, and Decker.
The next 20 minutes is devoted to a soccer match between the United States Navy and Japan’s Naval Forces… at Pearl Harbor. That’s right, it’s a World War II rematch, folks – and this time it’s comin’ down to penalty kicks!
After the “Bend it like Battleship” sequence, we finally get back to the whole alien invasion storyline. Here’s the weird thing: these aliens traveled hundreds of thousands of lightyears in hi-tech spaceships to our planet, and yet when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere they don’t bother attacking our cities. Instead, these generic Xbox 360 space aliens (think Halo meets Mass Effect meets Dead Space) just kind of hang out in the ocean. Instead of flying around and blowing up stuff, they’re reduced to frogs on lily pads – hopping around waiting to get blown to smithereens by navy battleships.
Written by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber, Battleship is a loud, nonsensical attempt at computer-generated spectacle that lacks spectacle (and originality). With its whiz-bang Transformers special effects and downright laughable script, Peter Berg’s $200 million board game movie might be less exciting than the 1943 pad-and-pencil version.
Initially, I thought the writing duo of Erich and Jon Hoeber were 9-year-old kids hopped-up on Mountain Dew. Turns out I was wrong – they’re well-meaning guys who wrote 2010’s mildly entertaining film, Red (not to be confused with Mountain Dew: Code Red, which is as EXTREME and syrupy as this movie).
No, 9-year-olds would not be capable of filling a script with as much subversive patriotism as the Hoebers have with Battleship. By using real veterans and members of the United States Armed Forces, the film evokes this America, Fuck Yeah! kind of egotistical attitude that is a reminder of why the rest of the world hates us. It’s like a 130-minute version of that “Citizen Solider” Three Doors Down music video / National Guard recruitment video with plenty of flag-waving. If you listen closely, you can even hear the chants of “USA! USA!” in the distance.
The film is so pro-military that it makes Michael Bay’s Transformers film look like No End in Sight. As pro-military as it is, it’s just as anti-science. Basically, the whole moral of the story is that we shouldn’t explore space because if we try to make contact with other species, they’ll no doubt come to Earth and treat us like Native American Indians.
I couldn’t even tell you why these aliens came to our backwater planet in the first place. At least the poorly-designed life forms of Battle: Los Angeles wanted our precious natural resources. Speaking of Battle: LA, Battleship features an identical scene where the good guys inspect a wounded alien to determine the species’ weakness.
If you’re wondering, yes, Peter Berg’s film references Hasbro’s electronic board game. With their communications jammed, the battleships must create a hexagonal grid using tsunami buoys and strategically fire missiles at coordinates like T24 and F34. You can only imagine the suspense as Rihanna shouts out “IT’S A MISS” or “IT’S A HIT!” as the alien ships slowly skip and hop across the water toward them.
I was in 6th grade when I saw Independence Day in theaters on July 4th, 1996. At the time, being a kid obsessed with sci-fi, UFOs, and Area 51, I thought it was an action-packed, entertaining movie. It was the closest thing to seeing Star Wars in the theater (until those damned Special Editions) – but as I grew older, I saw that it wasn’t a great film like Star Wars, but rather a mindless spectacle that didn’t hold up.
Similarly, the 12-year-olds of today will consider Battleship passable entertainment (but not nearly as exciting as Transformers or superhero films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight). Twenty years from now they’ll look back on Battleship and see it for what it really is: a cinematic clusterfuck; a half-hearted attempt to cash-in on brand name toys and board games.
And just in case you were legitimately worried about that chicken burrito subplot, Liam Neeson brings it full circle at the end of the film with an inspired bit of dialogue that suggests he’ll have one for lunch.
Battleship: the microwaveable frozen chicken burrito of summer blockbusters. Overcooked and still ice-cold in the center.