Movie Review – Battleship
– Summary –
Director : Peter Berg
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Liam Neeson, Peter MacNicol, Tadanobu Asano, Gregory D Gadson, Josh Pence, Gary Grubbs, Marcus Lyle Brown.
Approx Running Time : 131 Minutes
Synopsis: Aliens land on Earth (because we invited them) and start the process of invasion. Cue military intervention to stop them. Explosions.
What we think : Brainless, big-budget entertainment spectacle does what you’d expect: blows stuff up, has humans screaming through battles, and delivers carnage and destruction on a scale not seen since Michael Bay ripped into Chicago in Transformers: Dark of The Moon. While it might not be the smartest film ever made, nor a film you’d class as being intellectually stimulating, there’s something to be said for sitting back and watching $200m be
wasted spent on a big screen with superb sound: Battleship is a film where the outcome is never in doubt, nor is the way that outcome is achieved. Anybody expecting smarts from a film where the title indicates the mode of transportation should hand back their film critic license.
Like the vast majority of films fans, when I heard they were making a film out of a board game like Battleship, I rolled my eyes and once more lamented the dearth of quality ideas coming out of Hollywood. Surely, surely to God there had to be a better idea than that, right? How do you make a film about two naval fleets bombing each other with hit-and-miss skills when we live in an age of satellite coverage and virtually unlimited technological advantage? Hasbro, the “people who gave us Transformers” have obviously delved deeply (ha) into their catalog of games and franchises to spend millions of dollars trying to get you to front up for another one-note concept writ large with digital effects and gargantuan production design. Michael Bay obviously thought the Battleship concept was “too much” for his tastes, so Hasbro and Universal Pictures hit up Hancock helmer Peter Berg for duty on this one; after all, Berg’s experience with effects, large-scale action and sense of cinema (have you seen The Kingdom? Man, such a tour de force for him) made him an instant frontrunner. Either that, or he was hard up for cash and they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The concept of Battleship might be a real groaner, for sure, but the execution is nothing short of sheer spectacle and entertainment – at least if you saw the trailers for the film. So how does the final finished product translate from plastic molded navy fleets stuck with white and red plastic molded “torpedoes”? Well……
Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a generic eternal slacker, who is drafted into US Navy by his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), after breaking into a convenience store to obtain a chicken burrito for the daughter of Vice Admiral Shane’s daughter, Samantha Stone (Brooklyn Decker). Vice Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) is less than impressed with Alex’s lack of commitment to the Navy, which is something Alex has to overcome in order to ask permission to marry Samantha. All this is thrust to one side, however, when during a massive military war game (featuring ships from most major military fleets in the Western world, apparently) run off Hawaii, a bunch of enormous alien ships land in the ocean. With three battleships cut off from the rest of the fleet via an enormous, impenetrable energy field, Alex and his crew must defend their ship, and save the world, against the incredibly advanced onslaught of the alien technology. Alex teams up with Japanese Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), Petty Officer Raikes (Rhianna), and ships engineer Beast (John Tui) to attack the aliens head-on. Samantha, meanwhile, is trapped with double amputee Colonel Mick Canales (real life combat veteran Gregory D Gadson) on top of a mountain back on Hawaii, where the aliens are also using a massive antenna array to try communicating back to their home planet after their own communications device smashes into Hong Kong. X-Files, this ain’t.
As a fan of Peter Berg’s direction since witnessing a Guilty Pleasure by the name of The Rundown (starring Dwayne Johnson and Stifler from American Pie), I was actually anticipating Battleship’s arrival even with all the potential for it to be a John Carter-esque disaster. Berg may have left a few people feeling cheated with the cool-but-flawed Hancock, but I thought he handled the idea well; The Kingdom, as I mentioned, I thought was excellent, and The Rundown is still a film I like to stick on when I’m in the mood for a larf and some fun. Even Friday Night Lights, for all the lack of interest I had in that film, was still a decent watch. Berg strikes me as a director unafraid to tackle different styles, and Battleship will probably be his “mega blockbuster” effort when all is said and done. I an particularly struck with his use of camerawork, that super-closeup framing and stylish use of slo-mo mixed with some sweet angles and framing giving his films a definite, noticeable style. So I was really keen to see him stamp his visual aesthetic on a genuine, squillion-dollar potential franchise-starter.
Battleship is, for want of a better word, huge. In both scale and execution, the money spent on this film is obvious to all. As a story, it’s shallower than a summer shower, but as a sheer entertainment spectacle it delivers the goods. It does exactly what is says on the box, for better or worse. The human characters, if you can call the wooden, generic militaristic people populating this explosion-fest truly human, exist purely to serve the far-fetched plot and deliver missiles, bombs and explosions to the invading aliens and create havoc on-screen whenever possible. The aliens, who look for all the world like they stepped out of Michael Bay’s Transformers, are particularly cool (although one of my companions to see this remarked that perhaps the Power Rangers might soon want their costumes back – I had to laugh at that!), and deliver their destructive technology on our brave military powers with precision and sheer volume. The design of the film is ripped right out of a Boys Own Annual, with square-jawed gung-ho-ness seeping from virtually every panel on the human side, while the aliens are spectacularly over-the-top in scale and power – the alien ships have more armaments than the entire Rebel Fleet in Star Wars, and yet can’t knock over three stranded battleships; but hey, where would the fun be if this was easy, right? – but at no point are they ever explained to us. According to info online, the aliens are know as “The Regents”, although this is never brought up in the film, so take that with a grain of salt.
This kind of film is bound to be divisive, I suspect. On the one hand, there’s a group of critics and bloggers who hold a film like Battleship up as the poster child of all that’s wrong with Hollywood today: bloated budgets, vacuous characterization and vapid, sound-bite editing. On the other, there’s folks like me, who actually don’t mind sitting back and having the equivalent of Switzerland’s annual GDP spent on making action look as flashy as possible. Battleship never makes any attempt at subtlety, not in the least with Peter Berg’s direction. The relatively unknown cast, consisting of John Carter “star” Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, pop-singer Rihanna, True Blood actor Alexander Skarsgard, as well as hardened cinematic icons like Liam Neeson and… um…. that weird dude from Ally McBeal, Peter MacNicol (here playing the US Secretary Of Defense), make this film focus more on the visuals than the excellent dramatic thespian-izing. Berg directs the film like he’s got ADD, and it tends to show in the films more destructive action sequences. Rapid jump-cut editing aside, Berg follows the Michael Bay template pretty closely, although he does throw in a few of his uber-closeup shots to keep things interesting. Berg’s camera never sits still for a moment, not when it can encircle and dolly through both air, space, water and alien ship hulls to bring us all the money-shot-cool moments it’s possible to cram into a single film.
The film skirts outright parody for the most part of its running time, although by the time the young sailors are forced to recruit from the local Retirement Village for the films decisive finale, the audience in our cinema burst out laughing. US patriotism runs deep through this film, so if you’re in any way harboring secret anti-US sentiments, you’re gonna hate the hell out of Battleship. I felt like I should have stood and given a salute by the time the end credits rolled. The scripts leaps from cliche to clenched-jaw cliche with little pause for things like… oh, I don’t know, realistic dialogue, and at times it’s truly eye-rolling stuff. Berg’s decision to use a real life combat veteran, with both legs amputated and replaced with prosthetics, throughout the film as a major character might have seemed heroic but plays out (at least in Australian cinemas) as somewhat creepy, as if he was fishing for “old dude with fight left in him” but got “there’s no way that dude would be doing that” instead. And when the script calls for a decommissioned battleship to be recalled to service for a “last stand”, complete with retired naval personnel looking for one last piece of the action, the guffaws rolled through the auditorium.
The script is a join-the-dots actioner, plotted like somebody’s looked at a list of Action Film Playbook Rules and just made up stuff to fill in the blanks. The alien attack is pretty sweet to watch, and their weapons are killer-cool. And there really is nothing more awesome than seeing a navy battleship getting the lead out in every way conceivable: this happens, and by God it’s magnificent. The aspect of the board-game on which this film is (very) loosely based comes into play midway through, when the aliens and the humans must blindly fire shots into the darkness of night when it becomes obvious that neither side has radar or scanner capabilities (a highly implausible aspect of the film, I might add, since you’d expect interstellar aliens to have technology that doesn’t fail when it arrives on a new planet!). It’s a tenuous link, but a fun one. What was really fun about this film was just how funny it was: there were several times I actually laughed out loud, especially at the opening sequence of young Alex Hopper trying to break into a convenience store, and the hilarity with which that took place. Don’t mistake my appreciation for moments of levity as an excuse to find everything in this film funny, however: there were moments I am sure should have been deadly serious but made us all titter while watching (see Al, I got the word “titter” into a review!), so the outright humor was diluted by a misguided sense of fun at times. Generally, though, the script is pretty atrocious, what with unfunny dialogue and characters in place of actually decent ones making this only funny in a crowded cinema – it’s amazing how stupid some comedies are when you’re watching them by yourself.
Taylor Kitsch does a pretty okay job holding this film together, since he’s the only character with an “arc” of any note, while on-screen brother Alexander Skarsgard manages to acquit himself rather well, all things considering. Brooklyn Decker shows us her… ahem, talents – a loose term if ever there was, while pop-star Rihanna does her best to be this films version of Vasquez from Aliens. All things considered, Rihanna doesn’t do such a bad job, considering her musical background and the fact that this is her debut, but I doubt she’ll be called up to headline major film projects a la Justin Timberlake. Gregory D Gadson, who I would assume was playing a character not too far removed from his actual persona, is as wooden as they come, but delivers the requisite heroics when required as the amputee-slash-motivational-hero of the film (he’s like the Randy Quaid character from ID4: not sure how things are gonna pan out for him early on, but by the end redeems himself with aplomb). About the only person who does come out on top of both his character and the appallingly bad script is Tadanobu Asano, as the Japanese Captain, Nagata, who must team up with one-time adversary Hopper to defeat the common enemy: he manages to make less mincemeat from his lines than anybody else, and his character is one of the better ones in the film. The rest of the cast, including even Liam Neeson, can’t quite overcome the deficit of quality in the script, garbling and mangling their lines trying to make them sound even partially natural.
While the script is particularly vapid, and the acting and cast are all traditionally camp, the direction from Peter Berg is as I’d expected – exciting and thrilling. He handles the widescreen epic-ness of the battles with considerable talent, carrying multiple storylines alongside each other with judicious editing and timing. The massive number of visual effects in the film just sit there on the screen defying you not to enjoy them, and you get the sense Berg wasn’t afraid to really go for broke in utilizing the computer graphics. They’re seamless, really. Berg creates a genuine excitement on-screen, as the humans go up against an implacable, impossibly powerful (yet weirdly easy to overcome) enemy, and although the films’ decidedly overblown patriotism is evident (this film is even more militarily fetishistic than all three Transformers movies combined!), Berg balances this with a genuinely cool action-oriented aesthetic. Berg can handle the action, and delivers some sweet, sweet money shots that make other big budget action flicks look like discards from George Lucas’s editing suite. Berg understands the popcorn audience Battleship is targeted at, and he gives them exactly what they want: large scale spectacle, plenty of action, some amazing visual effects, and a soundtrack that pummels the audience into awed submission. On a side note, the apropos score by Transformers maestro Steve Jablonksy is powerful, stirring, and evocative.
Battleship is not, I repeat NOT, a film you go into with high expectations. Critics who eschew this kind of film will obviously hate it to pieces. They probably go into a film like this hoping they’ll hate it just to justify their pre-formed opinions. I say, give it a chance. Sure, it’s got plenty of flaws, but think of it like some kind of theme park ride, and you’ll have a blast – a flag-waving, square-jawed, gun-totin’, high-saluting, popcorn munching blast of a time watching the Americans once more take it up to the Bad Guy Aliens and save the planet. It’s a stupid, stupid film, but I really had a fun time.
Have you seen Battleship? Think we’re wrong, or completely agree with us? Tell us in the comments section below!!!
What others are saying about Battleship:
Darren at The M0vie Blog sums it up waaay better than I did: “Battleship is a big American blockbuster. And, to be fair, it falls pray to a large number of the pitfalls of those sorts of films. There’s more action than thought. There’s lots of CGI filling the scenes. It rigidly adheres to a formula. It’s characters aren’t developed beyond shallow archetypes. However, I can forgive most of these flaws because Peter Berg actually makes this fun. “
Cecilia at Flixchatter enjoyed it… “Despite all the factors we might have seen on the previous alien invasion movies, I still feel that Battleship is the kind of popcorn movie which entertains me.”
Fellow Aussie Tom Clift didn’t like it much: “…as with an increasing number of blockbuster action movies, the creative team behind Battleship have blown all their pyrotechnics and state-of-the-art special effects in service of a movie that is atrociously written, incompetently paced, ideologically dubious and stupendously, inconceivably, irredeemably dumb.”
My mate Al K hall over at The Bar None had this to say: “i know you were wondering how in the hell they could make a movie out of a kids’ game and if you weren’t, i was wondering it enough for he both of us.” Which means I’m not sure if he liked it, so go read his review!
Robbie, a new reviewer at Movie Smackdown, delivered this eloquent summation: “….a carefully considered review of Peter Berg’s latest directorial effort, Battleship, writes itself: “Battleshit.”
Dan The Man didn’t think it was much chop either… “I’ve been using that word a lot lately. “Lame”. But that’s exactly what this flick is because as fun and entertaining Berg and his FX team try to make this flick, they continue to get bogged down by the fact that this script is so damn shitty and unoriginal.”
As I expected, Sam over at Duke & The Movies despised it: “Simply put, the film is unbearably noisy, punctuated with incoherent action sequences and dreadful characters, and contains some of the most unintentionally silly (which means God awful) dialogue I’ve heard in theaters this year or any other year.”
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