Look, Battleship is another movie based on a game/toy and that’s a bit ridiculous. But you gotta give Peter Berg props for really going for the gold ring here and all in all, Battleship is actually a surprising amount of fun, mainly because it knows it’s pretty ridiculous.
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Released May 18, 2012
Written by Erich Hoeber and John Hoeber
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Tadanobu Asano, and Jesse Plemons
* * * * *
Battleship begins with Alex Hopper (Kitsch) screwing up his life royally as his brother, Stone Hopper (Skarsgard), an officer in the Navy, watches. Romantically, Alex screws his life up in the pursuit of a girl he finds irresistible, Sam Shane (Decker), because he just has to get her a chicken burrito.
Stone is torqued off at his brother and makes him join the Navy so he can turn his life around. Apparently Alex does this, because the story then picks up with Alex somehow being a Lieutenant, yes an officer, and dating Sam. Based on dialogue, it’s probably been about two years. The lovebirds want to get married.
But first, Alex has to demonstrate he’s still a rogue by being a total stud but reckless in the soccer game that is part of the RimPac International Navy Exercises. Then Alex has to ship out with the rest of the Hawai’i based navy fleet for the exercises. Also, the commander of the fleet is Admiral Shane (Neeson), who is Sam’s father.
Unfortunately the naval exercises are interrupted by invading aliens who wipe out the fleet’s ability to communicate and use normal radar, and the aliens also isolate Alex’s destroyer, his brother’s destroyer, and the destroyer commanded by Alex’s Japanese nemesis, Nagata (Asano). What’s more, Sam, the fiancee, is a physical therapist who is taking a walk up a mountain with a crippled vet who thinks he’s less than a man. That mountain happens to have a huge communications array on it.
Now stop and think this through. Can you guess what’s going to happen? Is someone going to die to make the emotional stakes high? Is there going to be a grudging respect formed between nemeses? Is the vet going to have a chance to redeem himself?
That’s the story.
I’ve mocked enough. The movie is cliched and cheesy and delightfully so. The only time it takes itself seriously is when Admiral Shane is honoring a group of older naval soldiers. Not a lot of effort went into trying to craft surprising plot twists and the cleverest and most authentic of dialogue.
But think it through again. Alex misses the game-winning goal, despite the classic build up to what would typically be a winning scene. A clever, physics-defying move wins the day. Teamwork and trust and determination prove vital to victory.
This movie is all heart and effects. It’s aware of its cheesiness and pokes intermittent fun at the sometimes unbelievable dialogue of the soldiers. Watch for the scientist who asks, “Who talks like that?” The scientist who comes through in the end.
Every note that this kind of movie is supposed to hit is hit, right on. It’s not overwrought like Armageddon, not melodramatic like stuff by Michael Bay. It’s practically a love letter to the Navy, only with incredible stationery and penmanship.
I was thoroughly entertained. The acting had some good and some ‘meh’ moments. Liam Neeson is wasted, but Rihanna does a nice job. This is also Taylor Kitsch’s best work. Jesse Plemons (who was in Friday Night Lights with Kitsch (which was developed by Peter Berg, the director)) plays his FNL character, Landry Clark, on a military ship. Jesse’s going to need to get some acting lessons under his belt. Asano does a fine job as Nagata.
The writing is very self-aware, which serves the movie well. If it had tried to take itself seriously, like the Transformers films, it would have been a disaster. However, we never really find out what it is the aliens want. They would have been a lot more interesting if we knew what they were after.
Then there’s the issue of physics. Just forget everything you know about physics and you’ll have a much better time in Battleship.
Finally, as evidence of the self-awareness and light-heartedness of the script, notice how the dialogue treats harsh language. A very nice touch. And if you want to see the set-up for the sequel (because there will be one), stay to the end of the credits.
Content warnings: some mildish profanity and plenty of explosions and non-graphic violence.
Writing: 4 Acting: 3.5 Overall: 3.5
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