by Steve Habrat
Let it be known to the world that I sat through all two hours and eleven minutes of Battleship, the blockbuster based on the board game of the same name, and I actually had a little bit of fun. Yes, I admit that I had an enjoyable time watching the empty headed Transformers knock-off but it was an enjoyment that didn’t come easy at first. Sure, the dialogue is awful and the film is just relentless explosions but it sort of felt like seeing Transformers for the first time. It appealed to the little kid in me while the guy with the film degree rolled his eyes and fought back gagging. The little kid beat out the inner film snob here. Yes, I walked in to Battleship with little interest in it and kind of wanting to quickly duck into theater that was playing The Avengers, questioning whether I could actually make it through this film that was sure to be a monstrosity. Like many of you out there, I was stuck on the fact that, yes, this is a film based off of a friggin’ board game, but if you can make it over that aspect of it, you may find yourself having a bit of fun in all the slow-motion shots of rockets cutting through the air, close-ups of dripping wet faces, and pompous jingoism. Just make double sure your brain is switched off.
Battleship begins with NASA discovering an extrasolar planet that has conditions similar to Earth. NASA quickly begins trying to make contact with the planet, hoping to communicate with intelligent life. The film then takes us to the RIMPAC naval exercises in Hawaii where we get to know unruly but witty Lieutenant Alex Hooper (Played by Taylor Kitsch) and his brother, Commander Stone Hooper (Played by Alexander Skarsgard). As the exercises continue between the U.S. and Japan, strange ships crash into the Pacific and begin setting up an impenetrable force field that jams the Navy’s radar and splits the fleets up. The alien ships then begin attacking a small handful of Japanese and U.S. destroyers and launching assaults on Hong Kong and Hawaii. The small handful of ships trapped within the force field retaliate against the alien invaders but the aliens are also trying to establish communication systems on the shores of Hawaii, which if established, would allow the aliens to bring in reinforcements that will wipe out the human race.
Battleship is the furthest thing from a perfect movie but I can think of a handful of science-fiction/alien invasion blockbusters that are a hell of a lot worse than Battleship. My experience did throw me off because I walked in ready to absolutely hate this movie, under the impression that it would be devoid of any authentic human emotion. Credit director Peter Berg and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber, who have the good sense to inject some unexpected humanity into Battleship. I found myself impressed by the sequences where Kitsch’s Alex, who finds himself in command of one of the destroyers after the death of the senior officer, has to make some seriously tough decisions. Get a load of the scene where the reluctant Alex rescues the sailors of a sunken Japanese destroyer, pulling the terrified and the injured up onto the decks. Berg’s camera floats around the gruesome scene, putting us right in the middle of the disorder and giving us goosebumps from the painful screams of the wounded. We see Alex, filled with quivering rage, screaming out reckless orders to charge one of the alien ships as the hysterical crew pleads with him to reconsider their plan of attack. The crew flits around the boat, trying to get a hold of themselves while sailors cry out to other sailors, “I didn’t sign up for this!” It’s within these scenes that Battleship packs its devastating punch, where we see real humans grieving and attempting to comprehend their terrible situation.
For all of these unexpected emotional wallops, Battleship springs a perplexing plot point that is never explained. Take for instance the scenes in which the aliens, who are capable of pinpointing immediate threats, spare the lives of some of the sailors they stumble across. You’d think that if an alien race were hell-bent of overtaking us, they would be wiping out all of these men so they couldn’t strike back. There is also a scene where the alien ships launch ferocious steel balls that are capable of astonishing devastation into heavily populated downtown areas of Hawaii and begin laying waste to everything in their paths. When these mysterious balls of destruction come across children, they do not attack. You will also find yourself chuckling over the weakness of the dreaded aliens, all who resemble Master Chief from Halo (They actually look pretty cool). Luckily, Berg makes the smart choice to not reveal anything more about these mysterious invaders.
Another plus of Battleship is the handful of likable characters at its core, mostly Kitch’s wild-child Alex. He’s a real terror in the opening moments as he drunkenly tries to find a chicken burrito for his future gal pal, Sam (Played by Brooklyn Decker). Skarsgard’s Stone is the typical no-bullshit type, the one who forces Alex to get his life on track and stay there (He is met with a ton of resistance from Alex). Decker’s Sam, who is a physical therapist, gets some touching moments with the Army veteran and amputee Mick Canales (Played by real life Army veteran and amputee Gregory D. Gadson), both who get moments to be heroes on land. Berg and his crew do everything in their power to get Decker in a bikini but you won’t be complaining. Liam Neeson, who just can’t resist jumping in to a tough-as-nails role, does a fine job as Admiral Shane, who also happens to be Sam’s father. We don’t see much of Neeson, but when we do, he is good and intimidating. Tadanobu Asano shows up as Captain Yugi Nagata, the man who comes up with the grind that uses wave-detection buoys to track and attack the aliens in the dark. Hamish Linklater as the jumpy scientist Cal Zapata delivers some surprisingly effective comic relief without ever being too cheesy. Pop superstar Rihanna shows up as Petty Officer Raikes, a cliché tough gal who likes big weapons. As more people see Battleship, I don’t think I will be alone in my thought that she should stick to music.
Battleship ultimately won me over with its thunderous action sequences that also happened to be consistently inventive. A final showdown that uses the real life ship U.S.S. Missouri was an absolutely blast despite the fact that it also features Alex calling upon a crew of elderly veterans to help man the battleship. Much like the Transformers films, Battleship emphasizes the magnificent CGI but thankfully, it is not in 3D (Hey! Another reason not to absolutely HATE Battleship!). When the film leaves the battles at sea and focuses on the land action, the film looses some of the momentum it gained. The sequence that shows us the destruction of Hong Kong doesn’t serve much of a purpose besides adding another action sequence to keep kiddies interested. The grind-tracking sequence that pays tribute to the board game is the standout portion of Battleship, a scene that will have you on the edge of your seat and hanging on every second (I caught myself holding my breath for one of the characters to yell “HIT!”). While there is plenty of middling and bad aspects of the rowdily patriotic Battleship, there are still enough thrills to keep this leaky vessel afloat.