“Battleship” was sunk before it ever launched.
People can accept movies based on action figures (“Transformers,” “G.I. Joe”) or even Disneyland rides (“Pirates of the Carib-bean”). But base a movie off of a board game and somehow that’s just too much for audiences to take, I guess. Almost as soon as it was announced that “Battleship” would be based off the Hasbro board game, people almost immediately began cracking jokes along the lines of, “LOL I GUESS WE’LL GET HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS: THE MOTION PICTURE NEXT HUH.” Aliens robots who transform into fighter jets and big rig trucks are just fine, but have the United States Navy fight alien invaders and that’s just too much to take, I guess.
I’m not saying that Hasbro/Universal Pictures shouldn’t be ridiculed for stooping so low as to adapt a board game. I’m saying that people are silly for ridiculing one while helping another gross absurd amounts of money at the box office. It’s especially silly because it’s certainly more bearable than the last two “Transformers” films. Not that that was a necessarily difficult bar to clear, but the point stands.
Had the “Battleship” brand not been foisted upon the film that the public would have been much more accepting. There’s nary an element in it that hasn’t been foisted upon audiences in one form or another over the last several decades and I maintain that the idea of the Navy versus aliens is a fun one. The film’s connections to the game are tenuous at best, so I really don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s just the worst thing ever.
Instead, “Battleship” is mostly just a mediocre movie. I’d rather sit through this thing twice than to even watch half of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” again, so there’s that at least.
I think the problem with “Battleship” isn’t really its concept. As I said, anyone who doesn’t want to watch the world’s most powerful Navy blast some aliens into oblivion obviously hates fun things. The problem with “Battleship” is that it feels too small. Well, its other problems are that it has cardboard cutouts in place of actual characters (Taylor Kitsch seems determined to prove he’s not leading man material), some intelligence-insulting moments (did you know that a dormant, retired U.S. battleship can be brought back up to working condition within the span of an AC/DC song?) and moments of utter pointlessness (i.e. two-thirds of Brooklyn Decker’s screentime).
I’m sure some of this came down to budgetary constraints, but for a movie about the Navy versus aliens it feels slight. I’d love to know whose brilliant idea it was to pit a single Destroyer-class ship against a quartet of alien ships. I’m sure this was supposed to increase tension or something, but the bar for alien invasion films has been set too high. I need scale when it comes to this kind of stuff. Director Peter Berg manages to distract from this by giving us some fairly satisfying destruction once the rockets and alien weaponry start exploding, but once you realize how little of that there is in this two hour film, it’s less than satisfying.
It also doesn’t help that we’re never really sure why all of this is happening. The aliens arrive on Earth with zero warning and zero motivation and it’s not long before they start blowing stuff up. Are they here to enslave us? Destroy us? Take our resources? There are some theories that the aliens are actually peaceful and they’re simply trying to find a way to communicate back home. But that theory almost literally gets blown out of the water everytime the aliens destroy an entire air base or sink an entire ship, killing dozens of sailors.
I’d actually be OK with the whole “but they’re really peaceful!” angle, assuming it was handled well. But that’s hardly the case here. Like I said, the aliens only fire at when fired upon, but either these guys aren’t peaceful and are just trying to phone home, or they’re the absolute kings of overkill. Actually, that would have made the movie even better if, after one of the Navy’s ships is sunk, we cut to interior of the alien ship and an alien captain is berating his gunner for blowing the Americans out of the water, the gunner nervously writhing in his chair, tugging at his spacesuit’s collar like an extraterrestrial Woody Allen.
“Battleship” just sort of exists. It never really carves out enough of a personality to make it feel like something interesting. Berg expends most of his energy trying to emulate early Michael Bay films, which is at least better than trying to emulate recent Michael Bay films. At least in Bay’s earlier days, he knew how to keep the spastic edits to a minimum and kept his camera (mostly) still during action beats.
Berg was a fairly promising director when his career first launched, but the goodwill he built up from “The Rundown” and “Friday Night Lights” can only endure so much strain put on by films such as this and “Hancock.” I thought he might have gotten back on track when he made “The Kingdom” a few years ago, but “Battleship” indicates that’s probably not the case.
“Battleship” might just be the epitome of a stereotypical Hollywood blockbuster: loud and full of bluster, a crass attempt at a marketing cash-in and ultimately vapid. To its credit, the film isn’t necessarily boring. It’s also not “bad” on a technical level, it just lacks any sort of spark. I didn’t hate the movie. It just feels like two hours of a going through the motions. If all you want are loud explosions and a soundtrack of rock songs, be my guest. Otherwise, just go watch “The Avengers” for the third time to get your blockbuster fix.
Stewart Smith is the Entertainment Editor for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Contact him at 903-596-6301 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.