Battleship is not a very good movie, which the public seems to have surmised already. Ostensibly based on the Hasbro board game of the same name, which in fact is itself subject to ridicule, Battleship must invent a story to replace the lack of one in the game. Although to be fair, “blow up all the other guy’s ships” could effectively sum up both a session of the game AND the plot of this movie. So maybe I should give them credit for being more faithful than I thought.
The casting just screams “gimmick.” Rihanna, the singer, is rather prominent. Brooklyn Decker, a swimsuit model is also one of the secondary characters. Yes, with an actual speaking role. They both perform adequately, but bring nothing to the screen other than a blatant attempt to lure a wider audience demographic. Liam Neeson (hey, a respected actor!) is in the movie, but his character is shut out of the plot for most of the movie, so he’s only in a few scenes. The main character is played by Taylor Kitsch…poor, poor Taylor Kitsch. He was the lead in notorious flop John Carter a scant 2 months ago (although I thought that was actually a good movie). Now he’s back so soon in another under-performing blockbuster. He’s worse here though. Maybe it’s how his character is written, but he’s introduced as a loser and not worthy of respect. He stays this way until the plot forces him to suddenly become heroic, with no actual reason for his change.
Oh, right, the plot. Essentially, aliens land in the water near Hawaii and start doing…stuff. The Navy doesn’t know what, but it’s probably bad, so we start fighting and it turns out the aliens are MUCH better at fighting than us. Well, until the finale, of course. That was one of my biggest problems. The aliens are SO amazing when introduced that it makes it wholly unbelievable when the tides are turned and we start taking them out. Their shields cover all of Hawaii, so the humans’ main fleet can’t get in, but somehow they don’t have shields on their ships. Also, they can’t shoot us at night because their ships can’t see us. Don’t they have radar, or sonar, or heat-seekers, or any single imaging technology? Lucky for them, we don’t either. This leads to one of the more clever moments of the movie, as a Japanese officer comes up with a low-tech way to find out where the enemy is at night.
This scene also leads to one of the actual game tie-ins. There is a grid, with enemy ships on it, and to target them, they call out Letters and Numbers. But not B-19, because that would sound silly. So they use Navy-speak and say “Bravo One Niner.” But it’s right there on screen that it’s B-19, which I actually thought was kind of fun/funny, especially when they follow a missile launch with “Its a miss, sir.” The other reference is the alien ordinance looks like the pegs from the game–just much more high-tech and explodey. They miss a great opportunity to reference the game though, by having no submarines. The game has 5 ships, but the movie only uses 2 of them. Destroyers mainly, and one Battleship.
The Battleship is in the finale, of course, and I won’t give it away, but there is a kind of secret to the Battleship that is awesome in a ridiculous way. While it doesn’t make a lot of sense, the idea is so audacious and amusing that it’s worth a review point on its own. The effects, a.k.a. the real reason to see this movie are generally great. The ships look good, the “death balls” that launch onto the mainland and tear everything up are cool, and the shots of the firefights in the water between vessels are really spectacular. So I can’t complain about that. What I can complain about is that they took the already-derided aesthetic of the Transformers movies and made theirs far too similar. Their ships are actually cleaner than the Transformers, but still very busy to the eye.
The last point I’ll mention is that the director, Peter Berg, is a genuine fan of the Navy. I think his father was in the Navy, and I’ve read interviews where he talks about his love of naval history. He treats ships and sailors with reverence. In fact, I’m positive many of the small characters were played by actual sailors. The way they gave their lines gave me the impression they were not real actors, and who better for a military buff to put into his movie than actual military vets? There’s an ultimate homage to the Pearl Harbor veterans at the end that is wonderfully earnest, so I have to give some credit there.
My score of 5 may not seem too bad, but I’m notoriously generous to action movies. For anyone else, this would likely be a 4. While it’s not a good movie, it’s not unpleasant to watch on a summer afternoon. So it’s better than nothing, but not as good as most other summer movies.