Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review: Battleship

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Battleship Movie poster

141 mins / Dir. Peter Berg

Really? Yeah, really. Watching the trailer for this, with their 'From Hasbro…' flashframe, I couldn't work out why they had anything to do with it. There didn't seem to be very much in the way of marketing opportunities for action figures (especially when the likes of Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean have all done so dismally in that area, recently). But as I tend to stay away from advance marketing, reviews and fluff-pieces before a movie, the facepalmingly obvious truth hadn't even registered in my brain. I mean, who in their right mind would make a film… not from an action figure concept… not even really from a board-game… but from a game that can be played with two pens and pieces of paper? If it sounds like a fucking ridiculous idea to you, then you're one of the people in the world who doesn't work for Hasbro or Universal. They made a film of the game battleships.

The Plot: Responding to a comms transmission sent to their planet, a scouting party of aggressive aliens trace the signal back to Earth to establish a command post and clear the way for an invasion force. Earth's only hope for survival rests with the people caught inside the aliens' protective forcefield, projected in the Pacific ocean…

The Good: Erm, Taylor Kitsch is pretty good. As with John Carter, he's funny, charming, but doesn't have quite the right amount of heft to pull off this leading role. Yet. In all honesty, I enjoyed the prologue-section of the film, where he's a lazy, drunken misfit, way more than everything that came after he joined the navy. Then again, after that section we're introduced to the rest of the cast, and it all starts to go downhill...

The Bad: "Ooh! We sent out a message to space, and now the aliens are coming to get us and we're all going to DIE!". Packed from the offset with Daily Mail levels of paranoia, this invasion-flick was never going to be an easy ride. But riding side-by-side with the pearl-clutching terror that we may not be alone in the universe is a method of delivery that's so clichéd that you can't actually pinpoint where you've seen the tropes before, they're so ingrained in the gung-ho, America-saves-the-world, bullshit we all got sick of after Independence Day*1. Battleship comes off like some bastard hybrid of Transformers and Jurassic Park, but with the fun and charm of neither.

There's a section near the start of the movie (when Kitsch's Alex Hopper has established himself in the navy), that takes place on an old-school Battleship™ and shows us the surviving members of its crew, all in their Hollywoodesque Old Age*2. Now, in a movie like Battleship, the callbacks are set up with all the subtlety and grace of a toddler playing with a hammer. All the characters have their own little hurdles to jump over, and the final act of the film darts between them so much that you almost forget the film stars aliens as well. In fact, I'd actually forgotten about the Old Timers™ when they save the day at the film's climax. When it comes down to three people*2 in a dinghy and Hopper points out the USS Missouri and its elderly crew might just be capable of saving the day, I actually said "oh, you are fucking kidding me…" out loud in the cinema. To paraphrase Martin Wolfenden, my toes curled so much they tore through the top of my shoes.

The Ugly: It's okay, I have a list…

• They play Battleships in the film. Yes, you read that right. In a fucking horribly contrived scene, they use a grid of tagged buoys in the Pacific ocean to essentially play Battleships against invading aliens. For this reason alone, everyone involved in greenlighting this movie should be humanely put to sleep.

• It's hard to tell what's more mechanical; the weaponry on display, the storytelling or Rihanna.

• What's Liam Neeson doing in this film? Seriously. I know he's made some ropey choices in recent years, but he just kind of pops up at either end of the film to phone in a performance of a cardboard character. It's embarrasing, really.

• The idea that an extra-terrestrial force would travel from another galaxy to invade our planet, and that for all their technical prowess would still be using projectile weaponry is laughable, frankly. And that will probably be the last time you laugh in this film.

• The aliens are remarkably close to humans in evolutionary terms, considering the characters spend so much time telling each other their physiology is based on lizards. Giving them three-fingered claw/hands and funny eyes doesn't quite cut it, I'm afraid.

• The alien craft that have landed in the Pacific have the ability to destroy the US destroyer ships. We see this because they blow one up (with Hasbro Battleship™ pegs, no less) to demonstrate the threat they pose. So as they're a preliminary invasion force, why not just destroy all the ships in the area? I know that'd make it a short film, but the lack of internal logic in this script is staggering.

• Speaking of which, the plot becomes a race against time to stop the aliens relaying a signal back to their homeworld, to signal the full invasion-force. We're told the satellite only passes the station in Hawaii once every 24 hours, and this becomes the climactic nexus for the various strands of characters in the movie. But back at the start, we saw the scouting party arrive at earth, when the satellite was beaming its message across the stars (we see the beam visually too, just to make sure we all know what it is). When the alien craft arrived, they smashed the fuck out of… yep, a satellite. So presumably that can't be the one that was transmitting the signal once a day. That can't be the one everyone's anticipating. That must have been another satellite, pushing out a visible beam in the direction of the aliens arrival. Mustn't it?

• Filling the soundtrack with AC/DC songs may have worked for Iron Man 2, but that was a one-off. Do you hear?

Worth £8+? If you like a plot that doesn't make a lot of sense, weak characters with little to do, and a script that was written on autopilot, then you'll enjoy Battleship. Then again, if those things are what you want, you deserve a movie like Battleship.


As crap as it is, I can't hate Battleship, as my expectations were already low to begin with. But I certainly can't like it, either.

*1 I'm not having a go at the U.S. there, by the way. I think even American audiences have got sick of it. Not that the feeling has stopped filmmakers from exploiting it. Still.
*2 Apparently the Old Timers™ are actual Old Timers™ from the actual Navy™. As if that makes their lack of acting ability or terrible scripting acceptable. It fucking doesn't.
*3 I'll call them 'people'. I can't call them 'characters' as they aren't that well defined. But they definitely have faces and limbs, so 'people'.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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