"Battleship" Turns Children's Game into Military Worship Review

If you're anything like the makers of Battleship, then you must have watched Michael Bay's Transformers movies and thought to yourself, "Gee, this is great, but I wish they would cut out Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and all the Autobots out of the movie so I can just watch the evil alien robots fight the US military." If so, then boy, have they got the movie for you! Battleship doesn't have the usual chosen saviors or a key-to-defeating-the-enemy MacGuffin. Its uniformed heroes rely on nothing but real-life American military armaments to defeat its highly advanced extra-terrestrial foes, as implausible as that sounds. It is less a movie based on a children’s game and more accurately military porn.

To say that the movie takes its cues from Transformers would be a massive understatement, as it isn’t just the mechs-from-outer-space premise that it has co-opted. There are also the extending of the running time to make room for shitty frat boy humor, the goofy unlikely hero who woos the generically hot girl, and of course, the proud glorification of our armed forces, which we can now consider a Hasbro movie tradition. Following the Air Force and the Army in Transformers and G.I. Joe, it is now the Navy’s turn to take down sci-fi villains bent on destroying the planet. I expect the Coast Guard to be fighting aliens in the Jenga movie.

Peter Berg, generally speaking, isn’t a terrible filmmaker, although he has a tendency to toe the line by adapting to a genre’s stereotypical look (compare the visual style in The Rundown to Friday Night Lights to Hancock). For Battleship, Berg and his frequent cinematographer Tobias Schliessler adopt Michael Bay’s style with the spot-on precision of a spoof: cameras never stop spinning around every character, lens gratuitously flaring at us, action scenes consist of CGI metal noisily shaking up the screen in 2-second cuts, and the Pentagon is established multiple times in helicopter shots from many, many angles that all look the same because the point of a pentagonal building is that it is identical from every side.

In the lead, Berg cast Taylor Kitsch as Lt. Hopper, a lazy Navy screw-up who’s just about to get kicked out for his antics, when fortunately for him aliens attack and he’s thrust into a leadership role that proves his worth; something his disappointed Navy Commander older brother Alexander Skarsgard always wanted. Loyal by Hopper’s side is singer Rihanna as literally the only woman in the entire Navy. I’m not sure why Brooklyn Decker is in the movie, since the battle is at sea and she’s not, but she spends the entire movie accompanying a character played by bilateral amputee veteran Gregory D. Gadson. Gadson’s not the only real-life service member cast in the movie. The Navy ships are filled with both active duty and veteran sailors, who positively cannot act for shit, but received a patriotic applause from my screening audience anyway during their obligatory hero moment. Much better at acting but content in spending the entire movie spouting cheesy lines are Liam Neeson as the Admiral who’s barely in the movie and Tadanobu Asano as Captain Nagata of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Nagata and Hopper initially don’t get along, but are forced to work together against a common alien foe. Their relationship serves as a metaphor for the progress of US-Japan collaboration, with the setting of the battle off the shores of Pearl Harbor symbolic of -- lol j/k, this is the kind of screenplay where the scenes are really short because the characters only talk in expositions or punchlines before we move on to the next scene. No one expects great dialogue from these types of movies, but you do hope you can watch the action without being pestered by lines like “If aliens come here, it’s going to be like Christopher Colombus and the Indians, except we’re the Indians!” being spoken seriously.

Most of the writers’ brain power apparently went into figuring out how to incorporate the movie’s source of inspiration into the story. They did this by having the aliens shoot out a large dome-shaped shield in the sea, creating the "board." The aliens came with 5 ships, and that's how many Navy ships that are against them. The aliens shoot the game’s “pegs” as missiles, which drop from the sky and plug themselves on the Navy ships before detonating. In the film's penultimate nighttime battle, with radars down and both sides blind to the position of the enemy, our heroes use tsunami buoys to create a grid of the sea, then conduct battle by yelling out things like, “F23!” “It’s a miss!” and “E19!” “A hit!” The absurdity of it alone is funnier than all of the film's actual attempts at humor combined.

Here lies the fundamental flaw of this endeavor. Playing Battleship can be intense, and that’s probably what they were hoping on capturing, but have you ever watched a game of Battleship? It’s two people yelling out random letters and numbers to each other.

Not all of the movie is like that, but for the most part, it’s that same level of excitement. It’s only recently that The Avengers proved that wanton CGI destruction doesn’t always have to be bereft of clarity and a sense of character, but here we are, bombarded with another one of those soulless sequences from Transformers that puts more stock in noise than fun. That’s pretty sad coming from a toy company.

"Battleship" opens May 18, 2012 and is rated PG13. Action, Sci-Fi. Directed by Peter Berg. Written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber. Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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