Directed by: Peter Berg
Premise: Adapted from the Hasbro board game. A fleet of naval vessels engage with alien spacecraft off the coast of Hawaii.
What Works: Battleship is a dumb but fun science fiction action adventure. This is intended to be a summertime spectacle and as that the picture mostly succeeds. Director Peter Berg knows how to film action sequences and a number of the set pieces are well staged and effectively edited with some impressive special effects. Taken as the kind of mindless entertainment that it is, Battleship is satisfactorily entertaining although nothing more than that.
What Doesn’t: Finding a path to enjoy Battleship may be difficult and it is a challenge to regard this film anyway but cynically. Even in terms of Hollywood studio summer tent pole extravaganzas, Battleship is a crass commercial endeavor and the film makes little effort to be anything else. Just as the Transformers films were really about creating merchandise for ancillary markets, Battleship is a summer action extravaganza that has been concocted by marketing executives as a way to sell products and as a platform for up-and-coming actors to get face time with the audience. Battleship is ostensibly based on the Hasbro board game but aside from the naval setting and one scene in which the heroes use a grid to target the alien craft this is an adaptation in name only. The game never suggested a narrative, much less an alien invasion story, and so the title has been slapped onto a generic science fiction script for the sake of brand recognition. The cast of Battleship are mostly attractive but unremarkable young actors who would look more at home in an Old Navy catalogue than on a warship, and in fact the film’s love interest is played by former model Brooklyn Decker. The presence of pop star Rihanna in a supporting role only reinforces the industrial nature of the film as her casting is clearly based less on any acting talent she might possess and more on the starlet’s managers increasing her market value and drawing in the eighteen-to-thirty-year-old demographic that advertisers seek. Esteemed actor Liam Neeson does appear in the film but his role is little more than a cameo bookending the story and he exists solely for the sake of legitimizing the film. As for the qualities of picture, Battleship is little more than a Transformers knockoff. It is less obnoxious than Michael Bay’s films but it is also incredibly unimaginative. Many of the set pieces are familiar from other disaster movies like Armageddon and Independence Day and even within the conceit of an alien invasion picture a lot of the movie is incredulous, namely the finale which is stupid, corny, and disingenuously patriotic. The aliens of Battleship invade for no particular reason and exist only as a faceless enemy for the heroes to blow up and allow audiences the space to cheer on militarism without having to face moral or political consequences of violence. The main cast of human characters are equally faceless and interchangeable, so much so that it is difficult to keep track of who the characters are and impossible to feel anything for them when they are in jeopardy. What this amounts to a movie that is simultaneously busy and boring; it is the kind of film that makes for a good trailer but like a firework display there is nothing to it but elaborate pyrotechnics.
Bottom Line: Battleship is a marketing scheme dressed up as a film. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were more enjoyable but the movie comes across as lazy and does not really try to deliver anything beyond the lowest common denominator. Once Battleship has departed theaters and arrived on DVD it will be indistinguishable from Syfy network original pictures like Mega Python vs. Gateroid although it will probably be less enjoyable as a guilty pleasure.
Episode: #390 (June 3, 2012)