Liam Neeson as Admiral Shane
Taylor Kitsch as Alex Hopper
Tadanobu Asano as Nagata
Alexander Skarsgård as Stone Hopper
Brooklyn Decker as Samantha
Rihanna as Cora Raikes
Jesse Plemons as Ordy
U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gatson as Mick
John Bell as Angus
Peter MacNicol as Secretary of Defense
Josh Pence as Chief Moore
Hamish Linklater as Cal
Adam Godley as Dr. Nogrady
Billy Slaughter as William
Reila Aphrodite as Sam
Stephen Bishop as OOD Taylor
Luing Andrews as Admiral Jack
Kevin P. Kearns as Jimmy
Brian Hirono as Myoko OOD Lt. Yokoe
Directed by Peter Berg
As naval ships from around the world gather off of the coast of Hawaii for annual exercises, a beacon sent into space has reached its destination, a planet with a similar atmosphere as Earth that’s sent five spaceships filled with hostile aliens as envoys. Creating a domed force field around a portion of the fleet, it’s up to the crew of the destroyer USS John Paul Jones and one hot-headed lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) to put up a stop to the aliens’ plans to bring more ships to Earth and take it over.
There tends to be a collective groan whenever there’s news of a board game or toy optioned as a movie, and “Battleship” is going to give naysayers more ammo by showing exactly why some things really need to stay in their original medium. Those of you bummed there wasn’t a new Michael Bay movie released this summer are in luck, because director Peter Berg has come up with the next best thing by channeling the master of the big-budget summer blockbuster in bringing the classic Hasbro board game to the big screen.
As “Battlefield” opens, we’re introduced to the Beacon Project, which is trying to communicate with a planet found in another galaxy that matches Earth’s own conditions. We don’t spend too long on that premise before we’re moved to a bar on Oahu where two brothers, Alex and Stone Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard) are arguing over the former’s slacker mentality that keeps getting him into trouble. Being in the Navy, Stone of course thinks that’s his younger brother’s only viable option. Oh, boy, is he going to get his wish. But first, along comes Brooklyn Decker, who looks way too hot to be found in a dive bar in Hawaii, but offering Alex the motivation to break into a closed nearby grocery store to steal her a chicken burrito.
As we spend twenty minutes watching Alex sometime after his arrest, now in the Navy and taking part in the annual RIMCAP naval exercises, you may start wondering if they’ve forgotten that the movie is supposed to be about an alien invasion, but once the spaceships land, Alex is sent out on a raft to greet the large unknown object jutting out of the water with some of his crew, setting off a chain of events where the alien crafts start firing large explosive “pins” at the fleet, quickly destroying two of the three ships caught inside the force field.
This begins the type of FX-laden action that most will be expecting, and for many, Navy ships and alien starships (and their respective officers) battling it out for nearly 90 minutes may be enough, but the lack of originality in terms of creating characters that aren’t overused stereotypes and a story that lacks any sort of depth makes it hard to fully enjoy it, even in the context of being a popcorn movie.
Much of these problems can be blamed on the choice in actors, starting with Taylor Kitsch as Alex, the slacker screw-up who in a matter of weeks seems to have joined the Navy then next thing you know, he’s the senior officer on a Navy destroyer and in charge of making all the decisions. Hard as it may be to believe, that’s not the most ridiculous aspect of the movie either, and neither is the incomprehensible thought that supermodel Brooklyn Decker could pull off a convincing military physical therapist. As soon as she urges a bull-headed amputee, played by real-life military man Colonel Gregory D. Gatson, to take a walk with her in the Hawaiian hills, you should be able to figure out where it’s heading and the part he’ll play. (The only clue we’ll give you is Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Pearl Harbor.”)
Liam Neeson, presumably one of the primary draws for the movie, is barely in it ten minutes at the beginning and then quickly disappears once the force field goes up, only to return at the end to take credit and give a big rousing speech. For that matter, Alexander Skarsgard also leaves the picture once the action starts, leaving things to Taylor Kitsch and his skeleton crew, none of whom really have the charisma to keep one invested in the story. These include pop singer Rihanna playing the sort of tough bad-ass female role one normally expects from Michelle Rodriguez, her primary purpose to shoot big guns and say catchy lines like “Boom” and “Mahalo MotherBLEEPer” after doing so. The other three main crew members are mostly forgettable military stereotypes.
The design of the alien crafts makes them imposing enough as they have a way of leaping across the water in a menacing fashion, and those “pegs” aren’t their only weapon as they also shoot out giant spinning gear-bots (for lack of a better term) that raze anything in their path. These cause a few problems with scale as the initial construct and the spacecrafts seem enormous, but they seem to shift in size as needed when shown with humans. At one point, one of the gear-bots threatens a young boy and it doesn’t look to be that much bigger than him.
Then there are the aliens themselves, looking like something out of “Halo” until their helmets are removed and they look like old hippies with grey goatees, offering some of the movie’s only problems in terms of the CG FX. These aliens have a simplistic system of determining whether something they encounter is an enemy by how they appear on their helmet screens: Green= good; red = bad. It’s that simple and there’s no real logic to it, which essentially reduces their menace. At one point in the battle, they find a way to replicate the Battleship game by having our heroes tracking the aliens crafts on a radar and calling out coordinates to attack, which just makes it that much clearer how silly the whole thing is.
As much as “Battleship” may have been director Peter Berg’s tribute to our fighting forces, the screenplay by the Hoeber Brothers gets so ridiculous at times it may come across like a slap in the face to that audience with lines and moments that will have you howling with laughter. That is, until someone actually makes a joke that’s meant to be funny.
Going into the third act, it pulls out easily one of the most ridiculous plot devices you’re likely to see all year, and it’s likely to lose anyone who has been on board up until that point. For reasons left unexplained, Alex and a Japanese officer named Nagata end up working on the same boat even though they clearly hate each other, and it doesn’t take a film school degree to figure out they’ll end the movie as friends.
That’s not to say that all the problems fall on Peter Berg or his direction. He does the best he can to make an overly glossy commercial-looking movie out of a script that never really works. It seems once someone realized this, they just kept throwing money at the movie, hoping the spectacle and FX would make people ignore the fact the script sucks. Special kudos should be given to Berg’s visual FX team, a list so long it takes up a third of the extensive credits, which you may or may not want to stick through for a final tag that’s relatively funny, though not necessarily anyone would hope for it to be a set up for a sequel, which invariably will never happen.
The Bottom Line:
“Battleship” isn’t a complete disaster and it’s doubtful it’s going to make or break any careers – maybe just the executive who greenlit it. It’s just not very good and another clear-cut example of a movie that had absolutely no reason to be made.
Essentially, it’s Hasbro’s classic game clumsily shoehorned into a movie that literally takes every single Michael Bay movie and squooshes them into a formulaic action blockbuster. It mostly falters whenever it actually references the source material on which it’s based.