Film Review – Battleship
If making a ton of money is the goal of your film, then Transformers would certainly be a good point of reference to use. After the massive success of that franchise, it is no surprise that Hasbro has been scrambling to figure out how they could monetize some of their other properties. Though it took some creative liberties to get it done, it appears they are on the verge of repeating their prior success, with Battleship.
The story follows brothers Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård). Despite Stone’s best efforts, Alex can’t seem to get his life together. After one final brush with the law, Stone forces Alex to join him in the navy. A few years later, things pick up during RIMPAC, a worldwide naval exercise. During one of the drills, the vessels containing the brothers encounter an alien invasion, and it is up to the men and the rest of their shipmates to stop the aliens and save the world.
The trailer for the film does a pretty good job of depicting it—it is basically Transformers at sea. I can’t say I was particularly inspired to see Battleship based upon that, but I will admit that Transformers has been a guilty pleasure for me, so I figured it was only fair to give this film a shot. It follows their playbook very closely: set up plot with a lot of comedy; build up to the conflict; keep the action going until the end. The plot of the film is a huge departure from the original game, but Battleship fans will appreciate some nods toward it, such as the use of “pegs” as weapons from the aliens and tracking aliens on a grid like the game.
The film cannot be discussed without talking about its director, Peter Berg, who has to be one of the most divisive directors working in Hollywood these days. People seem to either love his work, or love to hate it. With the exception of Very Bad Things, I generally like his work…and there probably should be a statue of limitations on that one, since it was almost fifteen years ago and his feature film debut. Most of his smaller-scale, character-focused projects have been entertaining (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom), but fell flat at the box office. His greatest success thus far came with Hancock (the Will Smith money train), which wasn’t necessarily a bad movie, just slight misguided with a bad ending. A lot of the problems with his films can be attributed to the story, which for the most part hasn’t been his work (Very Bad Things being a very big exception to that). Unfortunately, his work in Battleship continues the track of more style and less substance…and probably will also continue the trend of being successful, sadly.
One of the main differences between Transformers and Battleship is in the lead characters. In Transformers, Shia LaBeouf plays a loveable loser—he is an underdog. He might not always succeed, but you know his heart is in the right place, so it is easy to root for him. I can’t really say the same about Taylor Kitsch’s role here. Alex is difficult for the majority of the film, as he refuses to listen to anyone around him, despite the fact that they clearly know what is best. There is no lack of talent or skill with him; he isn’t an underdog, he is just a pain in the ass. I haven’t seen too much of Kitsch’s work (the Friday Night Lights television series, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, John Carter), but it is clear that this is his shtick…playing the bad boy. It is a miracle that all of the servicemen keep Alex around long enough to become a leader.
There were many things I was curious about going into the movie, and towards the top of the list was how Rihanna was going to do as an actress as she makes her feature film debut. Despite the other names in the credits, she probably has the largest supporting role—and, honestly, I thought she was pretty solid. It is hard to say after only one film, but she seems to be on her way to being yet another musician to successfully make the transition from music to film. Plus, it is nice to see a badass female lead in the movie.
For the most part, if you can tolerate a Transformers movie, you can probably tolerate this as well…but it does have plenty of frustrations. The aliens, their motivations, and their chosen targets feel inconsistent. Why they feel the need to eliminate things like highway infrastructure but not proactively take out the destroyers puzzles me. The timing of the events in the film is hard to keep track of, and it feels like the longest day possible for all the events that occur. Given that the filmmakers pretty much had free reign to make this movie about whatever they wanted, it feels like it should be tighter.
Despite the indication from the poor trailers, this film isn’t so bad as to be truly notable…but it isn’t good enough to be memorable, either. It will keep you relatively engaged throughout, but additionally viewings are probably unnecessary.
Final Grade: C+