DIRECTED BY: Peter Berg
WRITTEN BY: Eric Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
STARRING: Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker
RUNNING TIME: 130 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Out celebrating his birthday with his brother Stone, Alex Hopper tries to make a play for Samantha, a pretty woman sitting alone at the bar, and when the barman refuses to serve her a burrito breaks into a shop, which has just shut, to get her one. Because of incidents like these, the immature, wastrel Alex is talked by his brother into joining the navy. Sometime later, Alex is a lieutenant and in a relationship with Samantha, something her father, Admiral Shane, is unaware of. Meanwhile a planet has been discovered the same distance from its sun as Earth and two scientists send a signal to it. Big mistake. When both Alex and Stone embark on a training exercise from Pearl Harbour in which they are to practice fighting with the Japanese, strange metallic objects destroy half of Hong Kong and a huge force field appears in front of the ships, after which huge alien robots rise out of the sea……….
There is no doubt that alien invasion epics have been pretty poor of late, but, unlike I think some of my fellow critics on this site, I have a soft spot for the Transformers movies – seeing big robots duke it out really brings out the child in me – so I was rather looking forward to Battleship for quite a while, despite it apparently being based on a board game. Ships vs aliens? Seems like a simple but cool premise for a fun blockbuster action movie doesn’t it? Of late, I started to wonder if it was going to be another rubbishy effort like The Darkest Hour or Skyline, and early word on the movie does seem to be that it is poor. Well, I was wrong on both counts, because Battleship is neither especially good nor is it especially bad. For much of its length, I was certainly able to switch of my brain and enjoy the constant action it provides, though in the end it will still probably leave you shaking your head at its stupidity and it never quite becomes the good movie it threatens to.
The opening sequence, which asks the question: how far would you go to get a burrito for a woman you fancy?, is amusing but rather clumsy and it isn’t made at all clear how much time has passed when we next meet our hero and heroine. What is soon clear though is how much this movie loves the US military, with the uniforms, ships and everything shot in loving detail. You may think you are watching a Michael Bay film, though less visually pretty; say what you like about him, you cannot deny that he makes his films look good, and Battleship looks a little ugly by comparison. Still, after a few dullish sequences which don’t really work because the characters are paper-thin, some tension is built up as alien things are spotted heading for Earth. We see some of Hong Kong obliterated in a too-brief but quite impressive little set piece, and yes, it does almost feel like we are watching Armageddon, what with the hero sleeping with his boss’s daughter and all.
Then things really kick off as a huge force field appears in front of the ships and strange structures come out of the water, to be followed by giant robots. It’s now what we’ve paid to see – ships vs aliens! Yay!! The robots fire things that look like canisters which stick to targets and then blow up, but even better than this, when the aliens seem to have won the first battle, out from their machines come flying wheel-like things which head towards the base and smash into helicopters, buildings and whatever else is in the way. I really appreciated being shown some decent destruction for a change in this movie and it really seems that, despite the fetishism of the military and some seriously corny dialogue, Battleship is becoming a most fun endeavour indeed, helped by adding just the right level of humour which never reaches the depths of the annoying larking around that marred the Transformers pictures.
Sadly, around half way the film takes a nose dive and never entirely recovers, though it remains watchable most of the time. It becomes increasingly obvious that seeing ships vs aliens over and over again gets a bit boring, the very nature of it making for rather static and repetitive action, and though there are a few hair-raising encounters with the actual aliens, some occurring on land, these extra-terrestrials are singularly unimpressive in design with their Predator– style suits and their albino human-like appearance. They are nothing we haven’t seen before, and, though director Peter Berg thankfully keeps the camera still during the naval combat scenes, he can’t resist shaking the camera about and cutting crazily during the land scuffles. And then the film just gets ridiculous, going beyond far-fetched [which I don’t have a problem with if it suits the film] into just pure idiocy. The best example of this is when our protagonists need a ship, but all the available ships are destroyed, so they decide to take a 70 year old craft into battle, replete with its old crew, who…….well, I don’t want to describe the whole scene, but what is intended to be rousing is just too much and may even make you feel a little sick. By the end, the film may leave a bad taste in your mouth and that’s a shame because it was getting rather good.
The special effects, bar some shoddy explosions [why does everyone resort to CG explosions these days when they look so fake?], do the job, but the script often lets things down and is annoyingly vague concerning the aliens. Star Taylor Kitsch does a better job in this then he did in John Carter, at least looking the part here, though he is still very limited as an actor. As for Rihanna, I can’t stand her nor her music, but she’s adequate in her role and is certainly not the annoyance which I expected her to be. Liam Neeson is hardly in it. Steve Joblonsky’s score seems to combine his Transformers scores with his Platinum Dunes horror scores for a predictably tedious musical experience. Overall though, Battleship is perhaps a little better than you may expect, does what it says on the tin and its 130 minutes race by. It is almost two thirds of the way to being a decent alien invasion movie. Which is pretty good going, considering the competition at the moment.