Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Director Peter Berg seems to have created a recipe for destruction with his latest venture, Battleship. Mix one part alien adventure with two parts board-game tie-in, stir in a liberal helping of Syfy cheese and half-bake. Battleship tries so hard to be a Michael Bay epic it spends almost two hours shouting it and failing miserably. From the mixed storylines that never coalesce to a cast that looks just as confused as the audience, Battleship has all the makings of a great double feature with Mansquito.
An international fleet, with the Navy at the forefront, comes under fire from a bizarre alien race. Rebel Navy lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) must figure out how to defeat the aliens and save the world.
Two lines, that’s the entirety of the plot of Battleship. Oh there’s a lot that happens during the two hours the movie plays, but that’s the “plot.” Once the aliens actually strike the movie’s whiz-bang special effects cover up much of the mistakes of the movie, but that forces the audiences to slog through at least 30 minutes of some of the most asinine dialogue and acting out there. Before I get into all that let’s look at the players we’re dealing with and the various stories that are either shoved together by story’s end or literally killed off.
You have the story of two brothers, Stone and Alex Hopper, played by Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard. Of course Stone is the serious one obsessed with being a good member of the Navy and forcing his brother to find a direction in life. If you don’t know his character traits his name is Stone…can’t get blunter than that about a character. Alex is the screw-up who hates direction but loves the ladies. We know this because the movie opens with him breaking into a convenience store to steal a chicken burrito for a hot girl played by Brooklyn Decker who also happens to be the daughter of the commander of Stone’s fleet played by Liam Neeson. Of course you have to gel these two plot lines together or else we wouldn’t feel connected to them right?
As far as the acting in this group is concerned we have two actors questioning whether to fire their agents and the other two hopelessly proving they have little talent (can you guess who goes were?). Skarsgard and Neeson have zero character outside of their pre-defined roles and their screen time is limited to about ten minutes at the beginning and end of the film. Neeson is given more screen time but he plays the stout curmudgeon that hates Alex for being a rebel and throwing balls on his lawn (I might have added that last line). Kitsch continues to showcase his ability to squint in order to convey tension. His monotone performance is helped by Brooklyn Decker looking scared and coyly smiling throughout the film, that and wearing cut-off shorts in the beginning. Her character by far the most marginalized. I didn’t discover her name until an hour and a half into the movie! We’re introduced to her as Chicken Burrito Girl and no one actually specifies her name until a stray character mentions it. Not to mention her plotline involves her job as a physical therapist trying to rehabilitate an injured soldier by taking him hiking. The guy playing the soldier was actually endearing and a great character; sadly he got stuck in the plotline that feels the most ripped from a Syfy special.
That is ultimately what Battleship is: a big-budget Syfy movie. There are far too many plots that seem to serve the question of where everyone is in relation to the aliens. Of course Decker’s character is the damsel whose boyfriend (Kitsch) actually doesn’t know is in any danger. The aliens themselves are the worst CGI I’ve seen. In armor they’re something out of a Halo game and outside it they look like the big-headed dog from John Carter with a weird cactus goatee.
Berg tries hard to capture the spirit of a Michael Bay film but just makes a crappy pro-America B-movie. The films third act involves Alex turning the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor into a working battleship with a group of retired old Navy men mixing Space Cowboys with Under Siege. It’s laughable, not endearing. The big action set-piece of alien weapons ripping through buildings is taken directly from Transformers 3 and is just loud.
The majority of Americans should at least find something funny about this, I know because my audience spent the entire film laughing at scenes that I don’t think were meant to be laughable. Case in point, a major character dies leaving Alex to assume command. One of the men is freaking out telling Alex he’s in charge. This is a scene meant to convey tension that Alex is responsible, people are dying and he’s going to have to man up. Instead it’s funny because the guy telling Alex what’s happening is just so whiny and feminine. There are a lot of scenes like this where the suspense is trampled by a “witticism” or snappy come-back. Berg and his screenwriters, Erich and Jon Hoeber, don’t know whether Battleship is a comedy or an action film and nothing ever comes off as truly action-packed or funny.
You know the movie is confused when the film fades out to Creedence Clearwater’s “Fortunate Son”. That’s a Vietnam song that has zero to do with aliens attacking the Navy but it’s a war song so it’s going enough for this. That’s how best to sum up Battleship: a film that has zero to do with aliens, war, or drama, but it’s based on a board game so it’s good enough!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.