If the Transformer movies were too arty and nuanced for you, this jingoistic assault on narrative logic and thematic complexity from director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom) is probably what you’re looking for. Like a cinematic demolition derby, Battleship delivers more than two hours of high-priced explosion porn while piling on its chest-thumping “America, fuck yeah!” machismo with a brazenness that makes Top Gun seem Merchant-and-Ivory quaint.
Jon and Erich Hoeber’s idiotically clichéd script seems more like a series of outline note-cards than a fully realized plot — about what you’d expect from a movie based on a board game. Alien spaceships come to Hawaii. Brothers Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård) and Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), one straitlaced and professional, the other hot-headed and impulsive, are naval officers engaged in international military exercises off Oahu. When the aliens throw up a force-field around the island, the two are caught inside and have to blow the invaders up before they phone home for reinforcements.
The acting is wooden, the dialogue is shockingly awful (did Liam Neeson really need the money that badly?), and the plotting illogical. Why don’t the aliens kill various characters when they have the chance? Rumor has it that the original script cast them as misunderstood good guys in search of a way home. But as depicted here, they are an enemy with lots of advance weaponry and no discernible battle plan.
Remarkably, the best scene in Battleship is when Berg actually re-creates the board game’s guess-based play. Stalking the enemy without the benefit of radar, our heroes’ game of blind man’s hunt generates a fair amount of tension and suspense. Berg is a pretty capable action director, mounting his epic battles with energy and verve (his inclusion of AC/DC on the soundtrack is perfectly timed), and ILM’s special effects are the best $200 million can buy. There are small moments where the movie achieves the kind of dopey fun Roland Emmerich delivered in Independence Day. If the story and characters weren’t so blank-faced serious and relentlessly lunkheaded, there’d be some campy fun to be derived from this adrenalized nonsense.
Unfortunately, by the time an Army veteran with two prosthetic legs (real-life hero Colonel Greg Gadson) teams up with a blond supermodel (Brooklyn Decker) to help derail the aliens’ plans while Kitsch leads a crew of grizzled veterans into battle on the retired USS Missouri (which, despite its museum status, still houses plenty of live ammo) you can’t help but shake your head in appalling disbelief. Although, I guess it helps explain some of the instincts behind casting pop superstar Rihanna as a stoic weapons specialist.
Look, summers were made for movies that blow shit up. But there’s a difference between the giddy inventiveness of The Avengers and a military-industrial-entertainment complex that shamelessly fetishizes America’s trigger-happy approach to diplomacy. As much as I appreciate Berg following in Michael Bay’s selfless efforts to find further employment for supermodels, Battleship is more than just idiotic fun, it’s an ugly reminder that our country is all-too eager to flex its military muscle in the name of cartoonish patriotism and pride.