A Droid Premiere: Battleship (2012)

The knives are out and no one’s been sharpening more furiously than me. ‘Battleship’ has got to be the nadir of Hollywood creativity. It’s a film, based on an antiquated 80’s board game. Hasbro, the company responsible for Transformers and GI Joe, are unflinchingly determined to exploit every possible product they have in their catalogue. But a board game? Transformers and GI Joe I can fully understand, because they began life as a line of toys, and by proxy have somewhat identifiable transferable characteristics and personality for a feature film. But what characteristics and personality does a board game have, when the whole game is just players taking turns yelling out grid coordinates in an attempt to hit the others plastic ship? And would the target audience know what ‘Battleship’ is? Does anyone even play board games any more?

You get the gist of where I’m going here, don’t you? The entire concept, the purpose behind the production of a ‘Battleship’feature film is hateful. It’s a market research product from the sputtering Hollywood machine. It’s hateful for what it stands for. It exists because kids in the 80’s played a board game called ‘Battleship’. So it had that going against it. It starred a charisma free actor (fresh off a ginormous headline grabbing bomb), along with a pop singer who’d never been in a film before and a model better known for having big knockers. Well, it’s the only reason I knew who she was before this movie. Strike two. And then there were the trailers. Boy did they make the film look like complete shit. Strike three. That should be out right?

In response to the discovery of a goldilocks planet, NASA starts hooting and hollering Aloha at ‘Planet G’ from a communications base on Hawaii. Stationed there is the former loser (seen in a pre-credits sequence breaking into a quickimart for a burrito), now hothead Navy Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). There’s a bunch of not very entertaining junk about Hopper dating Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), who happens to be the daughter of Vice Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Some other nonsense about international Navy games, Hopper unconvincingly playing soccer and a rivalry with the Japanese Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) is established. Nothing very interesting happens for about 30 or 40 minutes while we’re introduced to these and a number of supporting characters, including Hoppers Captain brother (Alexander Skarsgård, who was obviously not born of the same uterus, nor from the same sperm source), Petty Officer Raikes (Rihanna) and Beast (John Tui). But then the Ambassadors from Planet G arrive, and shit hits the fan. Hopper becomes separated from the rest of the fleet, and engages in a one ship navy battle for the fate of the planet.

‘Battleship’ is, quite simply, one of the most ludicrous alien invasion action films I’ve ever seen. It is also, despite my better judgement, a very entertaining one. Once it gets going. For the first third of the film, it’s a bit of grind, and while the film tries and fails at comedy, it’s a blessed relief that they’ve attempted comedy based more around character and situation than leg-humping and knob jokes. And once you get past the early, pre-Navy scene, Kitsch makes a tolerably bland man of action. In that early scene his character is so annoyingly overplayed as a dimwitted loser that it’s a little startling when the film tries to sneak in references to his intelligence.

But hey-ho, deep character development and subtlety aren’t what we go and see an alien invasion action movie for (even though some would be nice), and once the cannons start booming ‘Batteship’ kicks into gear and becomes a pretty damn fun movie. The films greatest asset, and all credit to director Peter Berg and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber for this, is the films knowing, self-aware sense of humour. There is a lot of intentional comedy in ‘Battleship’. Comedy that recognises the astonishingly absurd premise, and most of the time that comedy works. Towards the end, the film becomes one of the best comedies in a while, with the finale featuring the decommissioned USS Missouri returned to active duty, along with what looks like a small selection of its original crew. This sequence is so well executed, complete with ACDC blasting on the soundtrack with pitch perfect comic timing, that it had me laughing out loud.

The other winner in ‘Battleship’s arsenal is that Berg has delivered a couple of really fun, effective action sequences. There’s one scene that specifically apes the actual board game, with Captain Nagata yelling out coordinates for missile launch, that is a humorous nod to the board game and an exciting scene to boot. One of the key things Berg does is establish at least rudimentary strategy to the warfare, and unlike Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ films, it feels like there’s at least some logic at play during the film.

And then there’s the aliens themselves. They’re never fully explained, but we are dripfed enough information to get the idea. We’ve discovered their planet, and sent out an open invitation. But instead of coming around to see our place with a “Howdy neighbour” and a potted plant, they’re intending on becoming houseguest from hell. For beings capable of interstellar travel, their tech is amusingly shonky. Their ships appear to only have the capability to leap a short distance before pausing for breath, seemingly recharging before leaping forward again. This is, obviously, in reference to the board game, moving one notch at a time, but since the Navy ships themselves do not adhere to this rule, I’m not sure why they bothered. Well, that’s not entirely true. They bothered because they were looking to tie into the board game as much as possible, and when all you’ve got to work with is plastic pieces on a small grid you’ve got to use whatever you can.

 

The other curious thing about the aliens, is that they don’t seem to intend to do us harm. Or more accurately, they’re reluctant to do so. Berg frequently cuts to “alien cam” with an on screen display that processes information about ships, people, cars et al and identifies threats (such as weaponry), and then takes them out. A key strategy towards the end of the film depends on the Battleships guns pointing in the wrong direction, and therefore not being recognised as a threat. It’s a strange element to the film, and while it helps establish some rules and tactics, it also raises questions. Like, what are these aliens after? Maybe they really did come in peace. Hell, to begin with they did only fire when fired upon. Maybe if some trigger fingered nervous nelly hadn’t got jumpy, we’d all have new weird, gecko eyed intergalactic BF’s to hang out with.

As far as performances go, no one really stands out as either being especially good or bad. I liked John Tui as Beast, who seemed to me the most capable, and sensible character in the film. Alexander Skarsgård and Liam Neeson both don’t get a lot of screentime, and Neeson in particular is largely wasted. I don’t know if Skarsgård is capable of better performances because the only other film on his resume that I’ve seen is Zoolander, and I don’t remember him in it. Rihanna doesn’t embarrass herself, which is the best compliment I can come up with for her. And Brooklyn Decker is, quite frankly, not very talented. But she appears to be trying her best, and she is actually given something to do (which includes running in a singlet, something I highly recommend seeing), which automatically makes her character better than the Transformers damsels who are dragged around by the male lead.

The film features a couple of cameos that only really serve to distract you. Blink and you’ll miss a beardless Turtle from Entourage, and Stephen Bishop (who played David Justice in Moneyball). Maybe these are less cameos, and more very minor supporting roles, but due to the very recognisability of the actors, they’re a bit distracting. Finally, in the lead role, Taylor Kitsch is okay. He starts off badly, but once the film kicks into gear, he delivers an acceptable square jawed action hero performance. After two huge films in quick succession, one of which failing badly, I don’t expect that we’ll be seeing many more films with this type of budget being headlined by Kitsch. But good on him for grabbing a couple of big films while he could.

‘Battleship’ was a big surprise for me. For the past 6 months I’ve fully expected to hate it. But, just like 2010’s ‘The A-Team’, the film is self-aware enough to know it’s absurd, and it’s made with a good natured, eager to please approach that is kind of disarming. The crassness of the ‘Transformers’ films has been jettisoned and what we’ve ended up with is a film that is very silly, pretty funny, and a mostly entertaining experience.

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

55 responses to “A Droid Premiere: Battleship (2012)”

  1. Jarv says :

    Christ on a moped. Surprise of the year contender?

  2. Jarv says :

    Also, this Aliens not being a threat thing sounds like my problem with Gargoyles.

  3. Toadkillerdog says :

    R2, i only skimmed this review because i want to remain “pure and extra vrign oil free” until i see it. But the gist i got was that you enjoyed it.
    Cool.

    It looks like a dumb but fun big action movie and i am all for those

    • Droid says :

      I try not to spoil films in reviews, especially the Droid Premiere one’s because I know no one else here has seen them yet, but you got the gist right. It’s big, it’s loud and it’s very dumb. Yeah, it’s fun.

  4. tombando says :

    Sounds like a fun time. As for Rihanna, that’s what you hear-not bad, smallish role, eye candy, etc. Gimmick time at best. Being married to a Carribbean, lemme tell you, quick on the trigger finger would be an under-statement. This looks like a matinee, prob. will like it just because I’m like that.

    Droid this was a really good review by the way.

  5. koutchboom says :

    Ahhhh very good, very good.

  6. MORBIUS says :

    “Battleship’ is, quite simply, one of the most ludicrous alien invasion action films I’ve ever seen.”

    Perhaps a perusal of SKYLINE might change your mind!

    Was going to see this anyway, your summation cemented that decision.

    And I, for the most part, enjoyed the “… ginormous headline grabbing bomb”

    Lest we (not) forget the lesson of the Transformer flicks … ‘SHIT SELLS’!!!

    Thanks for the heads-up Droid.

    • Droid says :

      No worries, Morbi. I have actually seen Skyline, and it’s abysmal apart from the insane awesomeness of the last 5 minutes.

      • Jarv says :

        This reminds me. Seeing as Bradley Cooper hasn’t been that much of a sack of cocks recently, can we transfer the moniker to Eric Balfour?

      • Droid says :

        Balfour? He might be a candidate, but part of the reason Cooper was the king of the sack was because he seemed to be in everything. Balfour needs work. I’d rather he didn’t get it, but he does need it. Balfour gotta eat.

      • Jarv says :

        Yes, but Cooper has been so remarkably watchable by his painfully low standards recently. Balfour is just a massive sack of cocks.

      • Droid says :

        Cooper has been tolerable by his painfully low standards recently.

        Fixed it for you.

      • Jarv says :

        Well, we were talking about this the other day, but his name on a film is no longer an automatic guarantee of shitness. The last time I saw him and thought “what a cock” about him was the Hangover and Hangover 2 where he was meant to be a cock (not sure he’s acting), but in the meantime, he’s had Limitless, The A-Team, Midnight Meat Train.

        He has, however, also had He’s just not into you, Valentine’s Day and All About Steve, which suggests that he could hang on to the name for a while.

        Mind you, I’ve never seen Balfour in anything (even TV) and not thought “What a cock”.

      • Droid says :

        There’s also the fact that he seems like a massive cock and has the most punchable face in Hollywood.

      • Jarv says :

        Well, yes, but I’d argue that Balfour is every bit as punchable, if not more so.

  7. redfishybluefishy says :

    Could be worth a watch- your review certainly made me want to. I do have a soft spot for Peter Berg ever since the movie Late For Dinner (directed by Buckaroo Banzai’s W.D. Richter). As for the cast… well, Skarsgaard and Neeson aside, most are meh, but if it’s fun, who cares, right? always room for good cheeseball fun, if you’re in the mood!

  8. Xiphos0311 says :

    Do they ever explain how a class of ship that hasn’t been on the inventory list since like the 90’s got back into action?

    • Jarv says :

      I’d be shocked considering how dumb it is if they had.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I was wondering how they will get around that, who was left to actually sail it? i doubt there are many sailors with and Battleship experience left in the ranks.Plus it would take like weeks for the boats to get seaworthy enough to sail most of them have been junked or scuddled I think and the rest are used as museums.

    • Droid says :

      It’s very, very briefly addressed but the nuts and bolts of getting the USS Missouri, which they tell you in the movie is a museum, up and running is never properly explained. Some comments about “enough fuel for a maintenance run” and “scrounging together some ordnance”, coupled with a rock and roll montage. It’s something you just have to go with. And by the time that happens, it’s 3/4s the way through, so you’re either going with it or you’ve walked out.

      I hinted at who they got to crew the battleship in the review, but I didn’t want to reveal too much because the whole thing is so preposterously amusing that I think one needs to just see how it plays out.

  9. ThereWolf says :

    Nice one, R2.

    Thought this was definitely in for a kicking when I started reading – but a surprise twist! Probably still only a rental though, for me.

  10. tombando says :

    Avengers looks goodish too…..who knew?

    • Droid says :

      Still on the fence about it. I want to like it, but considering Marvels track record I’m not getting my hopes up.

      • Bartleby says :

        I see both this and Avengers next week—Pirates! This Saturday, which I’m expecting to be better than both. I was toying with skipping the Battleship screening, but now Im all in. It doesn’t sound good persay, but rather like the really big budget version of one of those no-account syfy original movies if they had even the slightest sense of how to entertain someone.

      • Droid says :

        That’s a fairly accurate description. Pure dumbhouse, and fun if you like that sort of thing.

      • Bartleby says :

        I think Avengers will be pretty good. I’ve enjoyed the Marvel films more than you for the most part—didn’t hate X-class and thought Cap America was good for one watch. IM2 has been the worst of this slate of character movies. I’m excluding ghost rider and its sequel of course. As long as they skip the origin story stuff—because I don’t want to see the origin of the team now—it should be a pretty good and fun movie. And Whedon is a capable director. I think he’s honestly hated on for the rabid nature of his fanbase or his own persona than for anything he’s actually put up on the (small) screen. Also, based off Cabin and Serenity and individual eps of Buffy, Angel, I think he’s more a natural sprinter than a long-distance runner. Im not planning on brilliance, but it does look like a fun summer movie.

        Then again, Im sort of hoping they pull of MIB3 too. I certainly didn’t hate the first two.

        Only real May dud looks to be Dark Shadows. No interest in that at all really.

      • Jarv says :

        Disagree, I think X-Foetus is the worst of the new Marvel films. IM2 is shite, but I didn’t need two attempts to get through it, and I didn’t want to kick something as badly afterwards.

      • Droid says :

        Whedon is a cockhead, which is part of my dislike for him. I’ve never heard him give a straight answer to anything. It’s always some glib, smart assed response. He also made Dollhouse, which was unwatchable.

      • Jarv says :

        Whedon is a cockhead, which is part of my dislike for him. I’ve never heard him give a straight answer to anything. It’s always some glib, smart assed response. He also made Dollhouse, which was unwatchable.

        This. And he was responsible for baby Alien thing in Resurrection.

      • Droid says :

        His baby alien was dramatically different to the finished product though. It was more of a spider if I remember correctly.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s even worse.

      • Droid says :

        The script of his that I read (using the superpowers of my memory, going back to ’96), had the ship crashing on earth and Ripley killing the spider baby alien with a combine harvester.

      • Jarv says :

        That sounds terrible. What was it with Fox and Giant Spiders in the 90’s? Wasn’t Superman meant to fight one at one stage?

      • Droid says :

        I wonder what we would’ve got if Sigourney hadn’t flip-flopped and agreed to be in the film. Because they were pretty much set to continue the franchise without her, which is why they’d cast Ryder. She was supposed to be the lead, but got relegated to a pretty shitty role when Weaver joined and the whole story changed. I wonder how they were going to continue it without Weaver. What direction they were going to go in.

        One of Hollywoods “what if’s”…

      • Jarv says :

        I always thought Resurrection was going to be the torch passing film, and Ryder was to take it on. However, she sucked something fierce in that film.

      • Droid says :

        It was a terrible character, but she was miscast.

        Here’s a lot of info about the 90’s attempts at Superman. Some of it is mindboggling.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_in_film#Other_proposals

      • Jarv says :

        It is funny that the Giant Spider ended up in Wild Wild West which was arguably the least appropriate place for it. The lengths that script had to go to to get it in were absurd.

      • Droid says :

        That is one terrible movie. Is Sonnenfeld directing MIB3? He started off well, but quickly fell apart after MIB.

      • Droid says :

        He is. I will say this though.

        WWW > MIB2.

      • Jarv says :

        Christ no.

        WWW= MiB2

        The thing that MiB2 has in its credit is that it’s very short so although a lame rehash, it buggers off quickly.

      • Droid says :

        MIB2 is no shorter than WWW. Sonnenfeld is on record for saying that he doesn’t believe a film should be much more than 90 minutes.

      • Droid says :

        Ah, I stand corrected. It’s about 15 minutes shorter. He has said that though. I’ll try to find a quote.

      • Droid says :

        So far I haven’t found a movie that deserved to be longer than 100 minutes, and that [100-minute-long movie] was Get Shorty. And that was only because the Get Shorty script was 20 pages longer than the average script. It ran 140 pages. The script for Men in Black II was 120 pages, so by my standards it should run a little less than 90 minutes. Here’s the thing people don’t understand: The scripts of my films are just as long, and there’s just as much story, but I make the actors talk really quickly. The movie is compressed. When we talk in real life, we step on each other’s sentences. When we say hello to people, we know we don’t need each other’s life story. We don’t finish thoughts. We come into situations in the middle of them. So I come into scenes late, and I get out early, and I make the actors talk fast. You could get P.T. Anderson to direct the same exact script of Men in Black II and the film may be better, or it may be worse, but it would be an hour longer. But it’s the same exact script.”

      • Jarv says :

        I’m not sure what he’s trying to say there? That he likes to rush things?

      • Droid says :

        He’s just got it in his head that his films need to be under 100 minutes. I’m not sure why, but that’s what he’s done.

        Some of his films suffer as a result, because the finale of MIB felt rushed to me.

  11. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I’m amazed this was entertaining.

    Other filmmakers should take note and make their films a little less serious and more wink-wink to the absurdity they are making.

    I was fully expecting an angry review from you.

  12. armtv says :

    I enjoyed this review and as dumb and far fetched the concept of the movie…I enjoyed it too. why can’t movies be loud and dumb? I love it.

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