16 April 2012


Two years ago, (which is aaages in Internet years) I wrote a satirical piece on Den of Geek about the trend of movies based on toy and board game licences. Well, actually, I pitched some films where Vin Diesel fought rabid, hungry hippos, so maybe describing it as a satirical piece is a bit like describing the story of Battleship as... well, a story.

Alex Hopper, as the film's protagonist, is basically a stand-in for Chris Pine's Captain Kirk from Star Trek. He's smart and cheeky, but he's wasting his life, and he's convinced to join the US Navy by those who think better of him, and his potential. Within years, he's a Lieutenant, but his insubordination and misconduct is about to see him drummed out, when an alien threat arises. Just like in Star Trek. In this case though, the aliens arrive at sea, closing off three Navy ships, including Hopper's, from their allies with a great big energy dome, and battle is joined.

Your expectations for this film should be low. That's not an excuse for some of the tentpole tripe that slides by in modern cinema, but really, with Battleship, your expectations belong under the table; through the ground; within spitting distance of the Earth's core, if you can care that little and still want to see it. I confess to having less of an open mind and more of a morbid curiosity, and the result is that I found the film more enjoyable than any of Michael Bay's Transformers movies, which this film clearly hopes to emulate. I didn't find it much more enjoyable, but there's one of the positive notes for you.

Brevity in movies feels like quite a commodity nowadays, and sure enough, this is another movie that takes an interminably long time to end, and doesn't have an awful lot to show for it by the time it gets there. The action and special effects are about on a par with Transformers, which is to say that they're technically very well implemented, but the design is pretty appalling. In particular, the alien adversaries in the film have no personalities or motivations whatsoever, except to do what they're doing and explode some stuff on the way. How else could they get away with our heroes being only marginally more sympathetic?

I'm sticking to my guns on Taylor Kitsch, who acquitted himself pretty well in John Carter, and manages just fine here too. With the character of Alex, he at least manages to be more animated and memorable than Josh Duhamel's erstwhile grunt from Transformers, but this isn't as good an outlet for his talents as Kirk was for Chris Pine. I actually hope this one does OK at the box office, just because I think someone will, eventually, find the right outlet for his brand of drawling charisma. Mind you, I was disappointed that they abandoned the more goofy characterisation after the first 20 minutes, in favour of a more staid hero- you know, the mostly serious guy who needs a pep talk before he'll do anything worth watching.

The best character in the film, for my money, is Mick Canales, a retired serviceman who lost his legs in the line of duty. Gregory D. Gadson's not the greatest actor, but I liked what they did with his character, and he's certainly better at acting than Brooklyn Decker or Rihanna. That might be because he is a retired serviceman who lost his legs, whereas Decker is not a physical therapist, but a model, and Rihanna is not a petty officer, but a singer, and they're both quite diabolical actors. Those two, and Kitsch, and that one bloke who looks like a Cabbage Patch Matt Damon are all less likeable than Gadson, but unfortunately, they get far more of the 135 minute running time.

Director Peter Berg is earnestly Yvan Eht Nioj about the whole thing, with only the most scant acknowledgements of the board game source material, and not a whisper of "You sunk my battleship!" At the same time, this film's idea of smart is someone who's read The Art of War six times and still doesn't get it. Our hero, ladies and gents, saving the world from the pesky scientists who brought this down on our heads. As easy as it is to be dismissive, Berg has still made something out of nothing, as far as the story goes. He's certainly no Michael Bay, who regularly makes nothing out of something.

Battleship is pretty hit and miss (sorry, I know, I know!) and the misses are more embarrassing than the hits are enjoyable. The ensemble is a quite bizarre mix of stars, actors and... other people, but then none of the characters are really anything special either. It's a little more exciting than actually watching somebody play the board game, but something a little more self-aware might have been interesting. Kudos to Berg for tackling an inherently ridiculous premise with something approaching integrity, but it's not original or clever enough to stay afloat for its bloated running time.

Battleship is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Battleship, why not share your comments below? Can we have a full length sequel starring Stephen Colbert and Jeff Goldblum? Please?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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