Review: Battleship (2012)

4


Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Liam Neeson
Director: Peter Berg
Country: USA
Genre: Action | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: Battleship opens in North American cinemas on May 18th 2012.

Afforded plenty of media attention as a professed new low for Hollywood blockbuster genesis, Battleship’s basis in the Hasbro board game of the same name is a thing of sure curiosity, chiefly as to how a game based around blindly choosing which 1% of a board might hold an enemy ship segment could be translated to the narrative of an action film. Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber, this their fourth film, elect to do so by way of an international naval exercise that conveniently coincides both temporally and geographically with the arrival of five extra-terrestrial aircraft in response to communications sent out by NASA. With an alien force-field essentially establishing a board of play, the technology differences between planets render both sides’ radar systems useless, leaving both entirely clueless as to where in the ocean the other’s ships lie.

With the connections to the board game satisfactorily established, the brothers Hoeber find themselves free to inject their own characters into the Hasbro-supplied narrative shell. They do so, interestingly, through brothers Stone and Alex, the former a promising naval officer, the latter an aimless playboy going nowhere in life. Recruited forcefully into the navy by his older sibling following an escalating pattern of reckless behaviour, Alex finds himself serving under the very admiral who happens to be the father of his would-be fiancé. Unfortunately for him, the admiral is played by Liam Neeson, and we all know how protective he can be of his daughters…

It’s standard fare for the more expensive breed of modern action film, where broad appeal is taken to equate to imbecilic appeal and popular taste is assumed to be pornographic.

Neeson’s playing the role of the uncompromising father is just a happy coincidence relative to his most famous recent character; this is a massively-budgeted studio movie, of course the marriage won’t meet the admiral’s approval. As our protagonist, Alex needs to have an impossible goal to meet, the kind of obstacle that only… oh, say, saving the world might allow him to overcome. Maybe not recognising the contrivance of this character establishment, Battleship gives a decent chunk of its opening thirty minutes to playing it out, infused with facile and flat attempts at humour, most hilariously Alex missing a penalty kick after proudly boasting that he was the best man to take it. How unexpected. It’s standard fare for the more expensive breed of modern action film, where broad appeal is taken to equate to imbecilic appeal and popular taste is assumed to be pornographic. It’s not quite the misogynistic metal orgy of Transformers, rest assured, but an early shot ostensibly turning to the horizon makes certain to take in the laxly-clothed form of our hero’s fair lady in all its sun-kissed glory.

It’s hardly a surprise that Battleship dedicates ninety minutes or more to an elongated naval battle between the forces of our world and those of the mysterious “Planet G”; Hasbro’s cinematic outings thus far—the others are the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises—are well-known for their heavy focus on spectacular battle sequences and explosive special effects. Yet all we get is shot after shot of CGI fireballs and waves, spinning alien weapons and torn ship hulls. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s loud, but it’s never at all very interesting, especially when it’s still happening in the very same manner fifteen minutes later. Noticing this repetitive drudgery itself, maybe, Battleship slows the mood down halfway through, and has its protagonists essentially… play Battleship. The board game never was a terribly exciting way to pass the time; shockingly seeing neatly-uniformed actors play it instead doesn’t add very much to the experience. The pretence of the Hasbro source has already been established at this point, returning to reference it again really just betrays the production’s existence solely as a massive trailer for a whole range of other products.

It’s indicative of the entire purpose of the film in the first place: it serves as an extension of product, a way to raise the profile of board games, video games, recording artists, and other assorted merchandise. This isn’t a movie: it’s synergy in action; capitalism in all its glory.

This is news to nobody, sure, but to see the film itself not even bother to mask its crass commercialism with at least a passably interesting narrative shows the complete lack of consideration of audience interests. You’ve already been duped into parting with your money, what have they got to lose by blatantly trying to lure more out of you? All Battleship is is the latest step in conglomeration; an amalgamation of various sales points to maximise profits with a minimisation of effort. A key talking point surrounding the film’s production has been the matter of Rihanna’s acting debut. Could her casting perhaps have to do with the fact that she’s an artist signed to Def Jam Recordings, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group? It’s indicative of the entire purpose of the film in the first place: it serves as an extension of product, a way to raise the profile of board games, video games, recording artists, and other assorted merchandise. This isn’t a movie: it’s synergy in action; capitalism in all its glory.

Ignore the words of those who’ve proclaimed it an ironically stupid film, a deliberately cliché blockbuster that indulges in well-traversed tropes for the sake of tongue-in-cheek fun. It doesn’t, and it isn’t. It’s an adaptation of a board game with a budget so inflated and a cast with just enough star power to ensure it’ll make a profit, and sitting safe in that knowledge it hasn’t even bothered to deal with entertaining its customers. Try looking for a single line in the film that isn’t immensely familiar to your ears already. It’s a task far tougher than it sounds. There is no originality here. None. Not an insane set-piece that at least spends the exorbitant budget creatively, not an audacious alien design (their many POV shots borrow liberally from Terminator, their armour from Half-Life and a multitude of other such sources), not an unusual side-dish to the main constituents of the narrative. A film studio is a business, sure, and artistic integrity will always play second fiddle to economic considerations, but why does that mean the audience’s enjoyment has got to suffer? Battleship is a boring game where intelligence and skill have nothing to do with the final outcome of the playing time. In that respect, Battleship really is a rather brilliant adaptation.

[notification type=”star”]21/100 ~ PAINFUL. Battleship is a boring game where intelligence and skill have nothing to do with the final outcome of the playing time. In that respect, Battleship really is a rather brilliant adaptation.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.