Editor’s Notes: Battleship opens in North American cinemas on May 18th 2012.
Alternate titles for Battleship might include BrainPound, MegaHeadache, or A Film by Michael Bay. The fact that it is, in fact, not a film by Michael Bay but rather the very interesting Peter Berg, I am forced to reconsider the film’s ultimate intentions. It is a relentless, booming CG assault of massive on-screen destruction and blatant U.S. jingoism, coated in slick visual syrup so heavy that it would be easy to mistake it for The Most Evil Movie Ever Made. But in the hands of Berg, who breathed quirky life into the buddy comedy in The Rundown and redefined the sports drama in Friday Night Lights and held a superhero accountable for his selfish actions in Hancock, it plays more like a winking spoof of The Most Evil Movie Ever Made.
It is a relentless, booming CG assault of massive on-screen destruction and blatant U.S. jingoism, coated in slick visual syrup so heavy that it would be easy to mistake it for The Most Evil Movie Ever Made.
There is plenty of non-self-referential lugubrious earnestness to throw off the movie’s satiric balance, enough to make one question if Berg is commenting on the fascism of the Bay style or chasing after its empty luster. It’s a distressing quandary, but Berg is actually a better director than Bay, and a much smarter one. If Battleship is not entirely subversive, it’s certainly cheeky enough, and it’s also a generous load of brainless, pointless summer indulgence.
The screenplay is like a mash-up of Transformers and Independence Day, with labyrinthine faux-science applied to what is essentially a Kindergarten-level plot. It also takes the simple “sink the boat” objective and applies it to…invading aliens. Pre-title cards inform us of the “Beacon Project,” an effort in which the U.S. attempted to make contact with a newly discovered planet that is said to share a climate and ecosystem similar to that of Earth. As it turns out, the planet’s inhabitants don’t take kindly to earthly intrusions, and they express their frustration by sending five of their own garish spacecraft into our atmosphere, submerging them underwater, laying in wait before unleashing a global assault. Extract all the otherworldly exploration and alien attack nonsense and break it down simply: five enemy ships are in the water, and it’s up to our heroes to destroy – or “sink” – them. Game on.
Aside from expending hundreds of millions of dollars reenacting the strategic maneuverings of a child’s board game, Battleship is, above all, a film about the lengths a man will go to impress a woman.
Aside from expending hundreds of millions of dollars reenacting the strategic maneuverings of a child’s board game, Battleship is, above all, a film about the lengths a man will go to impress a woman. The man is Alex Hooper (Taylor Kitsch), a perennial screw-up forced into joining the Navy by his more responsible brother (Alexander Skarsgaard). The woman is Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), a bombshell whose mere presence compels Alex to engage in all manner of public mayhem in order to procure a chicken burrito (don’t ask). She’s a catch, but she comes with a catch: her father – played in a daylong scenery-chewing cameo by Liam Neeson – is a strict, uncompromising Navy admiral. Alex must work up the courage to ask Daddy for Samantha’s hand in marriage…you know, the kind of courage that is also required to save the world from an alien attack.
Berg handles the material, in all its variations, with visible evidence that he takes none of it seriously. Here, essentially, is a disaster epic that blends imminent apocalypse with frothy romantic comedy and would-be intense interpersonal conflicts, not to mention the conveniently contradictory tenets of American geopolitical hubris and nauseating my-country-right-or-wrong heroic bargaining. Each disparate element counteracts the other, which could easily mean the movie amounts to absolutely nothing, but also signals that Berg is purposely toying with the relentlessly predictable formula promulgated by Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. The alien invaders are depicted as CG ciphers with fish eyes and gas masks, yet they don’t attack unless they are overtly threatened, while our heroes fire every peripheral destructive weapon in their midst regardless of the scenario. I’d stop short of saying there is an implicit message within this hero-villain dichotomy, but it’s clear Berg is readily acknowledging the brazen ridiculousness of not just this film, but every film like it.
[notification type=”star”]57/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. Peter Berg is winking at us in Battleship, which is an oddball cross between a dissection and a celebration of the fascist modern disaster flick.[/notification]