I remember being 6 or 7 and sitting around the kitchen table of my grandmother’s house with all my cousins from my mom’s side, and playing board game after board game on a Saturday night. There was a unanimous effort to play a game that all six of us could play together. However, after giving up an hour into Monopoly, we went our separate ways and my cousin who was closest in age and I began to play the greatest board game ever based on warfare, Risk. However, after Risk we tried our hands at Battleship, the Bingo of the sea. A turn based guessing game to destroy the opposing player’s five ships; I was hooked from the first hit. Although my cousin sank all my battleships game after game, I loved it, and I knew right then and there that the Hollywood elite should release a film based on this game that ever so briefly captured my youth. Okay, maybe that all happened, maybe it didn’t, I was simply too young remember. Regardless, not even in my young age with an immensely creative imagination could I have thought to put an attacking alien race as the enemy, but it works out and provides great fun in this summer’s Battleship.
Just like other save-the-world, summer blockbusters such as Independence Day (1996) and Armageddon (1998), Battleship opens with scientific discovery, letting us know that something earth shattering is about to begin. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his older brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard), who are at a bar trying to drown the recent sorrows of Alex’s break-up. A gorgeous blond walks into the bar and Alex seems to have immediately forgotten his ex, and pursues young Samantha Shane, played by Brooklyn Decker. From here we get one of the film’s only comedic gags, involving a chicken burrito, that only pays off momentarily when Alex is seen falling through the ceiling of a convenience store multiple times in attempt to please the current apple of his eye. Alex is arrested for his courageous efforts and receives a wake-up call of sorts from his brother, Stone the next morning. Stone is tired of looking after his younger brother and convinces Alex to the do the one thing he knows will work to straighten him out, join the Navy. This all seems quite forced, but this reviewer does not mind in the slightest, for it gets the ball rolling on the explosions to come.
Alex is now in the Navy, but instead of explosions, we are stalled once again with a little bit of character development. Alex and Samantha are now engaged, and aboard a ship that is participating in the day’s war games, he wants to approach Samantha’s father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), for his permission to marry his daughter. He gets sidetracked however with a feud involving a Japanese captain, also participating in the war games, that leads to a fight and Alex’s inevitable discharge from the Navy after the games. Now the film really takes off as aliens come to earth, conveniently near these war ships out at sea. Alex is forced to take command of ship and lead the attack on the intruders. And finally, we have explosions.
It seems fair to discuss this film in relation to the classic board game it was based on, so I will address the good and not-so-good aspects of this film through its “hits” and its “misses”. Rihanna was a terrible miss for this film. I understand the decision to cast a pop-singer in a blockbuster film as sometimes it works, but the most of the time it doesn’t. Rihanna has had what seems like more tabloid fame in recent years than songs on the radio, making it a struggle to believe her in this role. It might not be totally her fault, as her character only seems to exist to make punch-less jokes and look sexy in a naval uniform. The biggest “miss” of the film was the incorporation of the game into it the story. Because of the alien’s anti-radar technology, the navy can only track them by the rising and falling of water levels near tracked buoys, forcing them to merely guess at where to fire their torpedoes. Get it? I know, I know, this film is about the board game, so why not? Well, I don’t remember my cousin being an attacking alien race and myself having the sole responsibly to save earth in the board game. The film would have done itself great favors to eliminate this reference and perhaps devised a better way to deliver “you sunk my battleship”. At least that’s sort of funny – as long as Rihanna isn’t the one saying it.
As for the “hits”, Battleship delivers better than excellent visual effects. For a film in which we pay the nauseating price for a movie ticket to see explosions, this film really delivers. Although there are several scenes involving citywide destruction, much like Avengers (2012) and last year’s Transformers 3 (2011), Battleship manages to make explosive action look really cool in the middle of the sea. The film really does a superb job of both the destruction of naval ships and the vessels of the alien attackers. Another “hit” was the casting of Liam Neeson. Although he plays a rather small part in the film, Neeson shines as a hard-ass Admiral that can only be taken seriously. One cannot blame Alex for being nervous to ask for his daughter’s hand, knowing that if Neeson doesn’t like you, he contains a very special set of skills that can make Alex’s life a living hell. As I mentioned before, Battleship pays homage to many great blockbusters of its genre, and it is here that I think is the films biggest “hit”.
We go to see a film like this for fun, because it is purely escapist entertainment. And when the film uses typical elements of these films like scientists trying to figure out a way to stop the impending doom, or the heroes you would least expect end up getting the job done, it pleases the audience because that’s what they want to see. My favorite scene from the film falls into this category, and I laughed quite loudly when it occurred. When the aliens first arrive and the Navy is dumbfounded as of how to go about it, they send in a small boat to investigative. After it is determined they pose a threat, Commander Hopper yells out, “send them a warning!” The horn of the ship sounds and the alien ship prepares for attack. This is the exact opposite of what we see in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). In that film, tones – five to be exact – are used to peacefully communicate with the alien race and let them know they are welcome on our planet, whereas in Battleship it is used as a warning of violence against the unknown aliens. Like I stated before, this made me laugh and left me with a smile on my face.
Battleship is fun film. Though it suffers in some aspects, it more than makes up for the loss by having a decent story, plenty of action and explosions, and a satisfying third act where our nations real heroes fight for our world once again. Battleship is good way to satisfy summer blockbuster cravings.
– Kyle Owen