Director: Peter Berg
Based loosely on the Hasbro board game of the same name, Battleship is heavy on gigantic explosions and low on plausibility or engaging dialogue. However, this isn’t a film in which one should be expecting the latter, delivering the former in spades, offering a loud, entertaining experience. By and large, Peter Berg‘s blockbuster doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is vital to its success as a popcorn flick. When it does try and go this self-important route, these are the moments in which it loses its way.
The story centers on Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a young rogue who is consistently getting into trouble. His brother, Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) finally has enough of Alex’s antics and decides to bring him into the navy. From there, the two siblings take to the seas for a big training program, which turns into a catastrophe as alien ships invade. The various characters on the navy crew, such as the stern captain (Liam Neeson) who also happens to be the father of Alex’s girlfriend (Brooklyn Decker), are effectively recycled from other action blockbusters, but that sort of adds to the fun. Of course, it is eventually down to Alex to save the world, and the finale doesn’t break any new ground, following in step with film as a whole.
The tedious introduction is overlong, and doesn’t do much to engage the audience with the characters. The lack of chemistry between the actors, combined with a lackluster script, courtesy of Erich and Jon Hoeber, means that most efforts at poignancy do not come off. There are juvenile attempts at humor scattered throughout the film, which were presumably intended to lighten the mood. However, the subject matter revolves around a huge alien invasion. Inserting lame jokes in between life-and-death situations breaks the tension, and also makes it less palpable. Attempts to inject human elements are generally ruined by irritatingly unfunny jokes that simply do not fit the mood.
In a large cast, arguably the two best performances come from debutants to the field. Worldwide pop star Rihanna gives an impressive performance as the tough, no-nonsense soldier Raikes. Her portrayal is natural and she never attempts to take center stage, making for one of the most appealing characters of the film. Real-life Iraq hero Gregory Gadson is a strong presence as well as the legless Mick Canales. It is a fortunately unsentimental depiction of war for a summer blockbuster and Gadson plays it with skill.
The enemy ships are striking, and successfully give off an extra-terrestrial aura. The aliens themselves are structurally similar to humans, which is unlikely, and their initially imposing presence is rendered less frightening when they engage in ludicrous one-on-one fights with soldiers. When they become visible, the mystery of them is diminished. The fights work best between ships, and are the strongest aspect of the movie.
In short, Battleship is a lot of big, dumb fun. It’s riddled with clichés, but the action moves along at a furious pace and some of the set pieces are mightily impressive. The film doesn’t always know what it wants to be, often applying humor in the wrong situations and trying to inject pathos when it isn’t needed. It may not fully realize its epic vision, but there is plenty to keep you entertained in the way of booming explosions and gargantuan fights.
Battleship is currently in release in the UK and will hit US theaters on May 18th.
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