Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
For a solid 15 or so minutes, Battleship looks and feels like the best kind of dumb-fun summer movie. The moment occurs at the beginning of the second act, when a fleet of naval ships, all moving off the shores of Hawaii for the Navy’s RIMPAC training games, comes across a bunch of massive, violent attack machines that rise from up under the ocean and start bombing the hell out of the Navy’s vessels. With pristine special effects and a subtle yet marginally chilling aura, director Peter Berg stages the sequence like a smarter, more mood-concerned Michael Bay, and it’s quite impressive. And that, folks, is the only part of Battleship that's worth seeing, frankly; the rest of Berg’s defeaning siege on the senses is brutally repetitive whenever it’s not downright mindless.
Then again, it is a movie based on a Hasbro board game, so it’s bound to mimic the numbing bombast of the company’s hugely profitable Transformers movies, which Battleship shamelessly copies every step of the way. The Transformers déjà vu begins right at the outset, when the film’s main protagonist, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a screw-up whose best skill is botching his potential, gets into some drunken shenanigans—i.e., sneaking into a convenience store and destroying its interior to steal a chicken burrito for a hot blonde (Brooklyn Decker—much to the chagrin of his Navy commander/all-star older brother (Alexander Skarsgard). It’s the exact same tone used by Michael Bay while establishing Shia LaBeouf’s pursuit-of-cool near the opening of the first Transformers; in Battleship, though, it isn’t nearly as funny.
Fast forward a few years to when Alex is a Navy lieutenant, constantly failing to impress now-girlfriend Decker’s admiral pops (Liam Neeson, a total non-factor) serving alongside a crew that includes a hotshot, feisty gunner (Rihanna, who’s not as bad an actress as you might’ve anticipated, though still not “good”) and the prerequisite deer-in-a-headlights youngster (Jesse Plemons) whose sole purpose in Battleship is to pull a Shaggy-like “Zoinks!” whenever presented with danger. And he’s put in front of quite a bit once an army of armored aliens from an Earth-like celestial homeland dubbed “Planet G” (for “Goldilocks”) unpleasantly responds to scientists’ sonic laser pokes.
And that’s when the loud noises begin and never end. At an unnecessarily long 130 minutes, Battleship is a grueling endurance test for one’s eyes and ears, namely the latter appendages. Berg, perhaps well aware that writing siblings Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script is an unimaginative folly, tries to overcompensate with one grandiloquent, CGI-loaded action sequence after another, the kind where not a single character’s life feels more meaningful than the next, and the sassiest member of the cast (here, Rihanna) gets to preface several explosions with one-liners like, “Mahola, motherfucker!”
There’s also never a question of who’s going to win each battle, since Battleship leans so heavily on its patriotic propaganda flourishes that it’s a shocker to not hear a character scream, “America, fuck yeah!” whenever an alien gets obliterated—specifically out of the mouths of the elderly vets who help Kitsch’s crew bring an inactive ship-turned-museum back to operative life for the film’s climax. Never mind that the “museum” somehow still houses usable missiles and ready-for-war machinery.
If done with some creativity or even an iota of intelligence, one-dimensional summer blockbusters like Battleship totally worthwhile (Independence Day, anyone?), but Berg’s film has neither of the above. What it does have, to its downfall, is horrendously obvious dialogue (“If you won’t do it… Then who will?”) and paper-thin characters all in search of a purpose beyond embodying popcorn cinema truisms. But every summer has to have at least one idiotic extravaganza, no? Consider 2012’s quota met.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)