From director Peter Berg and ‘The toy company that bought you Transformers’ comes the latest toy-to-film adaptation, Battleship. Like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Battleship is a CG-heavy, $200m blockbuster. It casts John Carter lead Taylor Kitsch in his second blockbuster lead of 2012 and marks the film debut of pop sensation Rihanna. It is based on the extremely popular board game Battleships, but replaces one sides ships with invading aliens.
Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is a floundering failure in his personal life, who after meeting a young girl in a bar called Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) finds himself breaking into a convenience store to get her a burrito. After being arrested, his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) tells him that he must enlist in the Navy to make something of his life. During a ‘War Games’ exercise, as Alex is told he is being kicked out of the Navy by Samantha’s father, Vice Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). Before this can happen there is a sudden alien invasion that leaves Alex in command of a destroyer, desperately trying to save the earth.
Battleship is something of an anomaly from the outset. The early setup scenes are reminiscent of Star Trek, with the charismatic Kitsch playing his role of loveable loser to perfection. Then we move into the military and meet the extended cast, who are all solid enough, even if their dialogue is split between funny one-liners and over-the-top jingoist nonsense. Unfortunately for Battleship, the moment the aliens invade, it becomes something of a light version of Transformers. early box office reports suggest that Battleship will not fair that well, which is a shame, because it could well mean the end of Kitsch as a leading man and he has been good in both this and John Carter.
It’s tough to tell exactly what Peter Berg, the man behind Friday Night Lights was trying to do. Battleship is too funny and charismatic to be just another mindless lunk-headed blockbuster and there are some satirical scenes that make it seem like he’s trying to send-up every post-Transformers film. But then it casually falls into the cliched ‘God Bless America’ and ‘let’s shoot first and not ask questions’ mentality of the films that preceeded it. There’s even a very Michael Bay-like leering quality whenever Decker is on screen, although no where near as full-blooded. It almost seems embarrassed of what it is, half mocking itself and half playing it straight.
The result is that Battleship appears to want to be a low-key, independently-spirited film with something to say about glorifying the military but that gets drowned out by the sound of cannons, alien lasers and the mediocre, but not terrible Rihanna going ‘BOOM!’ It doesn’t even have the good grace to have a character say “You sunk my battleship,” which might be the biggest misstep of them all.