Released: 11th April, 2012
Dir: Peter Berg
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgard, Rhianna
After years of trying to make contact with alien life-forms, a radio signal sent to earth-like ‘Planet G’ results in an unexpected reply. Incoming UFOs are detected approaching at an alarming rate, and as debris from what is soon identified as an alien-craft causes catastrophic damage and worldwide panic, the extraterrestrial visitors are soon revealed to have less than friendly motives. Time is short, and all that stands between mankind and extinction, are Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), and the US Navy.
Based on the eponymous board game, the plot lacks any sign of finesse or deviation from the obvious and the character arcs are as easy to spot as a 1000 foot alien spacecraft sticking out of the sea. In the first minutes, the flawed hero (Hopper) is set-up to be redeemed from his lay-about ways, and to win the hand of his heroine (Brooklyn Decker) – winning over the steely father-in-law, who just so happens to be the Admiral of the US Navy he risks expulsion from. To say Battleship lacks subtlety is like saying Rhianna lacks confidence in front of the camera.
Nothing is original here, and the cheese is in abundant supply. The invasion and face-off is Independence Day; the alien POV is Terminator; the in-house military competition is Top Gun. Throw in a Michelle Rodriguez type action-girl (Raikes, played by Rhianna in her screen debut), a cowardly tech-boffin, and a few out from retirement veterans, and all bases are covered.
There are however moments that are quite explicit in suggesting that everyone involved in making the film has tongue firmly nestled in check. At one point in the film, the ‘B-unit’ of heroes settle on a plan: ‘Let’s see if we can buy the world another day’ say the double-amputee, down-on-hope-big-on-size veteran. ‘Who talks like that?!’ comes the reply. While some laughs are obviously set up (the entire opening scene is played for comedy), others are less certain, leaving the audience asking ‘you’re joking right? Right?!’ To give these away would ruin the few unexpected moments of the film however.
As one would expect from erstwhile games-makers Hasbro, the company that brought Transformers to the screen, visual effects are really the star of the film, and the action set-pieces boom out with optical aplomb. The big gun fight sequences titillate, and the monstrous space-ships impress, scattered around the ABC narrative abundantly.
There is no getting around the fact that Battleship is ludicrously entertaining. The emphasis firmly on ‘ludicrous’. The question is: has Peter Berg pulled off the biggest budget spoof of all time, or has he inadvertently fallen for every cliché in the book in an homage to Michael Bay? I suspect, and hope for, the former, but whether the joke is on the audience, or those who financed it, remains to be seen.