Battleship is dumb. Really really dumb. Still, it’s one of those movies, like Fast Five, that hits its dumb target in exactly the right way. There are a few keys to doing this. First, you need a few actors that are way too good for the movie. Liam Neeson fits the bill. Second, you need to never take yourself too seriously. Third, blind patriotism can always fill in for plot. Last, things always must be exploding.
Director Peter Berg brings a surprising amount of gravitas for a movie based on a board game. What sets Battleship apart from G.I. Joe and Transformers, its companions in the toy/game-based genre (yes, it’s officially a genre), is that while it takes everything happening on the screen seriously, it doesn’t bother with mythology. While watching Transformers and G.I. Joe, you have to sleep through a Byzantine plot to justify things blowing up. Battleship needs one reason for explosions: aliens.
Berg’s most beloved previous work is probably the TV show Friday Night Lights, and Battleship features a few FNL alums in plum roles. Taylor Kitsch plays the lead, his second huge bomb of the year (after John Carter). In Friday Night Lights, Kitsch’s Tim Riggins was a brooding character that took a season to blossom. Battleship has Kitsch getting tazed while on a quest for microwave burritos within its first five minutes. These aren’t the same roles.
A few years later, Kitsch magically becomes a lieutenant-colonel in the Navy. He’s still a screw-up and is on the verge of getting kicked out. American and Japanese navies gather in Hawaii for a war game exercise. A few alien ships land nearby, and the game is on.
And how surprisingly game-like it is. The movie cleverly inserts a few tropes from the board game. They manage to use the idea of pegs to sink ships. There also is a sequence where characters have to call out numbers on a grid to try to hit a ship. As a huge credit to the writers, this sequence didn’t feel out of place. The only Battleship trope that the movie missed was the classic “stack all your ships on top of each other” strategy.
The movie never takes itself too seriously. Fellow FNL alum Jesse Plemons steals scenes with quick quips. Rihanna makes her acting debut, though her acting mostly consisted of shouting catch phrases that were half covered up with explosions. Supermodel-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker was actually given the weightiest storyline, as she joined Iraq War veteran Gregory D. Gadson in fighting the aliens on land. When a movie’s most thoughtful storyline consists of a supermodel fighting aliens, you have a general idea of how serious the movie is.
The final act commences with a staple of all dumb action movies: an AC/DC-soundtracked montage. Except Battleship does it one better by adding in relentless patriotism. Down to their last ship, and low on crew, Kitsch and company get help from World War II and Korean War veterans who happen to just be hanging out nearby. Why not? The audience I was with, small as it was, broke out into applause when the vets showed up.
Battleship is a movie that begs to be shown on TNT during a rainy Saturday afternoon. At least, watching it will be more fun than playing the game. Those little pieces get everywhere.
What did you think of Battleship?