Friday, May 18, 2012

Battleship - A hit and a miss

One of the most derided films of the year – simply because of its title and lineage – finally hits the big screen, and you know what? It's not as bad as everyone assumed it would be. Yes, Peter Berg's Battleship, based on the classic (and classically simple Hasbro board game), has sailed into theaters and it's the big, noisy, special effects-filled, summer spectacle that everyone dreaded/hoped for.

Here's the story: Rebellious ne'er-do-well Alex Hopper (John Carter's Taylor Kitsch) finds himself in a world of trouble after a small breaking and entering incident that was meant to impress a pretty girl (Brooklyn Decker). The incident embarrasses Alex's Naval officer brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), especially when he's made aware that the girl is the daughter of his Commanding Officer (Liam Neeson), and he gives Alex one option before throwing him off the living room couch he's been living on … join the Navy. Flash forward to the present, and Alex has earned the rank of Lieutenant even though he's still a major screw up. During a soccer game between the US and Japanese teams (taking place just before RIMPAC, the Naval war games event), Alex and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) butt heads, literally (well, Nagata's foot connects with Alex's face), which causes friction between them that leads to a fight later which leads to Alex learning he's going to be discharged after RIMPAC. Ah, but fate intervenes when a signal sent to an earth-like planet in some distant galaxy gets a response, and not just a returned phone call. A squadron of alien ships have come to earth, one crashes in Hong Kong (with debris scattered around the world) while the others end up in the Pacific in the vicinity of the RIMPAC activities, Alex and some of his officers get close enough to set off some kind of force field that traps their ship, his brother's and Nagata's inside with the rest of the fleet cut off outside, and some of the alien visitors have made their way to the island to boost the signal to their world for … well, we never know what reason.

And that's the biggest problem with Battleship. Besides just the basics in character development with the humans (and most of the officers, including Rihanna's Petty Officer Raikes) are just figures to be moved around the game board. We're never given much information about the signal to the other planet (although one of the scientists played by Hamish Linklater tries to warn the folks at NASA that any response they get will be more like the Spanish and the Indians, with us being the Indians), other than it looks like a giant death ray similar to the one from Darth Vader's Death Star. Perhaps it's just like that for the visual (because audiences have to see the radio waves to know it's working), but it leaves us with the impression that if you were on the receiving end of that burst of energy, you'd be mighty pissed. And the aliens certainly are, but there also seems to be no rhyme or reason to their actions. They can scan any object for a threat, and seem to spare any living creature, but anything else that could be destructive is attacked and the poor ships trapped inside the dome are no match for them. We also don't know why the aliens are trying to boost the signal to send their own transmission. Is it an S.O.S.? Is it a “come on down and let's take over this place” message? We never know, although that is what's assumed.

Another problem is the character of Alex. Not that he's a problem to figure out, but his whole story is a cliché. When the aliens attack, you know that he's going to have to align with Nagata and the two will eventually come to respect each other, and by the end he will also be respected by the Navy, so there is no complexity to his arc. All that being said, I still enjoyed the heck out of the movie because it was exactly what I expected: a summer popcorn flick with some astounding special effects and a pretty cast. (And I did appreciate the way the actual game element was woven into one major set-piece of the movie.) Even if the alien ships are reminiscent of Transformers (and the movie is still better than Transformers 2) and the aliens themselves look like they just stepped out of the Halo video game, I was entertained from start to finish (and you have to stick around through the credits for a final “gotcha” moment) simply by the spectacle of it all. It's ridiculous for critics to complain too loudly about this type of movie because it's mission is to do one thing – entertain the masses. It's also got a lot of patriotism behind it as well, for despite the inclusion of a Japanese ship in the midst of the action, the focus is on the U.S.A., especially when some WW II vets are enlisted once again to save their country and the world (and one of them gets to utter a line as close to the classic game's slogan as you can get) which had the audience at my screening cheering (and which may also hurt the film's box office chances overseas more than the lack of plot and character development).

So, if you're going to see a movie called Battleship, I think you pretty much know what you're going to get, and the movie delivers. Yes, it makes the character development in Marvel's The Avengers look like Citizen Kane in comparison, but the action scenes and special effects are on par with the best of the summer blockbusters. So go, check your brain at the door, and just let yourself be awed by the spectacle of it all.

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