Published May 17, 2012Okay, so Battleship isn't exactly a cutting satire on big-budget alien destruction flicks, but neither is it the Michael Bay-style exercise in vacuity the trailers make it look like.
What director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things, Hancock) has delivered is more akin to a Roland Emmerich picture, if the cinematic champ of good-natured, senseless civilization destruction recognized how absolutely ridiculous the concepts of his films are. This is the film adaptation of a board game, after all.
Using the framework of international naval war games, known as Rimpact, Berg works from a relatively witty (we're talking relative to illogical, ignorant farces like 2012 and Pearl Harbour) script by screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber (Red) to poke some fun at the ridiculous conventions of these kinds of tech-fetish disaster pieces.
Providing a different shade of roguish charm than he displayed in the unfairly derided John Carter, Taylor Kitsch continues to prove himself a more than capable leading man as rash slacker Alex Hopper. We meet Alex after a dose of simple, jargon-free science talk introduces the concept of the Beacon Project, which is similar to SETI, but specifically concentrates on a newly discovered planet displaying Earth-like characteristics.
His brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood, Melancholia), a laughably archetypical, tight-ass good son, is berating Alex about squandering his potential when an incident involving burrito theft as a courting ritual (set to the Pink Panther theme, no less) puts the rapscallion in the position of choosing between jail time and naval service.
When the action ramps up after some minor character building ― Alex has impulse control issues and is skittish about asking the Admiral (Liam Neeson) for his daughter's hand in marriage ― Battleship provides all the visceral thrills and broad humour of an Independence Day or Transformers, but without the lazy reliance on clichéd speech or sexist camera-banging of its actresses.
Rihanna (who gives a surprisingly decent performance as Petty Officer Cora Raikes) is currently the most flesh-positive pop star on the planet, and not once does Berg resort to sexualizing her character; she's just another soldier. The filmmakers find a clever way to close off the playing field and actually use the rules of the board game at one point, playfully linking a respectful adherence to logic to the absurdity of remaining faithful to the limitations of the property it's based on.
Ready to deflate its self-importance at nearly every turn, Battleship saves its sentimentality for war veterans, both the aged and injury-handicapped, playing into the subtext of respecting tradition, the classic craftsmanship of both man and machine, and the courage of the broken rediscovering the will to fight.
The overly obvious racial conflict and resolution between Alex and a Japanese officer, and the annoying use of shaky-cam in close-quarters combat scenes aside, Battleship manages to either skirt or address most of the tropes of its genre, demonstrating that machine-heavy, carnage-orgy popcorn entertainment works better with a degree of self-awareness. (Universal)