With Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker. Written by Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber. Directed by Peter Berg. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language. 131 minutes.
For the record, no one in BATTLESHIP ever actually says the line immortalized in the TV commercials, “You sank my battleship!” It’s about the only thing missing in this movie which takes a game that started with pencil-and-paper prior to World War I, became a (direct) hit for Milton Bradley in the 1960s and by way of this modern spectacle, transformers into an alien invasion story. The result is a movie that makes absolutely no sense at all. Instead, director Peter Berg and screenwriters Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber seem to have decided to make the most absurd summer blockbuster movie they could, as if they were working from a checklist from the scheisse-meister himself, Michael Bay.
In fact, there are several movies going on at once, as if this was a variation of the storytelling game in which you advance the plot you’ve been handed and leave things a complete mess for the next person. It starts out as a science fiction movie with scientists discovering an Earth-like planet around another star and sending them a signal. We then move to a comedy about two brothers. Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård) is a naval officer while his brother Alex (Taylor Kitsch, recently not seen as the lead in “John Carter”) is full of wasted potential. He proceeds to prove this by trying to impress the beautiful Sam (Brooklyn Decker) by breaking into a convenience store to get her a chicken burrito.
We then get a service film where the American and Japanese navies are on maneuvers in the Pacific, and Alex, who has joined up, is heading for a less-than-honorable discharge. Oh, and he and Sam are now in love, but Sam’s father (Liam Neeson), is the commander of the fleet. Then the science fiction movie returns when aliens – apparently with faster-than-light drives for their spaceships – are coming to Earth to attack. Why? Why do they create a force field around part of the fleet? Why do they cause mass destruction and death and yet spare the lives of individuals? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly not the filmmakers. The aliens are simply the “enemy.”
This leads to lots of CGI destruction and lots of dead people (only one of whom we in the audience are invited to care about) and more plot churning including scenes where the humans attempt to take out the moving alien ships using a grid just like the one in the “Battleship” game. Since logic has long since been rendered flotsam, there are numerous other characters who pop up for no particular reason, from the Secretary of Defense (Peter MacNichol) to pop star Rihanna as a naval officer whose chief job seems to be to run through the ship when ordered to do so by Alex. Let’s not forget the plot twist that gets a bunch of World War II and Korean War veterans into action when the old USS Missouri is pressed back into service.
In short, the movie lacks any narrative coherence whatsoever. Plot strands are tied up by way of a scene after the closing credits promises – or threatens – a sequel. However, since the characters aren’t quite as developed as the plastic pegs in the board game, we’re never really engaged. If the movie works at all it is as a gigantic goof on the elements that make up contemporary blockbusters. There are scenes that echo “Transformers,” “Space Cowboys,” “Terminator,” and other movies, but don’t lead to any kind of rational storytelling.
“Battleship” will get a lot of negative reviews and deservedly so, but my suggestion is that people lighten up. It’s a movie based on a board game. Why did you expect anything more?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.