Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Good Aliens Go Bad: Battleship Review

BATTLESHIP
Directed by PETER BERG
Starring TAYLOR KITSCH, ALEXANDER SKARSGARD, LIAM NEESON, 
BROOKLYN DECKER, and RIHANNA

It's obscenely poetic when filmmakers can turn a children's game about naval strategy into an alien invasion extravaganza. Thus, it's only natural to be skeptical of Director Peter Berg's attempt to morph the beloved Hasbro game into 'Transformers-Lite,' and rightfully so. After all, Battleship is painfully underwritten, overtly predictable, and flawed. That said, Battleship is also incredibly entertaining and energetic. Battleship is a "popcorn movie" in the truest sense--otherwise known as a fun-filled box of summer fun not meant to be taken seriously.



When a fan asked Berg at Wonder Con what Battleship was based on, Berg said he found inspiration in a documentary featuring Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist. Hawking spoke of other "Goldilocks" planets (planets that could support life) and his concern that Earth should not send out radio signals contacting those planets. Hawking believes that advanced alien life would likely be hostile.

Battleship starts in 2006 when an ambitious scientist identifies another "Goldilocks" planet in a galaxy far, far away, and sends out a signal to establish contact. In Battleship, the voice in the wilderness is Cal (Hamish Linklater), a clichéd nerd who warns NASA against establishing contact and now has the unenviable task of manning the satellites sending out the signal.

Meanwhile on earth, we're introduced to unemployed troublemaker Alex Hopper (played by John Carter's Taylor Kitsch). Alex is reeled in by his responsible older brother, Stone Hopper played byAlexander Skarsgard. Alex is sleeping on Stone's couch, whilst Stone is honorably serving his country in the Navy. Alex is the yin to Stone's yang. After yet another trip to the slammer, Stone convinces Alex to join the Navy.

Brooklyn Decker plays the "girl" (Sam) who just so happens to be the daughter of the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet, Liam NeesonNeeson is well cast as Admiral Shane and Sam's intimidating father, but woefully underused. Likewise, Decker doesn't have much of a role, except to supply mandatory eye candy and the clichéd damsel in distress. Six years later, a cluster of UFOs enters earth's atmosphere, but similar to 1996's Independence Day, the cluster appears to fall in formation. When the alien's communication's ship crash lands into a Hong Kong skyscraper, the remaining alien ships plunge into the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

Troublemaker Alex is now 'Lieutenant Troublemaker,' a Weapons Officer on the USS John Paul Jones (a Naval Destroyer). His brother Stone is Captain of a different Naval Destroyer. When the principal characters opportunely assemble at the RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific Exercise) international war games, they happen upon the alien vessels. It makes little sense for a highly-evolved alien race to attack during the world's largest international maritime exercise, but just go with it.

The invaders quickly quarantine the area with a "death shield," similar to the translucent shields used in Independence Day and War of the Worlds. This effectively shuts out the bulk of the naval fleet, while enclosing a few choice ships, namely the "little destroyer that could," the USS John Paul Jones. Score one for the aliens.

When Alex and Petty Officer Cora 'Weps' Raikes (played by Rihanna, yes Rihanna) investigate the mysterious vessels, the aliens attack. But instead of destroying everyone within striking distance with their superior technology (which would have made for a short movie), the aliens attack only when provoked.

Similar to the Predator films, these aliens rely on their 'fancy-smancy' helmets to discern if someone or something is a threat. The audience is given a brief glimpse of how the aliens view the world: red means bad, green means good. Yes, these highly evolved beings know how to play red-light/green-light, yet another childhood game coming to a theater near you. Perhaps this method was meant to conserve their ammunition while awaiting reinforcements? Perhaps the aliens are semi-honorable? Perhaps the aliens underestimate human kind? Whatever the reason, it's never explained.

Hopelessly outnumbered and led by Alex, who receives the battlefield promotion of Captain (which is shown in the film's trailer), the USS John Paul Jones battles the superior alien vessels guns blazing. That's when the action, the soundtrack, and the CGI go wild. Industrial Light & Magic's (ILM) visual effects are always state of the art, and this movie is no exception. Clearly Battleship's largest influence is the Transformers franchise. Yet, despite the similar visual style, the effects are not nearly as gratuitous and overexposed as theTransformer films, which is a good thing given the heavy-handedness of Michael Bay.

The action shifts between the crew in the water and a wounded warrior on the ground, because when the aliens lost their communications ship in Hong Kong, they lost their only way to communicate with their compatriots across the universe. Surely an alien race who has mastered faster-than-light travel would not need to commandeer Hawaii's satellite communications, but again just go with it. Alex's girlfriend Sam and her physical therapy patient, former Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (played by real-life wounded warrior Gregory Gadson), coordinate the fight on the ground and share some of the film's more poignant scenes. Sam and Colonel Mick are conveniently hiking near the satellites.

Overall, the computer generated naval battles, sarcastic sailors, and the pumping rock-n-roll soundtrack are enjoyable. Unlike the Transformer films, Battleship has just enough storyline to work. In fact, the filmmakers smartly fill the film with homages to the board game. Were it not for the eleven-year old boy sitting next to me in the theater, I wouldn't have noticed that the alien's missiles were shaped like the little red and white pegs from the boardgame. Once a ship was hit by too many of these peg-like missiles, the ship would sink. Another clever bit of writing is how the crew finds the alien vessels without the use of radar.

Battleship will not be winning any awards or accolades, but it's fun to watch, similar to other popcorn movies before it. It's a movie that makes going to the movies fun. Leave your cerebellum at home and just enjoy the ride. One could say that Battleship was Peter Berg's love letter to the U.S. Navy. Or perhaps Battleship is a very long Navy recruitment video? Either way, in both aspects Berg succeeds.

Highlights:
Gregory D. GadsonGadson plays a wounded warrior undergoing physical therapy. He becomes the film's reluctant hero. Gadson is a real-life wounded warrior (and hero) and veteran of the Iraq war, who lost both legs at the knee. Gadson gives the film it's only dose of emotional depth.

The historic USS Missouri: A real-life World War II battleship known as 'Mighty Mo,' the USS Missouri is where the Japanese surrendered. Battleship utilizes the USS Missouri and it's former crew in a touching segue.

Alexander SkarsgardSkarsgard is best known for his role as Eric the vampire on True Blood. Skarsgard'srole in Battleship is rather boring as the responsible older brother, but he makes the most of the few scenes that he's in.
Rihanna: Admittedly, I had low expectations for her. I've seen one too many popstars try their hand at acting, but Rihanna held her own. She wasn't given much to work with, but did well with what she had.

Lowlights:
Alien's motivations or lack thereof: The writers don't develop the alien's backstory or motivations. Why do the aliens come to earth? Alex Hopper is given a brief psychic glimpse of the alien's home planet, which appears to have been decimated, but other than that, little explanation is given.

Frenemies (Alex and Captain Yugi Nagata played by Tadanobu Asano): Before the aliens arrive, Alex has several scuffles with Captain Yugi Nagata, a Japanese Captain and participant in the war games. Needless to say, Captain Nagata and Alex quickly become brothers in arms during the crisis.

The aliens themselves: The aliens appear to have crawled out of the video game Halo. They have helmets that protect them from the sun's rays, but little else. Also, their helmets don't seem to be very accurate when predicting threats. For goodness sake these creatures can travel faster than the speed of light. Wouldn't they be advanced enough to deal with a few pesky humans?

Taylor KitschKitsch was reasonably good as John Carter, which unfortunately tanked, but Kitsch is simply not believable as the fast and loose, prideful, rough-and-tumble-soon-to-be-humble, Lieutenant Alex Hopper. Perhaps it's the one-dimensional writing, but Kitsch never found his rhythm.

TWO -1/2 OUT OF FIVE STARS

8 comments:

  1. This movie came out here in Europe 6 weeks ago as H'wood wisely realises there is no way it can compete with the Euro football tournament, hence why most of the big summer tentpoles are already making their way out of the cinemas even before they come out in North America.

    However, BATTLESHIP is a flick that is more likely to appeal to jingoistic American sensibilities than Euro ones, that is because it's crass beyond belief.

    I like the fact that your review highlights how ludicros the whole spectacle is, but I didn't even find it entertaining. It was just a noisy affair. In fact, I'll go far as calling BATTLESHIP as 'Transformers in Disguise.' It's a bad knock-off of an already bad brand of branded concept movies. Michael Bay should sue!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review! I loved the movie and felt that Rihanna did do a good job, honestly.

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  3. Welcome back! I've got some catching up to do. I have not seen this, but I loved your review. Poor Taylor just can't catch a break with being a leading man. I'm shocked Rihanna did a good job. She strikes me as a rather brainless piece of fluff.

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  4. I'm glad to have read your review. I will stay away from this one as I do not care for explosions or noises that are louder than Rhianna's "Drink to that".

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  5. This was a great film. Alexander Skarsgard did an interview with BULLETT magazine that was great too. They talk a lot about Battleship. Check it out here.

    http://www.bullettmedia.com/article/alexander-skarsgard-the-sea-inside/

    ReplyDelete
  6. This was a great film. Alexander Skarsgard did an interview with BULLETT magazine that was great too. They talk a lot about Battleship. Check it out here.

    http://www.bullettmedia.com/article/alexander-skarsgard-the-sea-inside/

    ReplyDelete
  7. This was a great film. Alexander Skarsgard did an interview with BULLETT magazine that was great too. They talk a lot about Battleship. Check it out here.

    http://www.bullettmedia.com/article/alexander-skarsgard-the-sea-inside/

    ReplyDelete

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