The board game comes to explosive life. It's a little better than it sounds
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
When a small group of ships gets caught in the middle of an alien invasion during a naval exercise, it’s time for one generically flawed man (Taylor Kitsch) to make a difference… or let the world fall to intergalactic nasties.
By now you probably know that Battleship is based on the board game originally owned by the Milton Bradley company and since part of the massive Hasbro family. A game where two players call out grid locations in turn, trying to sink hidden vessels of war may not sound like the most obvious inspiration for a sci-fi blockbuster but it’s hard to deny that the filmmakers have given the attempt their all.
Battleship gets more things right than you might expect. There’s a nicely paced introduction which spends some time with the characters and also introduces some passable comedy moments. The action takes its time coming but is generally comprehensible in their construction – without the epilepsy inducing editing we’ve come to expect from filmmakers like Michael Bay. The CG is often decent and there’s an attempt to show a full sequence of naval manoeuvres, with a token level of strategy that makes some of the encounters halfway exciting.
The entire production is also wilfully ridiculous – perhaps unavoidably given the source material – but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you think the filmmakers are doing it on purpose. For my part, given the above average (for the genre) attention paid to comedy in the film, I’m inclined to think that director Peter Berg was purposefully courting laughs during the over the top hero moments though there’s a late on sequence involving some geriatric veterans which may play with less guffaws in cinemas flying the red white and blue.
The use of veterans in the film in general is frequently incongruous, injecting a flash of somewhat brutal reality into a movie which should be actively seeking to dispel it. Love interest Brooklyn Decker’s work as a physical therapist leads to some lingering shots of the broken bodies of combat vets trying to rehabilitate, while her entire side story gives her an amputee sidekick who gets a hero shot every time he’s on screen. The same attention is paid to the more time ravaged former navy men and while they certainly deserve a moment of tribute there are far more fitting places for that.
These side plots (and hero adulation), as well as some of the laziest dollops of ‘science’ the genre has ever seen, help to push the running time to an unnecessary 131 minutes. It’s never quite boring but there’s so much flab that you can’t help but wish for a tighter version of events.
Despite taking more than two hours to get to its endgame, there are still many things which make little to no sense in Battleship. The aliens are particularly troublesome as the film fails absolutely to clarify anything about them. Their mission is inferred as conveniently lightning speed but beyond that their actions are simply bizarre. Despite presumably being the first stage in a mass invasion, they’re a particularly passive bunch, who go out of their way to not engage with the humans. And then, out of nowhere, they launch some particularly enthusiastic ballistics (which resemble nothing so much as angry, sentient, dradles) as civilian targets. Even the geography is troublesome at times, with the location of the heavily trailered bubble difficult to ascertain.
There’s a lot of waiting around in Battleship, as conventional radar makes normal aiming and firing impossible, leading up to that moment where the script writers earn their fee by shoehorning in some grid locations. It actually works just fine, though takes longer than it should to unfold. When the action finally arrives, Peter Berg proves once again that he’s a competent director, though the relatively small scale carnage may surprise those used to more over the top spectacles.
The cast are just fine – Kitsch brings more personality here than he did in John Carter (which sorely needed it), Liam Neeson adds some gravitas (though his role is pretty curtailed), Alexander Skarsgard is entertaining as ever and Rihanna makes a perfectly adequate debut, even though she’s saddled with more than her fair share of clunky lines.
Battleship is a perfectly entertaining action film from time to time, unfortunately crippled by an unnecessary length, some listless antagonists, confusing fundamentals and rather less pyrotechnics than you might expect. But if you keep your expectations in check, you may find a watchable event movie.