If you’ve read this blog for any significant length of time, you’ll know I’ve been very much looking forward to Peter Berg‘s Battleship. (See my post Can we talk about the Battleship trailer for a minute?) However, I wasn’t looking forward to it because I thought it looked great, I was looking forward to it because I thought it looked so bad, so dumb and so poorly planned that I would actually enjoy it as a classic “good bad movie”. I thought this would take its place in the annals of history among good bad movies I love like Batman & Robin, Godzilla, xXx, Snakes on a Plane, and perhaps even the Godfather of good bad movies, The Room. I can honestly say this is the first time in my life I’ve wanted a movie to be bad. Alas, it was not to be. God help me, but…GULP…I legitimately enjoyed Battleship. Sigh…I’ll explain.
I won’t go over the plot details, because I’ll lose IQ points if I actually type out what this movie is “about”. Instead, I’ll just run through what I enjoyed about it and how those things changed my perception of the movie.
The performances were…adequate. There isn’t a real star role here, but Taylor Kitsch certainly does better for himself here than he did in John Carter. At least here I actually believed him. Is that a compliment? I don’t know what the future holds for him as Hollywood’s Next It Guy, but this shouldn’t hurt him. I know from Friday Night Lights that he’s a good actor, but whether or not he’s a movie star remains to be seen. Worse comes to worse, he can say he was the lead in back-to-back films that had a combined production cost of half a billion dollars. Fellow Friday Night Lights alum Jesse Plemons shows up as Comedic Relief Sailor, but I don’t recall laughing more than once at anything he did or said. Brooklyn Decker looks hot and isn’t required to act much, but she was fine enough to get the job done, and I’m not opposed to her doing more acting in the future. One thing I hate admitting is that I didn’t mind Rihanna, either. She didn’t do any great acting in her movie debut, but she was confident in the role and I liked her character, which I wasn’t expecting. (I’m not gonna lie, when she gets punched across the face by one of the aliens, I thought to myself, “She just got Chris Brown‘d again.” Ba dum bum!) Of course, Liam Neeson shows up to do his best Liam Neeson as the admiral of the U.S. Fleet and Brooklyn Decker’s father, but his part could’ve just as easily been played by any number of mid-50’s/early 60’s character actors to the same result. I really have no idea why Neeson took the role. Maybe he’s as much a kid as I am and just wanted to wear the uniform and play around on some really awesome Navy ships for a few weeks. Can’t blame him for that. True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard shows up as Kitsch’s older brother, but (spoiler!) is only in a few scenes, as his primary purpose is to die in the first alien attack and inspire his brother to finally live up to his potential.
There must be a buttload of deleted scenes for this movie, because Jerry Ferrara (Turtle from Entourage) randomly shows up in one scene and is never heard from again. I had no idea he was in this, and there’s no way he took a role as basically an extra. The same goes for rising talent Rami Malek (my favorite actor from HBO’s The Pacific miniseries), who also goes one scene and done. The movie we get here is 2 hours, 10 minutes long, but I’m betting there are at least 20 minutes of deleted scenes out there somewhere. I’d be interested to see them.
My favorite characters in the movie were Tadanobu Asano as the Japanese Captain Nagata, John Tui‘s big Hawaiian/Samoan officer “The Beast“, and real-life Wounded Warrior Gregory Gadson as Mick. By the way, Gadson’s inclusion is probably the most honorable thing Hollywood has done in years. Credit to Peter Berg for convincing him to appear in the film, and for believing it would be a great idea from the start. Check out his amazing true story HERE. He’s not an actor, folks. The guy lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007, and now he’s being seen in theaters around the world getting some of the best moments in a megabudget Hollywood summer extravaganza. That’s awesome.
The visual effects and action were pretty damn impressive, even if most of it was totally illogical. The CGI was spectacular. I loved watching the alien ships crashing into and interacting with the water. Michael Bay didn’t direct this movie, but I’ll be damned if Peter Berg didn’t use Bay’s style as inspiration. In fact it’s so similar that it borders on plagiarism. The only thing the alien ships and weapons (all mean looking and spiky) were missing were Decepticon logos. That said, this movie does lack Bay’s worst directorial trait…rapid fire, seizure-inducing editing. Also, the film doesn’t take place entirely at sunset. Berg at least has a brain in his head, even if he doesn’t have his own distinct style for action and effects sequences. The Transformers comparisons are legit (especially with regards to the spiky bowling balls that tear through everything), but I also felt elements of Pearl Harbor during the sequences onboard the American warships, particularly when they were being torn apart and sinking. ILM again shows why they’re the best visual effects company on Earth. I’m sure they’re also the most expensive, but every penny of the $200+ million budget is on the screen, and I can at least respect that. The physical and practical stunts were also impressive, and it certainly helps when you’ve got the great Phil Neilson (stunt coordinator on Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of Heaven) supervising the action. There’s a tip for any future director; surround yourself with experienced talent behind the camera, and you can handle just about anything.
Perhaps Battleship‘s greatest attribute is the respect it pays to the Navy, both past and present. It’s quite clear one of Peter Berg’s priorities, despite the absurd circumstances of the film’s plot, was to pay tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Navy and to treat the accurate portrayal of Navy procedures, terminology and protocol seriously. As a result, the film got a ton of support and access from the government, which lends credibility to this kind of film that money can’t buy. I WON’T spoil what happens, but when the film finally earns its title in the final 15 minutes or so, it’s hard not get an old-fashioned starred and striped boner. The only thing missing was Chris Evans as Captain America. It was cheesy and probably completely unrealistic, but I ate it up. Hopefully when Michael Bay sees this movie, he brings a change of underwear, because the military porn within rivals or surpasses anything he’s ever done.
The filmmaking was solid. I’m impressed that Peter Berg was able to handle a movie this size as ably as it appears he was. His last big budget effort, Hancock with Will Smith as the drunken superhero, started out great, but completely fell apart in the third act. At least Battleship has a consistent look and feel from start to finish. Thankfully, there isn’t much of Berg’s trademark gritty shaky cam, and most of the action is shot at nice wide angles so we can tell what the bleep is going on. Continuing with the Transformers comparisons, Berg even stole Michael Bay’s composer, Steve Jablonsky. I thought the score to this film was pretty strong and will definitely add it to my collection. The production design was great and the values high, but that’s because they were shooting on actual Navy ships a lot of the time. It feels like these guys are out on the ocean, and never like we’re in a giant soundstage with walls of green screen. Again, the money is on the screen. I was also a big fan of the sound design. Yes, the movie is loud, but it wasn’t an overwhelming mess of noise. Each weapon and each vehicle had their own distinct sound. I’m also a fan of the costumes, if only because I love the modern Navy uniforms with that blue camouflage. And pretty much anyone would look good in the classic white Navy dress uniform.
It’s worth a minute to talk about the aliens again. We get a reasonable (if implausible) explanation as to how they discover us, but not once are we told what their motivations are. Everyone just assumes they’re here to destroy us, and that seems accurate, although it’s made abundantly clear the aliens only attack people and things they perceive to be threats. Well why the hell would they travel thousands of light years just to destroy us? For sport? The writers didn’t even bother with the clichéd “they need our resources” excuse. They just show up, attack, and try to send a message to their homeworld to indicate that more of them should come attack. So yeah, they want our planet (even though they are shown to be extremely sensitive to sunlight), but why is left for us to decide I guess. It makes no fucking sense. I don’t understand the aliens’ ships either. They fly down to Earth from space, yet they can’t fly once they get here? They have the capability to travel across the galaxy, but their ships can’t elevate more than 50 feet above the surface. Mmkay. The ships pop out of the water and are essentially just hovercraft. They can jump from spot to spot (which is extremely odd), but they can’t fly up into the sky and travel around. It’s almost as if they can ONLY operate over water. I’m sorry, but this is fascinating to me. I also found it hilarious that of the 5 ships they send to Earth, the one that’s the most important (the ones that can communicate back to their homeworld) collides with one of our satellites and is destroyed after it crashes into Hong Kong (goddamn alien debris targeting major cities again!). Not very good pilots, these ones. Finally, the creature design of the aliens themselves underneath their armor was a bit strange. They looked very similar to us, except they have reptile eyes, huge hands with bloated fingers and funny looking beards. Clearly, not much time was spent on who these aliens are and precisely what the hell they want. I say all that to say this; I was right in my assertions all along that it made no sense to involve aliens in a movie based on the Battleship board game. But still- it was fun watching their technology fuck shit up, especially the spiky bowling balls of doom. It’s amazing the things I’m willing to forgive if I’m having a good time watching the movie.
Are there obvious references to the board game? Ohh yes, and I have to say, they were fairly cleverly integrated. I don’t wanna spoil all the winks to the game, but you’ll notice the bombs the aliens launch are shaped like the pegs from the game, and during one cheesy yet simultaneously cool sequence, they basically play a game of Battleship trying to track the aliens ships’ movements in the dark. I dunno, it worked for me.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m giving Battleship a recommend, not because it’s a good bad movie that you can make fun of (which is what I expected and wanted it to be), but because it’s actually pretty decent! It was difficult to type that with a straight face, but I have to be honest with you. It’s not a great movie by any stretch. Yes, it’s big, loud and stupid, and was an unnecessary idea in the first place. It lacks any true originality, there are 1,483 plot holes, some ALL of the stuff the aliens do doesn’t make any sense, the ending is rushed and a tonal mess, but it’s still a damned fun ride that isn’t boring for a second, and in the end, isn’t that what we want from these summer blockbusters?
P.S. There’s an extended cut scene after the credits (it’s a couple minutes long), which is either completely just for kicks or sets up a sequel that will never happen. I won’t spoil anything, but it features none of the main actors from the movie and takes place in another part of the world entirely, so you decide for yourself whether you want to sit through 6-7 minutes of credits (5 of which are to list all of ILM’s animators) to see it.
Here’s one of Steve Jablonsky’s tracks from the soundrack, “The Art of War”:
131 minutes – PG-13
IMDB rating: 7/10
Flixster rating: 3/5 stars
P.P.S. I haven’t forgotten my Avengers review. It is coming and I have been working on it, but I wanted to spit this out while the movie was still fresh in my head from the midnight show last night.