[Review] – Battleship

11 May

Title: Battleship
Year: 2012
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: John Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Hamish Linklater, Jesse Plemons
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language
Runtime: 131 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Metacritic: 43

The concept of a film based on Battleship, that classic board game in which you took turns to try to sink your opponents five boats, has always sounded pretty ridiculous. Never mind that it seemingly had absolutely nothing to do with the board game other than the fact that, admittedly, it took place at sea on some pretty huge battleships. But it’s not even a film about naval combat tactics, about one side doing their best to sink the other side’s boats. Because, you see, in Battleship the other side doesn’t really have boats; instead, the other side are aliens. Not even kidding.

However, there was this small part of me that actually wanted to see this one, and even more surprisingly, wanted to see it succeed. That’s the part of me that’s still stuck (and forever will be) in Dillon, Texas. You see, Friday Night Lights, the TV series that was set in that small Texas town, is to this date the single best TV show I have seen; over The Wire, over Lost, over any of those heavy-hitters, that’s the one that has the biggest place in my heart. And this film is directed by Peter Berg, creator of the series, and stars Taylor Kitsch, our very own Tim Riggins, in the leading role, and has a reunion of sorts with Jesse Plemons, who played Landry Clarke, taking on a supporting role. It’s hard for me not to root for these guys.

Moreover, Dillon ex-pat or not, I just think Mr. Kitsch should get a hit under his belt. 2012 was definitely supposed to be his big breakout year, and yet we all know how his first at-bat at a leading role ended up being perceived as he tried to launch a franchise with John Carter, a film that was a big commercial disappointment and yet one that I found myself actually liking more than most (I gave it a B+). So now he has this, another big potential blockbuster in which he, who’s by no means a big-name yet, must carry most of the load. Hopefully this time the box office responds, not because the film is brilliant, and we’ll get to that in a bit, but because this guy shouldn’t be written off.

The film itself, it must be said, isn’t particularly good. It’s also not as bad as I originally imagined a film based on this particular board game would be, but it’s just not something that I would recommend for you to go seek out in theaters, which of course doesn’t bode well for my wishes of box office success to Mr. Kitsch. It’s a good enough film, I guess, if you just want some kind of escapist entertainment, if you just want to go sit for a two-hour-plus ride of things going boom and navy officers taking down foes from another planet. But it’s still an unnecessary film, by all means, one that follows a pretty weak and formulaic plot that doesn’t really make it anything special.

I guess it kind of makes sense, in a way, that this is the film we got out of this board game, though. Think about it; when you play Clue or Risk or something like that, those are board games that have some sort of narrative to them, stuff that builds towards stuff that’ll happen after. When you play Battleship, however, there’s nothing of that, you just sit down and start taking turns shooting missiles at your opponent and letting him tell you whether you hit or missed. And that’s kind of how this film plays out; it’s not interested in providing some sort of narrative momentum, it just starts throwing huge special effects at you the moment it gets going. Hit or miss.

Comparisons will no doubt be made between this one and Transformers, and they’re fair even though this one’s better than at least the last two installments of that franchise. But they’re fair, this one does play out in a way like Transformers at seas in a way. But then again, considering how much bank those Michael Bay films have made, something tells me Peter Berg may be somewhat okay with that comparison.

This film will be exactly what you’d expect. Something without much substance, with a screenplay that, except for that one rather witty allusion to the board game it’s based on halfway through it’s running time, is just preoccupied with getting us from Action Set Piece A to Action Set Piece B, with every cliché in the big-action-movie handbook included, and some truly cringe-worthy dialogue to ease (or not) the transition.

Unlike the Transformers cast, however, these guys never once take the laughable stuff they’re saying too seriously, and instead are just having fun with it. Hell, Liam Neeson‘s in this cast, and you can just tell that he did it just for the paycheck but at least he’s having a ball as the grouchy Admiral Shane. He’s the superior to both Mr. Kitsch’s Alex Hopper and Alexander Skarsgard‘s Stone Hopper, Alex’s older brother. The Admiral is also the father of Sam Shane, Brookyln Decker‘s character, a physical therapist who’s also Hopper’s fiancé. So yeah, everyone’s related in one way or another here, except for Rihanna, yes Rihanna, who plays a weapons specialist in the ship. And she might actually be the one having the most fun out of this whole cast.

Again, in Battleship you’ll get exactly what you’d expect. Battle at seas between aliens and a Navy that includes the very charming Mr. Kitsch, who gives us a bit of Tim Riggins in how Hopper is just hot-headed and yet we root for him. And Liam Neeson is there being Liam Neeson, and Brooklyn Decker’s there being Brooklyn Decker, by which I mean she’s just required to look gorgeous and not really act for a second of the whole movie. You get the sense that Mr. Berg is just super enthusiastic about this whole thing and he does give us a few exciting action sequences, but the fact is that this movie still doesn’t cut it for me to give it a recommending grade. Still, you know what they say: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Here’s hoping Mr. Kitsch gets a hit.

Grade: C+


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