When I was little, I was obsessed with two things of the toy persuasion: Ghostbusters (both film and cartoon) and He-Man, arguably two of the most popular toys in the 1980’s for a boy to play with, and hours upon hours of fun. But before the huge breakout of action figures and plastic heroes, games were played rather more astutely, none more so than Battleship, a game that required a lot of deduction, and a lot of luck. And what do they have in common? They have now all graced the silver screen, and been let loose in Hollywood. But the question is: How can Battleship the game be made into Battleship: The Movie? With aliens. And Liam Neeson.
Taking place during Naval Reserve war-games around Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, brothers Alex and Stone Hopper (Kitsch and Skarsgard) are at the forefront of the Navy. Stone is the by the books, loyal officer, while Alex is the rebel, opposed to any kind of hierarchy or command, much to the annoyance of his commanding officer Admiral Shane (Neeson), who himself is father to Alex’s missus Sam (Brooklyn Dekker). But, with the games underway, the sea is suddenly taken over by alien craft, crash landing right in the midst of it all, and quickly making their presence felt. Ships and officers fall left and right as the aliens take a stranglehold, before dispatching warriors on land to carry out their master plan of….well, we never find out. And it’s here, before it’s even began, where Battleship gets cast adrift.
It’s hard enough to get sucked into the deafening bedlam here, without having to try and navigate the film's ludicrous plot. Why are the aliens here? Where have they come from? Why are they adverse to sunlight? Why do they look like Isaac Clarke from Dead Space? And how can scientists get places on foot in almost the same time as cars? It’s that lack of cohesion or even common sense that is just one in a long line of problems with Battleship. Even the first Transformers had some semblance of story, despite its director’s best efforts to stomp it dead like he would later do in the sequels.
But this is a Hasbro production after all, and plot and common sense go out the window. Battleship was always destined to play the bombastic, brainless card, akin to the “strengths” of their other aforementioned franchise, whose prowess at the box-office (the excruciatingly bad Dark of the Moon grossed over $1billion) no doubt led the makers to the decision to recycle all the traits of the former movies, with the hope that Battleship will do at least similar numbers. All the greatest hits are here: slow-motion shots of people looking more confused than startled; aggravating, charisma-less lead character; AC/DC (or equivalent) rock music power up to 11; hot chick in ludicrously over-educated position that can drive a car like a stuntman. It’s a Michael Bay wet-dream as directed by Tinto Brass, and while it will please the “masses” come release, particularly in the US, it’s another big-budget bore, that gives DotM a run for its money as one of the worst of the last few years.
Spare a thought then for director Peter Berg. Once talked about as a disciple of the Michael Mann school of directing, you would have hoped he would be able to stamp his mark on proceedings. But like Hancock before, you get the sense that he is here as director-for-hire in a room full of executives and producers, rather than for his actual skills as a filmmaker. With Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, he showed energy and panache; here, his direction is cumbersome and lifeless, and is sadly left treading water in his attempts to inject some life into events. And the less said about the miserable attempt to bring the Battleship game aspect into the film the better: it’s as uncomfortable and absurd as anything you’ll see this year.
The cast are game enough, but won’t leave a lasting impression. Kitsch, fresh from his turn in Disney flop John Carter, again flatters to deceive, and is once again poor as the lead; while Skargard’s Stone, although the more tolerable of the brothers, ultimately comes across as more awkward than charismatic. Surprisingly, it’s Rihanna who impresses here, adding some sass to proceedings, and you can always rely on Neeson to step up, no matter the material, and even when on auto-pilot he can still command the screen with power and intensity. Sadly though neither, nor the great Peter MacNicol, can stop Battleship sinking without trace.
Dull, overlong and just plain dumb, Battleship may will please the millions who cherish Transformers, but is unlikely to find many other fans outside of those curious (and brave enough) to sit through it. Personally, I would rather have watched Liam Neeson play the game with himself for two hours. C4 – you sunk my Battleship.