That board game you used to play with the little red and white pegs just got a lot more intense. Director Peter Berg blends the scale and audacity of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise with the machismo of Top Gun in this sci-fi blockbuster which takes the battle between humanity and an invading alien foe out to sea. Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard star as the able seamen Alex and Stone Hopper, the heroic brothers of the piece, and the supporting cast boasts Liam Neeson as Admiral Terrance Stane who brings some gravelly gravitas, as well as Hamish Linklater, Brooklyn Decker, and even pop star Rihanna.
In a naval-gazing mood? You could do worse than this bronzed, gung-ho and entirely silly sailors-versus-aliens hardware-fest. As in its airborne cohort, Independence Day, the plot is a broadly motiveless one-liner: aliens have landed and are trying to take over the world, probably. Why? Because it's there. Are they definitely evil? Sure, why not. They have a pop at Hong Kong and Hawaii, but there are fewer destruction-porn slow-mo shots of notable landmarks going the way of the piñata, perhaps in a concession to post-9/11 sensibilities, or perhaps because most of the action takes place way out on that ocean blue.
The only thing standing in the aliens' way is the world's largest international maritime outfit, the Rim of The Pacific Exercise. Or Rimpac, as it is mercilessly referred to throughout. They should make a spin-off game: Rimpacman. Oh, hush. But wait, this film is already based on an existing property, and for the life of us, we can't see why; are there seriously hordes of Hasbro's Battleship fanboys out there, waiting to see what Hollywood has made of their beloved naval combat board game? What indeed; the answer is a film that feels no embarrassment whatsoever about lingering slow-mo shots of the stars and stripes fluttering bravely in the breeze as muscular boys polish big shiny guns ready to shoot their massive payload all over E.T's stupid face.
If you were feeling playful, you might make a case for Battleship's power dynamic subverting its own jingoistic aesthetic: there's a line in which the situation faced by Uncle Sam's finest (plus token foreigners) is likened to European settlers massacring the Native Americans of the New World, only this time, "we're the Indians". Certainly, the alien race's reliance on up-to-the-minute military technology which, at short range, enables them to identify and spare unarmed children, even as they attack "legitimate targets" undoubtedly resulting in far more grievous "collateral damage" (i.e. dead children), could seem oddly resonant if you were of a paranoid mindset.
That might be giving a little too much credit to a film that revels in exchanges like "Prepare to fire." "Sir, which weapons?" "All of them." Your tolerance for this sort of borderline parodic Hot Shots-type dialogue will likely dictate your tolerance of Battleship as a whole, since lines like this are far and away the most enjoyable aspect. Even Battleship's lead, Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), is not noticeably less ludicrous than his clear bromynym Topper (Charlie Sheen) from Hot Shots, a film in turn riffing on the at-the-time critically lambasted Top Gun, whose DNA Battleship undoubtedly shares, right down to the involvement of the US military in filming.
In a nutshell: An assault on reason, logic and complex characterisation, but in an enjoyable way, like a slightly less camp dramatisation of the Village People's finest ship-based sing-song. They want you, they want you, they want you as a new recruit, etc.
By Catherine Bray