Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Jesse Plemons, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater, Rhianna, Gregory D. Gadson, Liam Neeson, Peter MacNicol, John Bell, Josh Pence.
This big budget, special effects driven sci-fi action yarn from toy manufacturer Hasbro (the producers of GI Joe and the Transformers franchise) is based on the naval strategy board game. While the game itself is hardly addictive stuff or wildly exciting, director Peter Berg has tried to ensure that this film version offers plenty of thrills. Berg and his team of writers have also worked in an alien invasion plot to drive the action, a bit like a sea-faring Independence Day.
Scientists have discovered Planet G, a Cinderella planet which has an atmosphere and climate similar to ours. Hoping to make contact with its inhabitants they have been beaming satellite signals into space. Of course there is life on the distant planet. Of course they receive the signals, and come to Earth to investigate. And of course, they are far from friendly. The vanguard alien force lands right in the middle of the Pacific near Pearl Harbour, during some naval war games between the US and their Japanese navies.
Alex Hopper (played by former Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch) is an irresponsible, impetuous and hotheaded maverick naval officer who gets to lead the battle against the alien invaders who have landed near Hawaii. And the old decommissioned WWII battleship USS Missouri and its geriatric crew leads the attack against the alien invaders and their superior technology. The alien crafts are able to change shape, and the film at times resembles Transformers at sea.
The only scene which pays tribute to the game on which the film is based involves the crew of the battleship using old school radar technology to plot the movements of the alien craft by using wave displacement.
As befitting its origins, Battleship is an empty special effects driven spectacle, but it does have plenty of enjoyable and well-staged action sequences. Actor turned director Berg is better known for his dramas like Very Bad Things, etc, but he handles this extravagant special effects driven genre piece efficiently enough. The $200 million budget can be seen on the screen with some impressive, state of the art visual effects and CGI effects which are seamlessly integrated into the action. The testosterone-fuelled action is certainly loud, fast and furious, as is expected from a popcorn movie like this. And at least it is not in 3D!
However, the script from screenwriting siblings Erich and Joe Hoeber (Red, etc) is full of cliched, one-dimensional characters and wooden dialogue. And there is a bit of padding at the start as we are introduced to the various characters.
Berg has assembled a solid cast, who seem like they are enjoying themselves amidst all this nonsense.
Having recently saved Mars from destruction in the recent bloated sci-fi action film John Carter, Kitsch seems to be the current go to guy to save worlds from destruction. Alexander Skarsgard, from vampire tv series True Blood, etc, plays Hopper’s older brother Stone, a much decorated and by-the-book naval officer. Liam Neeson is given little to do as a stern admiral, and basically phones in his performance. Making her film debut here pop singer Rihanna is good as Raikes, a feisty weapons specialist. Japanese star Tadanobu Asano is good as Nagata, a Japanese sailor who becomes an unexpected ally.
Brooklyn Decker (former Swimsuit Illustrated model and wife of Andy Roddick, from Just Go With It, the upcoming What To Expect When Expecting, etc) also gets into the thick of the action on land as physical therapist Samantha. She teams up with crippled war hero Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (played by real-life Iraq veteran Gregory D. Gadson) and communications nerd Cal (Hamish Linklater, providing some much needed comic relief) to tackle some aliens who have landed at a satellite tracking station.
The US Navy was involved in the production, lending ships, personnel, and technical expertise to add verisimilitude. And there is enough hardware on display to satisfy military nuts and adolescent boys. Berg however is a more mature and intelligent filmmaker than Michael Bay, who would have loved this film. He manages to work into the film’s subtext a criticism of the war against Iraq and the way in which the US government tends to ignore the treatment of returned soldiers who have been crippled in combat.
And stick around after the final credits have rolled for an intriguing brief sequence that hints at a sequel.