Loud, yes. Jingoistic, hell yes. Stupid, you know it. Entertaining as hell, you bet your butt. This movie will never be appreciated as cinema. There is nothing artistic about it and there is not one ounce of subtlety. So if that bothers you don’t go and see it. On the other hand, if you don’t mind being manipulated this may be the most guilty two hours you will spend this summer. “Battleship” is everything you might have been afraid of and it works it’s tail end off to give you a good time despite yourself. It looks great, plays on your emotions and leaves you with a goofy smile knowing that you have been taken advantage of. Like a roller coaster, you know what is coming but you want to enjoy it every minute.
How, you might ask, do you make a movie out of a board game that is not all that interesting to begin with? You start by jettisoning any obvious development of the story. There are only two or three references that will remind anyone of the game. This is basically an alien invasion movie like “Independence Day” only instead of the Air Force as the heroes we get the Navy. Build in a lone survivor vessel to fight most of the battles with and create a time based tension device. It is clear the aliens have superior weapons but they are not invincible and that makes the confrontations more meaningful. Unlike “Independence Day” this movie stays largely free of political decision making by higher ups. The President does make an appearance but only in background news footage. All the decision making we see is being done by fairly low level military personnel who are cut off from contact by the events we are witnessing.
Taylor Kitch, who earlier this year starred in the under rated John Carter, gets a chance to shine like Will Smith did sixteen years ago. He doesn’t have the same star power but he is a handsome guy with a appealing personality that he must learn to manage. He actually is the co-star because the U.S. Navy is the main hero in this film. There are big ships and little ships and men and women who do their darn-est to make the world safe. The most inspiring characters turn out to be a wounded Army Colonel and a couple dozen Veterans of World War Two and Korea. There is so much CGI in the movie that I was not sure if the actor playing the wounded Army officer is really legless or if his was a performance that is enhanced by special effects. The biggest Veteran of WWII makes a guest appearance and it is very satisfying although completely nonsensical. You still won’t care because it was so much fun just imagining it happen that you will not want to think about the impossible logistics and completely silly plot development. We just cackled with joy because it got our red, white and blue blood up.
There is one sequence that is from the game, as our destroyer plays cat and mouse with the aliens using not radar, but wave motion detectors. The grid that gives away the otherwise invisible space ships is pretty darn close to the plotting of target spaces in the game. Another reference to the game involves the explosive weapons the aliens launch into the Navy vessels. Those devices are suspiciously shaped like the pegs from the game that you would use to mark your hits and misses. The design and execution of those explosive effects is really nicely evocative of the outcome of a game when all the slots in your enemy ship are filled.
Liam Neeson is in this movie but you would barely know it because his character is locked out of all the action. He gets to glower at Kitch a couple of times and growl a bit, but otherwise, his role is an extended cameo. Another set of stars that play a more prominent role are AC/DC and Credence Clearwater Revival. The Australian heavy metal band provides two perfect music cues for the action scenes. They better have gotten a big chunk of the production costs because their music makes all the difference in a couple of spots. I know John Fogarty is not getting his due because of the Fantasy Records contract that he fought against for twenty years. “Fortunate Son” is an anti-war song but it has a guitar riff and drum/baseline that screams “AMERICA”. It was used a few years ago in “Live Free or Die Hard” to much the same effect. So although the words are meant to be ironic, much like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”, meaning is in the mind of the listener. Audiences listening to this music in this context are getting a patriotic message not the satiric interpretation that CCR had intended.
This is not intelligent science fiction. We will get that next month with “Prometheus”. This is shoot em up, wave the flag, laugh at the jokes summer entertainment. People who hate Michael Bay should probably stay away because this movie apes so many of his films. Those who dig “Transformers”, “The Rock” and “Bad Boys” will be glad that the director here, Peter Berg, cribbed his movie from those sources. I went in a little jaded, hoping for the best in a movie even when it looks like it will let me down. Fortunately, every once on a while instead of being let down, we are rewarded with a nice surprise. This is like the shiny toy you get on Christmas, it may not be the gift you remember the most years later, but it is the one that you want to play with and enjoy right now.