Some films are so astoundingly silly that, against your better judgement, you can’t help but have fun. Such is the case with Battleship, the latest movie to be based on a Hasbro franchise (there are no toys or games any more, just brands and franchises). Given the enormous financial success of the Transformers franchise, it’s only slightly surprising that a two-hour plus movie based on a simple, wet-summer-holidays strategy game has emerged as a special effects-crammed, self-appointed blockbuster.
In tone and look, Battleship does feel like a spin-off from one of Michael Bay’s ultra-loud slices of robotic mayhem; it’s certainly in love with the military hardware and mass destruction on display, and is unabashedly patriotic. This is a film that would blow the word ‘subtle’ out of the water if it dared to sail within firing range. Explosions pile on top of more explosions as an outnumbered and outgunned American naval crew try to outwit a technologically superior alien invasion force who have decided to invade our planet (best not to ask why they have chosen to do so, or how the crew find out why). Naturally they pick Hawaii as a starting point. Well, wouldn’t you?
On the surface it’s a simple jingoistic exercise in machismo and CGI: clean shaven Americans blow up evil aliens, the end. All well and good of course (assuming it’s done well), though the suggestion that those wacky scientists are to blame for bringing this threat to us by attempting to send a signal to a nearby exo-planet grates somewhat. Never mind the highly questionable science – what annoys is the oh-so-tired suggestion that science will bring about Earth’s doom, and the military will naturally have to step in to save the world. Er, is it the 1950s again?
Even more laughable than the back-of-a-fag-packet plot is its barking mad cast. Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna decked out in military uniforms couldn’t look more out of place if they were running for parliament. Kitsch once again looks all at sea (I-thank-you) in a big budget sci-fi spectacle, after last month’s otherwise OK John Carter. His singular lack of charisma and expression recalls that other one-dimensional Hollywood star, Paul Walker; line them up side by side and you could start building a fence. Rihanna’s anaemic performance suggests she should probably stick to the singing. Brooklyn Decker as Kitsch’s girlfriend was clearly only cast for two reasons, though to be fair they both offer strong competition to the beautiful mountainous scenery she finds herself stranded in. Thank God then for Liam Neeson, who injects some much-needed presence to his role as Admiral Shane, though the plot relegates him to the sidelines in little more than a cameo (or maybe that’s what attracted him to the largely Hawaiian-set production – who knows?). Occasionally he looks as if he can’t quite believe he actually signed up for this nonsense. Audiences will probably be thinking the same.
Almost single-handedly stopping the whole thing from sinking under the weight of its own preposterousness is director Peter Berg’s occasional hints of tongue-in-cheek. I particularly enjoyed the bit where Kitsch and his Japanese buddy ran up the deck of a sinking ship just to jump off the stern, rather than leap off the side like everyone else. Clearly that route just wasn’t quite spectacular enough. It’s moments like these when the ridiculousness of it all shines through that you can’t help but smile, and I have to admit I smiled quite a few times. The mid-film sequence where the crew play Battleship for real with the aliens (after radar has been rendered useless) is also quite amusing, though you do end up wishing you could just go home and play the game instead. But I guess that was Hasbro’s mission all along; there’s certainly no doubt which of the two will have a longer shelf life.