When mankind beams a radio signal into space, a reply comes from “Planet G”, in the form of alien crafts that splash down in the waters off Hawaii. It’s down to sailor Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his crew to man up and prevent an all-out invasion of Earth.
Battleship is an event movie so lunkheaded - both in concept and execution - that it’s hard not to suspect director Peter Berg of playing a prank. The people putting Earth in peril are scientists (boo!), whose attempts to probe the solar system draw the attention of a fleet of vicious, snake-eyed space-trolls. The people saving the day are the US military (hoo-rah!), portrayed with so many adoring shots of gleaming hardware that even Michael Bay might blanch. From the first-act face-off between the Navy fleet and a towering UFO, where the humans appear to shoot first, to an ultra-slo-mo torpedo-loading sequence soundtracked by excruciating cock rock, Battleship seems geared squarely towards gun-toting rednecks. Is Berg, the intelligent filmmaker behind Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, a Michael Mann protégé no less, daring to spoof the blockbuster?
Evidence, sadly, indicates that both he and his film are in earnest. Despite glimmers of humour early on, as Taylor Kitsch’s rebellious no-hoper raids a convenience store to get a hot girl (Brooklyn Decker) a burrito, once he cuts his hair and ships up Battleship changes course, becoming an effects extravaganza scrubbed clean of personality. The fact that the actual US Navy were involved in production, not only loaning vessels but providing sailors as extras, may be partly to blame; there’s not a single human character who’s anything less than heroic. The Japanese captain who teams up with the Yanks, thus making up for Pearl Harbor; the gutsy veteran with metal legs; Liam Neeson’s gruff Admiral; Rihanna’s gunner, who barely gets anything to do except yell, “Boom!” — all are about as memorable as sea-foam.
Which leaves the baddies. As insane as it sounds, Battleship could see you yearning for the character development of Transformers. The CG aliens here have no personality (beyond their curious ginger beards) and no clear goals, despite frequent Terminator-style POV shots. The action, meanwhile, is both small in scale — while Berg avoids Bay’s coarser tendencies, he also fails to deliver many memorable money shots — and disappointingly samey. The camera lingers so long on slowly turning destroyers, even a seagull would check its watch.
You have to admire Berg (or possibly the visionary suits at Hasbro) for jumping through hoops to engineer a sequence that replicates the board game this film, preposterously, is based on. But it’s a touch of silliness that’s sorely missing elsewhere. At one point, a character barks, “Let’s see if we can buy the world another day!”, to which his companion retorts, “Who talks like that?” The answer, in Battleship, is everyone.