Release date: August 20th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 131 minutes
Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Composer: Steve Jablonsky
Cast: Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård, Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna
Way back when, I very much liked playing Battleships on squared paper, especially instead of doing my homework. I enjoyed outsmarting my opponents by making pretty wild guesses and, well, we never took it too seriously. The game sort of was a funny lesson for life. But I’m not sure if that would help me a lot should alien forces attack Earth with our extinction on their extraterrestrial minds, and there lies the crux – and joy – of Peter Berg’s epic actioner.
Although inspired by Hasbro’s classic naval-combat game, the film doesn’t heavily rely on its concept so nobody needs a Battleship degree to get the movie. On the other hand, fans of the game will surely recognise its hallmarks and possibly understand the mindset of the lead characters a little better, or just differently.
On this note, it’s not necessarily a surprise that Taylor Kitsch (playing Lieutenant Alex Hopper) has shaved his hair for the first time in 12 years; indeed, little in his character reminds of the Übermensch Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) or the lost soldier on Mars, John Carter (2012).
Lt. Hopper is a tough guy, challenged in his boy-ish ways and with a history we only can guess at. Forcefully “drafted” into the Navy by his fatherly brother (Alexander Skarsgård of HBO’s True Blood), the two are thrown into a literally galactic face-off.
This time, the evil-aliens-attack-earth premise even makes sense, in other words, there wouldn’t be a “game” to play without a proper enemy. The film dutifully adapts one of the contemporary mainstream concepts as to how an alien encounter would come about: We make contact by sending signals into deep space, they listen, come to Earth and try to pitch camp, eradicating everything in their way.
It so happens the aliens touch down in the Pacific Ocean where Hopper and his brother partake in US Navy war-game trials. The ET’s guard their base with a giant shield, neutralising all radar and long range communication. The sailors find themselves literally blind and at the mercy of their common sense and wit.
Quite possibly, the “blind reveal” approach the film adapted from the Battleship game helped the story stay away from painting a black-and-white picture of the adversaries.
For one, it’s easy to root for Hopper. The man is complicated, and he stays complicated throughout the story – not becoming a proselyte in the face of an otherworldly race, or being a reluctant hero turning superhero. Where the story and the dialogue hit somersaulting clichés (“If you can’t, who can?”) it does so with clear and sometimes hilarious irony.
The aliens are not all-out evil either. Despite using fatal force, their strategic attitude is obvious as they don’t just kill everything and everyone they encounter. We even get to look deep into their eyes which is pretty creepy but makes us wonder if we’re just not “evolved” enough to fully comprehend sentient beings that might one day come to Earth with more or less non-human intentions. Even there lies some irony but that also depends on the eye of the beholder I suppose.
As “they” actually have a face, too, the plot quickly develops into a rather gripping story, making even a resigned sci-fi fan like me take sides and hope for the characters. There is a humorous balance in the film signalling that we shouldn’t take it all too seriously either.
Having said this, pop star Rihanna’s appearance adds quite well to the mix. As Navy gunner Raikes, she is but part of the band and I liked her rather quiet but cool presence. Far from being an emerging superhero, she and the other guys on the ship stay down-to-earth and just do what they can – in the end, they may trick their enemy but they can’t trick themselves.
After all, it’s not all grand and glorious in the Navy, and Battleship lays it on the line with an – albeit modest – side blow, ironically again yet respectfully. We see some veterans and a war invalid who soberly states “I lost my fight when I lost my legs”, which doesn’t prevent him from being a pivotal part of the Resistance.
Ultimately, Battleship is a surprising, entertaining and smart piece of cinema that convinces not least with its style and claptrap-free special effects. After seeing too many alien-battle-invasion movies with two-dimensional characters and crackbrained stories, this one might take some getting rid of prejudice.
Beneath all the action and adventure, there’s maybe a tongue-in-cheek message, not only for gamers and players – that we can be victorious if we resist growing up long enough.
One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh is a photographer and journalist who has been working in the media industry for over 15 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.
His passion for intricate stories and the ‘seven basic plots’ (ask him!) often times makes his friends and family put him in the doghouse for "predicting" too many twists and endings.
You can follow Jonahh on Twitter @Resonance_Zero.