A film like Battleship exists on one level only – pure entertainment. It’s not concerned with anything more than showing absolute destruction, whilst a small band of heroes arise in the middle of this to fight against the odds and try to avert what seems inevitable. Sounds familiar right? Of course, you could list any number of big budget movies from the last couple of decades that follow this well worn template. This isn’t a question of how original the idea is, it’s how well is this executed? And how much you like this film might also depend on your predilection towards explosions.
Tenuously based on the popular board game, Battleship’s version of the aforementioned template has aliens responding to a signal mankind has sent into space, who land in the Pacific near a large fleet of military ships on naval exercises, making them the ones who must stop this emigrant threat. Of course this will (mostly) happen on water. Our lead for this is bad boy officer Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) who is always getting into trouble, is in love with the Admiral’s daughter (Brooklyn Decker) but the Admiral (Liam Neeson) hates him, and his Captain brother (Alexander Skarsgård) is constantly trying to help him out usually to no avail.
There’s obviously a lot of action in Battleship. Some of it is quite well put together, some of it is uninteresting. I've got no clear dilineation for this to be honest as it’s all the usual cgi overload, but I will say the scenes on water with ships fighting each other look good and it all sounds quite impressive. There’s a lot of explosions, so if that’s what gets you off then this is the film for you. Unfortunately the aliens look pretty rubbish and too humanoid, and there’s something far too video gameish going on when they’re out of their ships. Even within the confines of a plot like this the story is pretty standard and clichéd. It goes from character establishment to the firing of big guns pretty quickly.
Actually, saying the film establishes character is overly generous as there is virtually no characterisation in Battleship. The opening scenes make a rudimentary effort to make Hopper seem like a bad boy as well as establish his love for the Admiral’s daughter, but it serves zero purpose throughout the film. Kitsch completely lacks any personality here and it could be anyone playing this role. I don’t think I would have noticed if he’d been swapped out halfway for someome like Channing Tatum. I liked Kitsch in John Carter and thought he bought something to that role, so it’s disappointing he’s so bland here because in these sorts of films you really need to have a lead you can root for. Hell, as much as Shia LaBeouf is hated by people, at least he had personality in the Transformers movies. The rest of the cast is as bland, faceless and irrelevant. Anyone else could be playing these roles and it would make no difference to the film whatsoever.
It's worth noting that Battleship is not quite as annoyingly jigonistic as many of these big-budget “end of the world is imminent” Hollywood films have a tendency to be. There’s at least something of an international naval element going on rather than it being pure “America! Fuck yeah!”. Is this a recognition that the international film market is so valuable now? It seems unusual but is very pleasing that the UK has had Battleship five weeks before the US gets to see it. And one more thing I couldn't not mention - impressively the filmmakers managed to find a way to work a scene into the film that is entirely based on the board game, and believe it or not it actually kinda works!
You know what you’re getting into with a film like Battleship. My expectations were incredibly low because as much as I enjoy films like this (and I honestly do, as sometimes you need to switch off your brain to mindless entertainment) the trailer made me expect another Transformers: Revenge Of the Fallen (the awful second one). Fortunately it ended up being more like Transformers: Dark Of the Moon (the not as bad fairly entertaining third one). Battleship is very average, overblown, dumb, Hollywood entertainment - it offers nothing original, the direction is perfunctory and the characterisation abysmal. In the pantheon of films of this ilk it’s not likely to be remembered. Yet I don’t regret my two hours in the cinema as I was kept quietly entertained. It successfully served it’s purpose so it would feel churlish for me to complain too much. Although if I could count the number of times I wanted some of the shots to be framed against the background of a burning orange sunset...