by Winston Crutchfield
The best thing about making a movie inspired by a turn-based naval warfare board game is that there are very few demands on the IP. The only baggage carried by the intellectual property is the design of the playing field and the memorable tagline, “You sank my battleship!” Nonetheless, someone has hacked together a story involving an alien invasion and the emergency recommissioning of the USS Missouri, a museum ship stationed in Hawaii. This is vital to the title of the film, as the US Navy has not used battleships as a mainstay of naval power since the Battle of Surigao Strait in 1944, where Pacific Theatre operations conclusively proved that warfare had shifted to favor the mobility of an air force, and that the destructive ability of modern weaponry had far outstripped the protective capability of modern armor. This at least is preserved in the film, as the aliens go on randomly destructive rampages solely for the purpose of demonstrating their fire superiority. This is so demoralizing that it leads the Secretary of Defense (or one of those blurry people) to pronounce the five alien ships “an extinction-level event.” Topping it all off is the repeated application of cringe-worthy science that can only be found in Hollywood – including dropping an anchor to slough a battleship to the side in order to bring a broadside to bear.
Taylor Kitsch carried the film as Lt Alex Hopper, and the audience gets to follow his growth from slacker to commander, and the reluctant maturity that increasing responsibility forces upon him. Kitsch, and all the actors in this film, play to type – and stereotypes abound. We have the pop-star turned actress, the funny guy, the solid guy, the damaged veteran, the steadfast and doomed role model.... The list goes on, but that’s okay. No one expected this movies strong suit to be either the story or the characters. This film is about big guns, wicked advanced tech, and battles that devastate whole continental shelfs. No, wait, that’s the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
To be honest, the movie crawls through completely unneeded character setup and an exposition of how the aliens chose us as the target for their invasion. After the action starts, things hot up into a series of naval and armored engagements that would have been absolutely riveting, if we could see them. The whole film is shot on a hand-held shaky cam set to extreme close-up. Every now and then, it pulls back to let the audience see what’s going on in the movie, but most of the time the director seems to think that people want to be in the confusing thick of battle surrounded by 70s era rockabilly instead of watching breathtaking explosions from a safe distance to the pounding rhythm of heavy metal.
Somewhere in all this mess are a few random statements about the Art of War that are almost completely non-sequitor, the lesson that old people and disabled people still have value, and let’s not forget the comparison of the aliens to the murdering Conquistadors and that evil opportunist Columbus, with the sole difference that unlike the innocent indigenous tribes of North and South America, we’ve got this coming to us. This statement is made no less than three times in the film, in a very pointed way.
All in all, I found the movie not only unsatisfying for not delivering a naval warfare or even an alien warfare spectacle, but made nearly unwatchable by the poor cinematography and ludicrous treatment of elementary physics. This film doesn’t leave the audience with anything meaningful in the way of discussion topics, or even any desire to gush about the visceral viewing experience this movie clearly isn’t. After watching Battleship, all I really want to do is forget the movie, break out my red and blue plastic cases, and erase the experience of the film with a satisfying, “B-12.” “You sank my Battleship!” while John Wayne guns down Imperialist Japanese aggressors in the background.
Battleship is rated PG-13 for elements of sci-fi violence and some harsh language.
I give it a Quality rating of 6.5, and a Relevance of 6.0.
Read Winston’s five-point review of Battleship and other media at Critical Press Media.