Battleship

Battleship

***1/2

Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

Liam Neeson, in a recent interview with the BBC, went on record in saying that he feels Hollywood ‘does’ special-effects driven movies very well, but conceded that more adult drama will likely remain the traditional preserve of independent cinema. With Battleship, he is right on both counts. Peter Berg’s goliath roller-coaster of a movie is a gargantuan and unashamed homage to the work of Michael Bay.

While Battleship may invoke criticism for its overly jingoistic scenes and ludicrous but somehow apt dialogue, there is, however, a place in the world for movies such as this. If you enter the theatre expecting a probing, introspective moral commentary on the plight of humans and aliens living side-by-side in peaceful coexistence, you will leave in the first five minutes. This is not District 9. If, conversely, you’re looking for explosive, mind-boggling special-effects driven set-pieces coupled with broodingly patriotic one-liners from Neeson et al, you won’t be disappointed.


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The core premise of Battleship is delightfully low-concept and will appear immediately familiar to anyone who has, over the years, taken in the likes of Independence Day, Transformers or even more ‘indie’ offerings such as M Night Shyamalan’s Signs.

An advanced species of extra-terrestrials, possessing weaponry and technology far in advance of our own, visit earth with nefarious plans for global domination. Battleship is essentially something of a pastiche of cinematic mythology around alien life, borrowing elements of Shyamalan’s work along with others such as Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds and Scott Derrickson’s The Day The Earth Stood Still. The alien armada, hailed to Earth from ‘Planet G’, incidentally so-named because of its ‘Goldilocks’ climate (ie one that is able to support humanoid life) is regrettably the home of avid warmongers as opposed to friendly anthropomorphic bears.

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Battleship does offer plenty of laughs, although, admittedly some of these inadvertently occur in the wrong places. Cal, in particular, played by Hamish Linklater, does a splendid line in comedic incredulity, at one point reflecting, "If there is intelligent life out there and it comes to Earth, it'll be like Columbus discovering America; only we'll be the Indians!". What can be said for certain is that if there is intelligent life on other planets and it did come to Earth, it probably wouldn’t want to watch Battleship. But the merits of a movie that offers unparalleled audio-visual stimulation coupled with a few laughs along the way cannot be dismissed and, in this case, Berg’s board-game fits neatly into the canon.

As Taylor Kitsch’s irreverent Alex Hopper sets out to use a combination of wily cunning and board-game style military strategy to defeat the invading fleet, the visually stunning set-pieces of Battleship click into gear. This is the reason most people will go to see it and, for this reason alone, they will not be disappointed. As ‘event’ cinema, Battleship will prove a well-received afternoon outing for hotdog enthusiasts and special effects fans alike.

This should not detract from noteworthy performances from the likes of Alexander Skarsgård, who seems set to follow in the footsteps of his father, Stellan, as a serial scene-stealer, and an exceptional one at that. Rihanna also delivers a strikingly solid performance as Hopper’s go-to gunnery grunt, Petty Officer Cora Raikes, as do Hopper’s adversary turned ally Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) and Ordy (Jesse Plemons).

Like all movies of this ilk, Battleship is riddled with improbable feats, such as Kitsch’s love-interest Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) linking up in the conflict with Linklater’s scientist, Cal. The Bay-style shtick is in good supply throughout the picture, with Gregory D Gadson’s Lieutenant Canales proclaiming, “Let’s buy Earth another day!” only for Cal to immediately reply “Who talks like that?”. Such moments appear knowing concessions to the eccentricities of the script.

The makers of the movie boldly acknowledge the artistic inspiration of a board game in its making, this fact alone lands the picture in the immediate company of Bay’s Transformers and Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean. While they may not be the most artistically and critically esteemed of counterparts, there is clearly a place in the world for films with this sort of inspiration.

If you are a fan of Bay’s formula, which is an undeniable cinematic cash-cow - the Transformers series alone has now grossed an estimated $2,700,000,000 - then you will find the 131 minutes of Battleship is pure bliss. If you are looking for adult drama, follow the sage-like advice of Mr Neeson and look elsewhere.

Reviewed on: 11 Apr 2012
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A film based on the board game (yes board game) of the same name, in which a fleet of ships battle an unknown enemy.
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