Friday, 13 April 2012

'Battleship' review:

Some crazy, wayward geniuses have finally done it. They've adapted a board game into a summer tentpole movie. I'm not suggesting this is a contribution to culture the universe was crying out for, but you've got to admire the sheer gumption of writers Jon and Erich Hoeber for somehow, just about, crowbarring enough of the narrative-light children's game into what otherwise amounts to a generic sci-fi invasion movie. The film carries the most hideous strapline I've ever seen, with posters proudly proclaiming the film is from "Hasbro, the company that brought you Transformers", and the very concept of adapting a board game into a movie is worthy of derision (as things stand we're probably just a few months from the announcement of a rom-com called Connect Four), yet somehow these inspired scribes get away with it careers intact.

'Battleship', directed by Peter Berg, stars Taylor "he's so hot right now" Kitsch as a taller, blonder version of Maverick from 'Top Gun' - a "the most talented soldier I've ever seen" type who wastes his potential sleeping in with the admiral's daughter (Brooklyn "all models are actresses now" Decker) and stealing chicken burritos from closed convenience stores - in what amounts to the most bizarre screen depiction of self-destructive, directionless youth yet committed to film. His long-suffering brother (the appealing Alexander Skarsgård), a dedicated Navy careerist, makes him enlist as a seaman to turn his life around, yet he can't quite curb his brother's impulsive nature and as a result Kitsch is one screw-up away from being kicked out of the military by Admiral Liam "paycheck" Neeson.

Whilst on a huge naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii, and after costing his volleyball soccer team victory in the final of an inter-naval world cup soccer tournament (yes, seriously), Kitsch's problems quickly escalate as an alien invasion sees the fleet decimated and the young buck placed in acting command of the remaining vessel. It's then that our bronzed hero has to thwart the alien invasion combining, you guessed it, his lone-wolf unpredictability with a new found respect for the uniform. The alien ships are some of the best CGI I've ever seen, the action sequences and city destruction stuff is suitably loud, and pint-sized pop sensation Rihanna is improbably present as a trash-talking heavy weapons specialist. It's that kind of movie.

Where 'Battleship' wins out over Bay's 'Transformers' movies is in Berg's less frantic, more competent direction, and also in the fact that it's sometimes genuinely funny on account of how absolutely knowingly stark raving mad it is. There are so many strange happenings and oddball character moments that I couldn't possibly remember them all, but indie heartthrob Hamish "The Future" Linklater stands out in his role as the token infuriating science nerd. However 'Battleship' is even more militaristic than 'Transformers', with the whole thing playing like a glossy Navy recruitment commercial. Our hero has to learn to respect the hallowed institution of which he is a reluctant servant, with his troublemaker side exposed by such subversive traits as asking "why?" when given an order. Don't question the rules: follow them, says the film.

If the military is entirely awesome and humanity's best friend in 'Battleship' - which basically bends over backwards to satisfy retired seaman (if you're into that kind of thing) - then science is very, very bad indeed. The aliens only invade because of bloody science, with its blasted curiosity about the universe. Whilst, fittingly for a film shot on 35mm, digital technology - both alien and our own - is found to be no substitute for the romanticised tech of the past (such as the titular obsolete warship). There's also a slightly insidious "yellow peril" undercurrent to this Pearl Harbor-set movie, as every new alien development is first assumed to be either Chinese or North Korean in origin. I suppose this is why Kitsch quickly finds himself with a half-Japanese crew, as the filmmakers attempt to say "some of our best friends are Asian".

So that's 'Battleship'. A big-screen celebration of American military might, loosely inspired by a Hasbro board game, which just about gets away with how awful that is based on solid direction and a self-deprecating sense of humour. People say silly things whilst even sillier things happen all around them, but it's all very big and exciting and the reason we went to the movies when we were 12.

'Battleship' is rated '12A' and is out now in the UK which, if this film is anything to go by, does not rule the waves.

1 comment:

  1. Really nice review - I said the same sort of thing really, pure popcorn film, worst script of the year so far. I don't know why they bother relating it to the board game at all.