It’s tempting, when you’re in the middle of it, to think that Battleship is the worst movie you’ve ever seen, but then you suddenly remember that you’ve also seen “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” “Elektra” and “Arlington Road”, and suddenly it’s not so clear cut. Still, it easily has to win the award for the most tedious and irrelevant first half hour to an action film. It’s a full 30+ minutes before there is any indication of armor-clad aliens bringing all their space guns to bear against the earth. Prior to that, we have extended development of our main character. His name is Alex, who we meet in a bar, trying to impress a girl by stealing her a chicken burrito (in a plot point that is remarkably similar to my own 4.4. Minutes). After this incident results in him getting tased and arrested by the police, his more responsible older brother insists that he join him in the navy.
This apparently goes well at first because the next time we see him, Alex is a Lieutenant in charge of the weapons room on a Destroyer, serving under his brother’s command. He is now dating the burrito girl, who is the daughter of the admiral in charge of the navy – played by Liam Neeson. This forces unwanted reminders with G.I. Joe which also had one “name” actor (Dennis Quaid) playing basically the same character. Anyway, we get to watch Alex nervously fail to ask the admiral for his daughter’s hand in marriage, lose a soccer game because of his pride, develop an antagonistic relationship with a Japanese naval officer, head out on military maneuvers, and learn that he is going to be kicked out of the navy because he’s such an idiot. But don’t worry, because we’re pretty sure redemption is coming.
If that’s not enough we also get to watch his girlfriend turn out to be a physical therapist, who takes a walk up hill with a grumpy former soldier who has artificial legs, and who bitterly laments his inability to be a soldier anymore. But don’t worry – redemption is coming for him, too!
Then, finally, we get to the obligatory scenes where some guys manning radar stations in the area discover that their signals sent up to potential aliens haven’t gone unnoticed after all, and that five objects are flying toward earth in formation. One of those objects crashes and wipes out a bunch of Hong Kong while the rest land in Hawaii and sets up an impenetrable force-dome over all our main characters and begin their military strike against the earth. At this point, the film shifts from being stupid and boring to simply being stupid, so that is a step up. There are typically impressive looking effects, tons of explosions, a lot of shouts of “What is that thing?!” and a bunch of scenes featuring a bunch of completely useless government people sitting around a room trying to figure out what’s going on and giving pointless orders. This gives our gruff & rough admiral the opportunity to ignore those orders and slam the phone down on them.
(By the way, I was going to write about Battleship as part of a piece on all the movies I saw on a long intercontinental flight recently. It’s exactly the sort of film I seek out for those occasions – something I’m curious about but don’t want to spend any money on, or even real time on. However, I found that I had so much to say about some of the films, that I’ve decided to split them into their own articles. They’ll be appearing soon, including comments on the uncanny connections to Battleship that many of them had).
There a lots of fun contrivances that keep our plot going. 1. Every officer on every American ship that is senior to our main character gets killed, allowing him to be in charge of the last remaining destroyer under the dome. 2. The aliens, for some reason, only attack threatening military targets, so innocent little-leaguers and ships whose guns aren’t pointed at them get a handy “pass”. 3. The aliens are susceptible to bright light, allowing the odds to be evened in some hand-to-hand combat situations. 4. Whilst the humans radar and communications don’t work, neither do the alien’s, also helping to level the playing field (although this is directly contradicted by the scene where a bunch of aliens show up through a hole they made in the side of the ship to rescue one of their comrades). 5. And this is the most exciting one: there actually comes a point in the film where someone has to call out coordinates on a grid so that missiles can be fired in an attempt to hit an unseen enemy. So indeed, the movie really does have something to do with the board game that it is based on.
The great strength of Battleship is that it actually gets more enjoyable as it goes along, moving as mentioned from “Stupid and Boring” to “Just Stupid” and finally, in the third act, to “Stupid but Entertaining” – so that by the time you’re finished with it, you’re thinking, “I don’t know, maybe I did kind of enjoy that.” This third section begins with what I can only call an “A-Team montage,” when the ragtag group of heroes transform old junk into some sort of military ordinance to fight off a more powerful enemy. In this case, it comes when the last Navy Destroyer is, well, destroyed, and the only ship left within the impenetrable dome is an aged battleship (Battleship! See?) that now functions as a museum and is manned by about 20 World War II veterans who are apparently just waiting for someone to order them back into action. Through the power of this montage, this outdated ship is transformed into a functioning fighting machine, complete with weapons and a full head of steam in what must be about 20 movie minutes.
By this point, we’ve already been told that the apparent weakness of the Battleship was its lack of maneuverability – that it basically was designed to take a lot of hits without sinking. But as it heads out to sea we realize that this is exactly what we need. The Destroyers were unable to avoid being hit anyway, so we needed something that could take a bit of punishment while still dishing it out. This leads to our rip-roaring climax, with some improbably effective military tactics and plenty of “Oh Yeah!!” hero kind of moments. And so our film suddenly becomes about perseverance and the triumph of the human spirit. We win in the end because the humans keep at it, eventually blowing up their own radar dishes before the aliens use them to summon their armada. (Of course, nobody talks about the fact that more aliens might come anyway, even if the signal is never sent)
In any case, all this might make it sound like I kind of liked the–but really, I didn’t. It was completely ridiculous, and a bit of a drag. And yet, how often do you see a movie that includes in its climax a scene where a legless soldier and a nerdy scientist together defeat a superior armored space alien in unarmed combat while at the same time a bunch of navy officers struggle to carry a huge bullet down the hallway from one gun turret to another? I find it difficult to dismiss that kind of audacity. Difficult, but not impossible.