If you’ve been rolling your eyes each time you’ve seen a trailer for Battleship, you’re definitely not alone. And given the fact that it looks like a thinly-veiled sequel to the Transformers franchise with little (if any) relation to the board game on which it is supposedly based, you have good reason to have low expectations for what is obviously just another big, dumb summer action movie.
The most obvious problem with Battleship is the aliens. I mean, since when does a board game about a naval battle have anything to do with an alien invasion involving robotic balls that saw their way through anything in their paths? Well, it doesn’t. But once you get past the fact that the only apparent connection between this movie and the game is the naval battle, Battleship is actually a lot better than you might expect.
After receiving a signal sent from Earth seven years earlier, creatures from a distant planet very similar to our own make their way to Hawaii, where the message originated. Conveniently enough, they decide to show up during RIMPAC, an Olympics-like gathering of American and Asian military forces that includes various naval competitions. Good thing there’s such a strong concentration of military power there to greet these alien visitors because it just wouldn’t have been very interesting if the aliens had been allowed to go about taking over the world unopposed.
When his older brother (Alexander Skarsgård) bails him out of one blunder after another, Alex Hopper (John Carter‘s Taylor Kitsch) joins the Navy around the same time the signal that eventually summons the aliens is sent into space. By the time RIMPAC rolls around, Hopper is a lieutenant on the verge of being kicked out of the Navy for being just as irresponsible as ever, especially after getting into a scuffle with a rival Japanese sailor (Tadanobu Asano). Oh, and he’s trying to work up the nerve to ask the Admiral that hates him (Liam Neeson) if he can marry his daughter (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker), a physical therapist for disabled veterans.
This is about the time that the aliens crash into the ocean and set up shop with a force field-emitting obelisk in the middle of the water. While most of the battleships, destroyers and aircraft carriers remain outside the force field, A few ships get caught inside the dome of energy. Can you guess which seaman is among those trapped inside the bubble with the aliens? That’s right, Hopper’s ship is one of a few that basically become humanity’s last hope against this mysterious force.
When things get really ugly for the Earthlings, Hopper is finally motivated to stop being a slacker and save his planet. After all, what better way to prove that you deserve not to be kicked out of the Navy than by saving the world from aliens? And these aliens have some pretty cool technology, though I’m not quite clear on why their ships can’t seem to navigate across or under the water (or fly through the air) and instead have to awkwardly hop around on the ocean’s surface. And from the looks of things, these aliens buy their ships from Cybertron and their spacesuits from Predators. But aside from these technological similarities, Battleship is more than a Transformers ripoff. In fact, the gallant display of Hopper and his fellow humans is more reminiscent of 1996′s Independence Day, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Despite the obvious superiority of these extraterrestrial visitors, they do have vulnerabilities that the humans gradually begin to discover. And much like the Rebels and Ewoks did at the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi, the humans begin to attack the weak spots from various fronts to make a big comeback. But every time it seems that the humans just might prevail, the aliens reveal yet another morale-crippling surprise. When all hope seems lost, Hopper finds one more (very implausible) solution that’s crazy enough that it just might work. (Cue up the obligatory AC/DC song to rally the remaining troops.)
Battleship is a formulaic summer sci-fi adventure, so it is naturally a bit far-fetched on many occasions. But it deserves a little more credit than it’s likely to get, thanks to some witty dialogue (I’m pretty sure I even caught a brief reference to Clue, another board game-turned-movie, though I’m not certain it was intentional), enjoyable action sequences and self-aware comic relief. And even when you’re required to suspend your disbelief a little more than usual, there’s still some effort to explain why things happen the way they do (no matter how unlikely those explanations might be), which is more than can be said of a lot of movies of this ilk. Plus, the filmmakers do actually find a way to reference the strategic play of the original board game, which is really pretty clever and integral to the outcome of the battle. This movie certainly isn’t anything more than what it’s trying to be, but that doesn’t mean you should sink this Battleship without seeing it first.