It’s safe to say we all had our expectations going into Battleship. It’s based on a board game, for Christ’s sake, and the trailers made it look noisy, dumb and plotless, with Liam Neeson barely showing up to collect an easy paycheck. And while every single one of those things turned out to be true, they don’t make a lot of difference once the lights are down and Peter Berg starts pummeling the audience with awesome action sequences. It’s still stupid as hell, but clearly, none of us had Battleship pegged.
In the most chicken burrito-centric opening in film history (Battleship is to chicken burritos what The Avengers was to shawarma), the movie introduces us to our hero, Alex Hopper, played by John Carter’s Taylor Kitsch. Alex has no discipline whatsoever, so what’s a guy to do but join the Navy with his big brother, played by “True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgård? Several years after what will eventually be known as “the burrito incident,” in which Hopper tried to prove his worth to Brooklyn Decker by breaking into a liquor store, he’s somehow been promoted and allowed to command his own Destroyer, even though he’s a maverick renegade. He’s just one misstep away from court martial though, so it sure was nice of aliens to invade the Earth just to teach him a valuable lesson.
No kidding, that’s the whole plot of Battleship. Hundreds if not thousands of lives are lost, and the only positive thing to come out of it is that Taylor Kitsch learned some discipline. Some of the supporting cast makes a tiny impression, but their characters all fall under easy labels like “Sassy Chick” or “Funny Guy.” In place of an actual story, Battleship just gives you a string of ridiculous action spectacles that director Peter Berg shoots with bombastic glee. Judged purely on those merits, Battleship is a fun film, entertaining and lively despite its many shortcomings.
But about those shortcomings. Or rather, one shortcoming that drove me completely nuts.
I remain pretty convinced that these aliens, who are never even named, aren’t really the bad guys. The logic that labels them as “bad guys” stems from the questionable observation that they arrived in “battle formation.” Which assumes, rather obliquely, that this alien species has adopted the exact same battle formations humans have despite the obvious light years separating our technological advancements. One of the first plot points involves the aliens’ communications vessel crashing on arrival, which raises the valid question of whether they planned to communicate with us directly, but were then forced into a defensive position when diplomacy was taken off the table. The aliens don’t even attack us first, unless you count a very loud noise similar to the ones at the end of Close Encounters, which seems rather suspect. More to the point, they consistently refuse to attack any human who doesn’t pose an immediate threat. These are not the actions of a purely hostile race. They’re clearly a species with some moral values, but we learn nothing at all about them, and instead of making any attempt to establish a dialogue, the heroes just kill them all. There’s no twist at the end to explain their non-hostile behavior, so unless they’re saving some big revelation for the sequel, somebody, somehow, must have forgotten to make the bad guys actually “bad.” Either way, I remain frustrated, and you should too.
But while there are other complaints – like a theater-shakingly hilarious climactic plot point which makes the Buzz Aldrin cameo in Transformers 3 look subtle – none of that actually matters in the long run. Battleship is clearly intended to be popcorn fun, and as popcorn fun (and only popcorn fun) it succeeds. I’ll leave it to the naval-gazers to sink this Battleship. Go have a good time and don’t worry yourselves about pesky little details like good storytelling.