It’s pathetic enough that Battleship is pretty much the dullest alien invasion movie ever, featuring an uninteresting incursion by nondescript aliens doing boring things and not even blowing shit up in exciting new ways. But Battleship also fancies itself a cautionary tale. “OMG no no no, we should not be broadcasting our existence to the universe,” it cries, “because all the bad aliens will come for our water or gold or blood or Twix bars or something! Someone shut up all the astroscientisty types before they just invite all the facehuggers over for dinner OMG!”
For that is precisely what happens here: Space nerds send a signal to a distant star system that looks a lot like ours, and, like, days later, here’s the away team from Planet Facehugger come to steal all our bubblegum. Except they’re not actually all that bad. The most destruction they cause is accidental — when their communications ship crashes into and all over Hong Kong — and their badass war balls — the aliens deploy, literally, giant spiky metal balls that roll around crushing stuff in Honolulu such as highway overpasses and military helicopters — come to a complete stop when they might mistakenly roll over a little kid or a horse. So you basically just need to go to a Little League game or stand next to a horse to escape destruction by the giant metal alien balls.
But even when we puny humans who should have just kept our interstellar mouths shut do need to engage them in a military way — in the waters off Honolulu because that’s where the battleships are — they kinda just roll over like puppies wanting their bellies rubbed. All we need is Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who goes from Loser to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in exactly the same amount of time it takes for the aliens to get our hello and come a-invadin’. Apparently you can be a felon who enlists in the military and become an officer in next to no time… and not just any officer but the sort of James T. Kirk-esque badass who inspires unholy levels of devotion among the grunts and kicks alien butt even though he has next to no understanding of strategery and stuff. (At least Kirk knew he was cheating with that Kobayashi Maru test. Taylor Kitsch lucks out here on a planet-saving level out of pure arrogant ignorance: He read The Art of War, but he doesn’t get it. He actually says this. Our heroes are now proud ignoramuses. Go America!) That nonsense about officers being educated types must be a lie put about in order to save the cushier jobs and the nicer uniforms for the cool kids. And then some tech outdated by even Earth standards turns out to be enough to bring down alien invaders anyway. We don’t even need our best stuff. All we need is a mothballed battleship and a bunch of grandpas who probably haven’t even forgiven Japan for Pearl Harbor yet.
I wish I was kidding about all this.
So Battleship is pretty much the least effective cautionary tale ever. It seems the only battletech the aliens have that is better than ours is their horn, which is waaay louder than the one on even the newest, coolest aircraft carrier we can come up with.
Really, I’m so not kidding.
Screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber — who as a team wrote Red, which is awesome, and Whiteout, which is not — had to bring in the mothballed battleship, because they were locked into “crafting” a movie around a mothballed board game. But they could have been more creative about it. For a few minutes early on, it seems as if they might be sending up these sorts of movies, but then they just give up and embrace the idiocy. They give us giant peg bombs. God help them, they came up with a way to have real warships — one of them alien — fight a battle on a grid: Ladies and gentlemen, no one will be admitted during the terrifying water-displacement scene. But they have no new or even new-ish ideas to excite our sci-fi glands. (Powered armor? Seen it!) Nor does director Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom) have anything to add to the genre, and just took a few Michael Bay lessons before starting to shoot. And so he drenches the destructo-porn in golden sunlight and fellates the military… though Bay is now kicking himself for not having thought of fetishizing a veteran with two artificial cyborg-legs before Berg did.
Independence Day is looking more and more like a classic with each passing year. Remember the exciting sequence that culminates in Will Smith triumphantly capturing an alien POW? Remember how hard-won that was for Smith’s character, and how much we were invested in what he was doing? Here, it’s, “Oh hey we fished this alien dude out of the water.” Off camera. While something far less interesting that capturing an alien soldier was happening.
I can’t even say this is nothing but a pointless exercise in blowing stuff up, because actually not that much stuff blows up at all, and certainly not in inventive new ways we haven’t seen before. Pop star Rihanna — whose casting as a Navy grunt prompted howls of derisions — is the least bad thing about this flick. She’s actually pretty good; she at least brings a bit of energy to the screen. The same cannot be said of, say, Liam Neeson (Wrath of the Titans, The Grey), whom we can feel counting his paywad in the few scenes he appears in. His sole purpose as a Navy admiral is to be the intimidating father of Brooklyn Decker (Just Go with It), whom Taylor Kitsch wants to marry, but he simply can’t get up the nerve to ask him for permission. Hoorah for Kitsch, for by saving the world — at least until the sequel! — from boring, incompetent aliens, he is finally made man enough to confront Neeson. This isn’t quite as appalling as crafting a tale of the end of the world so as to empower a little girl to stop wetting the bed — see 2012 for this — but almost.
Then again, the notion that an adult woman would require her father’s permission to marry puts the social setting of Battleship on a par with the military and scientific one. Horatio Hornblower vs. Aliens in the Napoleonic War? That could have been a whole helluva lot more adventurous fun that this soggy mess.