- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hen it was first announced that Universal would be making a film based on the popular Hasbro board game Battleship, you could practically hear the collective snickers across the Internet. And between that, the casting of pop star Rihanna, and the not-so-subtle similarities to another Hasbro toy movie franchise, director Peter Berg was fighting an uphill battle. But while the film does feel a little bit too much like a Michael Bay explosion-rama at times, to my surprise, it works remarkably well as a mindless piece of popcorn entertainment. It won't wow you in any way, but “Battleship” knows that it’s big, dumb summer fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.
For a movie based on a board game, the story is actually a lot more complex than you might expect. In a pre-credits sequence, it’s revealed that NASA has located another planet in the universe similar to our own, and has sent a satellite transmission out into space hoping to make contact. Years later, the denizens of Planet G arrive on Earth (more specifically, just off the coast of Hawaii), where they're discovered by a fleet of naval ships participating in the annual Pacific Rim war games. When the aliens construct a dome-like force field separating them and three naval warships from the rest of the fleet, the Navy tries to establish communication with the invaders, only to incur their wrath by firing off a warning shot. After two of the warships are destroyed and the high-ranking officers are killed in the ensuing battle, smart but unruly lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is placed in charge of rallying the surviving troops and taking down the enemy intruders before they can send for reinforcements.
And believe it or not, that’s just scratching the surface, because the above summary doesn’t even begin to touch upon the various human parties involved, including Alex’s older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), who’s responsible for initially roping him into the Navy; his girlfriend Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who gets her own island-based side adventure fighting the aliens alongside a physical therapy amputee patient played by real-life military veteran Gregory D. Gadson; and her tough-as-nails father Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), the commander of the Pacific fleet. Though one might argue that the film wastes too much time establishing these characters and their relationships, it actually helps in the long run, because once the battle begins, it's all about the action.
This is where the movie really soars, with the ship-on-ship sequences in particular delivering the kind of crowd-pleasing thrills that, at least during those moments, make you forget about the film’s weaker elements. Whenever the story moves away from the ocean to focus on other subplots, however, the cracks start to show, but thankfully, that doesn't happen too often. Also, while it's understandable that Berg would want to include references to the game whenever possible (for instance, the alien ships fire ammo that resembles the colored pegs), many of them feel so forced that they stand out more than they should, especially in a climactic scene where Alex and a Japanese officer (Tadanobu Asano) must figure out how to defeat the enemy without using radar. It's a pretty groan-worthy moment, and yet Berg still manages to make it somewhat fun.
The cast also fares surprisingly well considering they’re not given much to do besides run around and get wet (especially Taylor Kitsch, who does better in his leading man duties here than he did in “John Carter”), although it’s a bit disappointing that Liam Neeson goes missing for so much of the movie. Nevertheless, for a film based on an outdated board game, “Battleship” delivers a nice balance of action and humor that reminded me a lot of another alien invasion movie, “Independence Day.” It’s probably more on par with the first “Transformers” than the Roland Emmerich sci-fi classic, but the sheer fact that it's entertaining at all makes “Battleship” more of a hit than a miss.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
It may not have been the summer blockbuster that Universal was anticipating (despite performing really well overseas), but that didn't stop the studio from loading the Blu-ray release with a solid collection of bonus material. In addition to a picture-in-picture track that hews closer to Warner Brothers' Maximum Movie Mode than its flagship U-Control feature, the disc also includes a brief making-of featurette, an in-depth tour of the USS Missouri, a number of other featurettes covering topics like visual effects, filming at sea and working with Peter Berg, as well as a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy of the movie.