Battleship REVIEW

Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna in Battleship.

"You've sunk my battleship!" "Damn it, I wanted to say that!"

Release Date: 11 April 2012
12A | 131 minutes
Distributor: Universal
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna

On the assumption “There isn’t a board game that couldn’t be improved with the addition of aliens,” Battleship should have “Big Dumb Fun” stamped all over it. There are certainly moments when it’s big, when it’s dumb and when it’s fun. But it’s so desperate not to be “Transformers at sea”, there are moments when it’s ponderous too.

It’s all a big metaphor, you see. Not a particularly subtle one, either; in the first scene, with Earth messaging a Goldilocks planet (an Earth-type planet, ie one that’s “not too hot and not too cold”- Astronomy Ed), one scientist ponders, “If aliens come here, it’ll be like Columbus discovering America, and we’re the Indians.”

So it proves, though not until after a good half hour of character set-up, during which the film feels like the naval version of Top Gun. Then it goes all Independence Day, bringing out the hero in everyone – not just wayward naval officer Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) but war-injured amputees and military old-timers as well. It’s like a US Navy recruitment ad.

Impressive effects sequences, ingeniously entertaining nods to the game and solid performances (not that singer Rihanna is actually required to act at any point) fight against a plot that descends into setpieces and cliché. The script unconvincingly tries to justify some brain-curdling dialogue (“Let’s buy this planet another day”) with postmodern winks (“Do people really say that?”). The aliens are also rather bland, though there is a spirited attempt to portray them as individuals.

The film often feels like its struggling to embrace its silliness, until an audaciously silly manoeuvre during the climactic battle that will become the film’s enduring legacy (“Battleship?” you’ll recall nostalgically down the pub in 2025. “Yeah isn’t that the one where the ship does a…?” … Ah, but that would be spoiling one of the best reasons to see the film. If nothing else, the big finalé is worthy of the name, and that can be rare amongst blockbusters these days.

If you love military hardware, it’s a great naval gazing exercise. But as a blockbuster it’s all a bit half-mast.

Dave Golder

Watch a Battleship featurette about “Goldilocks planets”.
Watch a Battleship trailer.