One morning, a Hasbro executive (probably) arrived at his office, opened up his email and was taken aback by a report of the $2.7 billion total worldwide gross of the Transformers franchise. After splashing some cold water on his face, changing his shirt and pondering what lucrative movie properties Hasbro had lying around, he walked into the toy company’s boardroom and proudly exclaimed, “I’ve got an idea for a movie!”
And that, kids, is (probably) how Battleship came to be.
Even less interesting than the genesis of this oceanic Transformers knock-off is the movie’s basic conceit: After receiving signals sent by NASA to a planet resembling Earth, humanoid aliens reply by sending five domineering battle cruisers to invade, “like Columbus and the Indians or the conquistadores and the Mayans.”
What baffles me, though, is that the first 15 minutes of Battleship, as if from a different movie altogether, unfold with comic brilliance. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), at this time a slovenly 20-something with no direction in life, is trying to win the heart of Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) by breaking into a gas station and attempting to retrieve a chicken burrito. Then Hopper is enlisted into the Navy by his on-again, off-again brother (Alexander Skarsgard), where he serves as the rebellious underdog who must save the day while simultaneously proving to Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) that he’s worthy of his daughter’s hand in marriage.
The first eighth of Battleship leaves an astonishingly pleasing aftertaste, only to be washed out with a combination of silly and (let’s face it) stupid scenarios for the remaining hour and 45 minutes. The whole experience is underscored by the fatalistic understanding that everything is leading up to a final battle during which director Peter Berg can check out mentally and let his inner Michael Bay run wild.
Battleship‘s digital carcass is bogged down ever-further by a case of multiple personality disorder in which the writers (Jon and Erich Hoeber) dissociate their movie from any sense of thematic continuity. One minute we’re looking at a romantic comedy, the next we’re told that the US Navy “must win this soccer game” (no, really, there’s a soccer game in there), then Rihanna has to have her two minutes of shooting aliens to prove she was actually in this movie. And after dropping through various stages of chaos, the best the filmmakers could do was a shoddy resolution shoe-horned in to tie up all the loose ends?
In all honesty, when I read that Hasbro had green-lit a Battleship film, I was quite literally expecting another Jumanji or Zathura clone — something to carry on the Great Hollywood Board Game Cycle. Two kids who are just as cute as a button might have found their deceased grandfather’s dusty edition of Battleship, and because they played it after swimming under a full moon while listening to “We Found Love” (or something strange like that) they are transported into the game itself.
Instead, Bluegrass Films and Hasbro Studios treat us to a very different sort of strange, one that’s liable to leave audiences saying, “You sunk my battleship!” Score: 4/10.
Kyle William / Editor in Chief