Since Hollywood is too scared to come up with its own ideas, in recent years blockbusters have increasingly relied on adaptations of novels, video games, theme park rides and now, finally, board games. Perhaps this is because they insist on spending SO MUCH DAMN MONEY on each film, and thus desire at least a smidgen of certainty that people will be familiar enough with the subject matter to pay to see it on the big screen.
The thing is, of course, that not many people would really expect a movie version of Hasbro's 'Battleship' to be all that similar to the game. The story features giant spaceships rising out of the ocean, for Pete's sake. Surprisingly, however, screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber manage to shoehorn in some very clever references to the game. There are several sequences that work, not only as a 'wink, wink, nudge nudge' reminder of the movie's origins, but also as great scenes.
There are a dozen or so excellent moments in Battleship, in fact. It just isn't held together very cohesively. We're introduced to our hero, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), one night when he's out drinking with his brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård). Alex is supposed to be the 'loveable dropout' type. For some reason unbeknownst to us, he's super-intelligent but can't hold down a job. His brother decides that enough is enough and orders Alex to join him in the Navy. Cut to Michael Bay-type pornographic shots of battleships and destroyers, oozing mechanical sexuality from their every porthole and gun turret. In a way that's never explained, Alex does advance some way in the Navy, however it's when aliens attack Earth that he's required to step up to the plate and save the planet.
Battleship never explains what the aliens are intending to do. They turn up, and through a series of mishaps, shit happens. As I said earlier, there are some great moments - the 20 minute 'first contact' sequence being a masterclass in tension, delivering information to us in a steady, escalating manner - but none of it makes much sense. Peter Berg is an interesting director, one who understands how the Hollywood blockbuster works, but can sometimes slip in something that bit more intelligent (for instance the title sequence of 2007's The Kingdom). Here, however, he gives us nothing extra. This is just his attempt to do a Michael Bay, really.
The performances are fine. Kitsch, Rihanna and Brooklyn Drecker all manage to look pretty whilst not being awful, whilst Skarsgård and Liam Neeson are criminally under-utilised. The only real standout is Jesse Plemons who, besides looking like a brother to Matt Damon, does a great job as the comic relief. Oh, and Hamish Linklater, whose journey from low key indies such as Groove through to high profile flicks like The Future and finally to blockbusters has been a somewhat slow trajectory.
Battleship is big, stupid and occasionally fun. There are a handful of excellent scenes, but the screenplay comprises nothing more than tenuous links between the set pieces. The visual effects are occasionally impressive, but are often obscured by lens flares or otherwise over-saturated. It gets the job done, but there are better things to spend your money on.
Review by Stuart Wilson, 2nd May 2012Hoopla Factor: