Film Review | Battleship

Though it runs on a fool-proof formula, this board game-inspired alien invasion blockbuster doesn’t edge an inch beyond the expected.

Mayday! Taylor Kitsch is made into a reluctant hero during a fight against extraterrestrial invaders in this cliché-ridden blockbuster.
Mayday! Taylor Kitsch is made into a reluctant hero during a fight against extraterrestrial invaders in this cliché-ridden blockbuster.

Few things are as satisfying as a well-executed popcorn flick. The billion-raking Marvel Studios spectacular Avengers Assemble is testament to that.

Group of illustrious superheroes - some of them have been around for over 60 years, which by pop culture standards makes them venerable ancient myths - beats the bejesus out of an invading alien force, with a few well-timed and well-executed jokes spliced into the mix. Perfect.

By rights, and especially now that Marvel has upped the ante with Avengers, the board game-inspired naval alien invasion actioner Battleship should slide comfortably into that same category.

But it doesn't, because instead of attacking the genre with verve, humour and dynamism like Avengers did, Peter Berg's run-of-the-mill effects extravaganza simply chooses to glide through frequently traversed - and very much on-radar - territory.

The story, at least, is simple enough, though its set up is stretched over a ridiculously long running time.

Scientists have discovered a planet in deep space which appears to mirror the geological and atmospheric conditions of our own. Ignoring long-held science fiction clichés, they decide to send a signal over to this 'Planet G', informing our alien counterparts of our existence.

Cut to tragically gifted slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). Coasting on the generosity of his army commander brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), Alex doesn't appear interested in making anything of his life until he meets blonde bombshell Samantha (Brooklyn Decker).

Following an admittedly funny courtship test involving a stolen chicken burrito that lands Alex into trouble with the police, he discovers that Samantha is actually the daughter of his brother's boss - the austere Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson).

Finally snapping, Stone gives his brother an ultimatum - clean up your act or get out. And what better way to clean up one's act than join the navy?

Strong-armed into entering the force, Alex shows promise, but remains somewhat of a loose cannon - having wits, but not discipline. That is, of course, until the aliens finally attack...

The fact that I've spent more paragraph space detailing the mundane development of a pack of mundane, two-dimensional characters mirrors the ridiculous pacing of the overlong film itself: the aliens don't attack until after the 40-minute mark.

This could have been a clever move had the characters and plot points been interesting in themselves, but this is far from the case. The aforementioned burrito escapade shows some promise - and Kitsch, juggling action with goofy charisma, continues to prove himself as a star-in-the-making - but the inspired moments are few and far between.

Which leaves us with the action sequences. The effects work is perfectly serviceable, given the muted grey-and-blue military palette, and one or two sequences come close to being genuinely exciting: more than any of the naval battles, a one-on-one melee with an armoured alien specimen is well executed.

Neither can the film be faulted for not delivering on its formula. Beyond the introductory half, Battleship offers up the usual potpourri of fist-pumping military jingoism and rapid-cutting explodey scenes familiar to the genre since Independence Day first broke box office records in '96, and that has since been diabolically perfected by Hollywood ham director extraordinaire Michael Bay.

Though an all-out comparison to Bay's own Transformers saga might be unfair - though it's largely squashed under the weight of clichés, the film does have glimmers of charm and humour - this two-hour wannabe epic has something of the lumbering, lets-just-blow-money-on-effects-shots-and-hope-it-sticks vibe to it that has since become synonymous with Bay's project - which is also based on a Hasbro toy property.

A comparison which, by the way, could very easily have been avoided. Indeed, an attempt to shoehorn a reference to the original Battleship game towards the end - as a tactical innovation against the aliens, spearheaded by the offensively 'friendly Jap' Captain Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) - just comes across as laughable.

Pretty much the only thing that distinguishes this creaky collection of clichés is an equally cynical casting choice. Pop star Rihanna appears as a butch, gun toting Petty Officer.

Mercifully, her lines are brief and largely functional.

Mercilessly, we might see her 'develop' further in a sequel, which has already been promise in a post-credits snippet.   

 

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