Warning: This review discusses a key scene.
What nation possesses naval might sufficient to take on the United States? That, one assumes, was the question that dogged the men with the unenviable job of, I suppose you could say adapting, the Hasbro game Battleship for the big screen. As the US Navy has more tonnage on the ocean that the next 13 navies combined, it was going to be tough finding a fleet fit for purpose. And which country do you mark as an aggressor? This is supposed to be fun. No one wants to offend a trading partner. Even the Chinese go to the movies.
The solution? Extra-terrestrial seafaring conquerors, invited by us naturally, in an idiotic attempt at friendship and interstellar communication. These malevolent mariners, whose military spending exceeds even that of Uncle Sam, mean business but the Pacific fleet, assembled at Hawaii, to stroke the home crowd’s cultural memory of Pearl Harbor, knows a little something about surprise attacks from malevolent foes and so the war with Japan is restaged for the Call of Duty generation, sans the politics.
But hang on, before you tut at the anticipated jingoism payload, delivered from the hulk of the U.S.S Michael Bay, you should know that the old enemy, those one time Hirohito drones, are now freedom’s friends. You see the world’s navies have assembled for wargames exercises and – well, let’s just say old grievances are put to one side. This of course, is the internationally friendly version of warfare, but because the home crowd expect to see their tax dollars in action and have reassuring reminders of the nation’s moral superiority shot across their bow, Battleship doubles as a recruiting video for Yankee sailors. It’s the very reason the Navy co-operates with Hollywood so emphatically.
Even a disabled veteran gets to do his bit.
One incredible scene, that will surely decide whether or not you’re fully on board, finds a desperate and sunken Taylor Kitsch in need of a vessel to strike at E.T’s communication post. His crowd pleasing solution is to commandeer the mothballed U.S.S Missouri, fully crewed with waiting WWII veterans, thanks to an earlier medal ceremony. After ten minutes work, two minutes of which involved removing a vending machine from the boat deck, she’s ready to go (forearmed like any good museum) and the old boys are back in action, giving the aliens a taste of good old fashioned heroism. You couldn’t make it up, yet somebody did.
Battleship should be nigh on unwatchable, after all it takes it cues from the Bay school, right down to the garish colours, Barbie doll girlfriend character, wall to wall CG destruction and broad comedy, yet somehow, astonishingly, something joyful and good natured emerges.
Director Peter Berg, whose Hancock showed he’s got an assured touch when balancing laughs with high concept spectacle, repeats the feat here. Improving on Bay’s “fucking the frame” mentality with a scintilla of story-telling nous, Berg takes time to introduce some characters and develops them to the point where we’re just about ready to care about their fate. Once the invaders hit the water, there’s a relentless hour of competently orchestrated mayhem, but Berg, having built his stock of goodwill in the opening act, holds our attention thereafter. I confess I may have even felt short changed when the action abruptly ended. Wanting more wasn’t in the script.
Loud, ridiculous and US Navy propaganda it may be, but Battleship transcends its inauspicious origins to become a dumb actioner with a sense of fun. You could ask for more but you wouldn’t get it.