You might object to the ceaseless violence in Battleship, and you may not care for its unapologetically corny dialogue, but you have to admit that at least the film has a positive, uplifting message: people of all nations, races, colors, creeds, genders, ages, sexual orientations, political parties, and disability statuses will come together and embrace our shared humanity one day. That day, to be precise, will be the one on which we face an invasion by hostile alien beings from a distant planet.
Battleship is based on the game first published in 1943 (that’s a long time in development hell), when victorious players would presumably have pictured themselves in the shoes of Admiral Nimitz taking revenge on the Japs. The movie’s producers seem to have concluded that the most appropriate way to adapt the game for the big screen was to create a film that’s essentially an act of penance: when the going gets tough (that is, when an alien spacewreck lands on top of 25,000 people in Hong Kong), everyone buries their hatchets and joins forces to fight the power. To list only a sampling of the pairs of people seen to fight alongside each other in this film, there’s American and Japanese, man and woman, white and black, young and old, disabled (in combat, natch) and abled, nerd and jock, and fat and thin. It’s a testament to the concise craft of screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber that at least four of those pairings describe the same two characters.
The film’s plot is what you might get if a den of Cub Scouts stayed up all night drinking Mountain Dew, shooting Nerf guns, and brainstorming. Sometime before the end of the Obama Administration, the U.S. has learned how to communicate well in excess of lightspeed and has built and launched a satellite for the purpose of sending a big howdy to an Earth-like planet in a distant galaxy. (Now that’s what I call a recovery.) Said planet promptly responds with an invasion of the summer’s second major crop of Aliens of Convenience: fearsome beings with powers precisely calibrated to be just almost too tough for Earth’s defenders to ovecome.
In this case, those defenders consist of one Navy destroyer trapped with the alien fleet (the aliens can kind of fly, but they decide to float instead just to be sporting) under a force field the aliens have erected to defend themselves from the rest of the world’s armed forces and also to help compel the ne’er-do-well Lieutenant Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, an actor whose surname would be better-suited to any other board-game movie adaptation) to man up and prove himself worthy of putting a ring on the bodacious bod of the admiral’s daughter (Brooklyn Decker). (Rihanna’s job as Gunner’s Mate Second Class Cora Raikes is to smile sassily and sweat sexily. She excels at both.) Can Hopper do it? Will we all be saved? Whoa! You don’t think I’d put a spoiler in this review, now, do you?
I’m going to choose my words very precisely here: Battleship is in no way a bad movie. Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) knows exactly where he wants to go with this material, and he rams the film forward like the good soldier he is: loud and proud. If you walk into a Battleship screening with expectations inappropriate for a film that takes as its source material a game consisting of ten toy boats, four plastic trays, and a handful of red and white pegs, you have only yourself to blame.
The film’s conclusion makes no explicit promise of a second chapter, but the fact that the climactic battle involves a steam-powered vessel with analog systems is a perfect setup for a sequel that will take this epic conflict to the next level: Electronic Battleship.