Itís big. Itís loud. Itís got just enough plot and a few fine quips to tie up all the special effects. BATTLESHIP is what a summertime popcorn movie is all about. Based on the Hasbro game, and co-produced by that manufacturer, the film adds space invaders to the traditional maritime conflict, yet never forgets its humble roots as a board game played with pegs and increasingly educated guesses.
The protagonists are the standard issue for this sort of formula film. Thereís rakish and impetuous younger brother, Alex (Taylor Kitsch), forever disappointing straight-arrow, naval officer, older brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard). While celebrating Alexís birthday in a bar, Stone reads Alex the riot act about wasting his life while presenting him with a be-candled cupcake and the advice to use his birthday wish wisely. Of course he doesnít. Heís caught a glimpse of Brooklyn Deckerís breasts as they sauntered into the bar, with Decker attached, of course, but arriving a few seconds later, so carefully are they purveyed by a clever costumer. Heís driven to a wildly rakish and impetuous act. Sheís sort of impressed, even when the police arrive. Stone, on the other hand, is less sanguine. Sheís the daughter of his commanding officer (a gruffly imposing and little-seen Liam Neeson), which could affect his professional life. Sheís also a physical therapist for the military, which could, and probably does, affect Alexís personal life as the two of them, inevitably, pair bond.
None of this stands in the way of Alex becoming a naval officer, too, and one with great responsibility on one of the ships taking part in the war games our guys will be playing with their counterparts from Japan. Alex, unfortunately, finds a rival in his personal counterpart in the Japanese navy, doing something about it that is rakish and impetuous and that threatens to end his military career. Of course, once the alien craft arrive, the rivalry will cease, and Alexís penchant for the rakish and the impetuous will become vital assets in saving the planet. As well as saving Brooklyn Decker and her secondary sexual characteristics. She, in keeping with the synchronicity necessary for formula films, is in exactly the wrong spot when the aliens land, and, hence, in charge of the land-locked B-plot that also features the two most interesting characters in the film. The first is her patient, the double-amputee with anger and identity issues. Played by actual double-amputee and army officer Gregory D. Gadsen, he is at his best with the other most interesting character, Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater), the astrophysicist who opines at the beginning of the film that sending a signal out into space towards an Earth-like planet will end badly. Heís right, and the barely controlled hysteria of his ongoing and increasing bemusement is a delightful counterpoint to all the heroics going on elsewhere in the film. Yet when Gadsen tells him to acquire some courage, all those years of military training and combat experience make for a compelling enough command, delivered quietly it should be noted, to make Calís subsequent stab at heroics plausible. Also plausible is the way the script gives the aliens an unexpected weakness that the humans then exploit in interesting ways.
Meanwhile back at sea, special effects are the order of the day, and they are both well-executed and suitably massive for the most part. Behemoth metal structures rising from the impossible depths of the Pacific near Hawaii are all well and good, but itís the details that hit home. The lethal devices lobbed at the ships are shaped exactly like the little pegs used in the board game. Plus, the clever way the humans devise to track alien craft that are immune to radar also echoes the game. Of the new touches, nothing is better than a flying chainsaw with particular tastes.
Back on the high seas. Kitsch does the courageous bits well, and the self-recriminations, and still handles the light comedy with a deft enough brio, but itís Rhianna as a feisty weapons officer who really sparkles with a kick-butt attitude and the moxie to back it up while still looking fabulous. If her makeup stays just a bit too tidy, chalk it up to the fantasy element of the storyline.
The battles are plotted out with plenty of feints, bluffs, and seriously slick moves leading to a finale that is genuinely rousing. Rousing also applies to the slick plot device that leads the USS Missouri back into action with a crew of very Old Salts showing the Young Whippersnappers a thing or two. In between the aliens wreak havoc in the usual ways until about half-way through, when there is a semi-twist that breathes some life back into the film.
BATTLESHIP is not a masterpiece, nor is it dreck. Itís a fun film that never taxes the audienceís intellect while never quite talking down to it either. Itís designed to be, and is, a good, and very noisy, time.