Battleship replicates the excitement of playing the board game it is based upon, but isn’t anywhere near as engaging. It is more than content to simply break even, to hit the median; it has no ambition beyond having you, when asked if it was worth the price of admission, to reply, “I guess.” This is an “I guess” movie. Did you like it? “Uh, I guess.” Will I enjoy it? “I guess.” Did you watch a movie today? “Oh yeah, I guess I did.” The movie is fun only when compared to a barren afternoon. Like the board game, it’s perfectly fine if lying around there isn’t a Trivial Pursuit, a deck of cards, or a wall with drying paint.
Look, the summer is full of placeholders and I shouldn’t be so hard on Battleship simply for being the first one of the season. But we got off to such an encouraging start with The Avengers, it was difficult to be reminded that the majority of what is foisted upon us over the next four months will be at the Battleship level or worse. Probably worse. In fact, ifBattleship is the worst movie of the season, we’re in for a pretty good summer. It’s high energy, it has a couple of clever devices, and it delivers on its intentions, meager as they may be.
Risking the scorn of purists, Battleship has made some drastic departures from the board game; instead of two navies clumsily trading missiles, this time aliens invade the Earth with giant warships, and the U.S., with some help from the Japanese, is tasked with taking them down. But before any of that nastiness we are given two brothers, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård), rapidly rising in the military, and the ne’er-do-well Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch). On Alex’s 26th birthday a beautiful woman enters the bar and expresses her desire for a chicken burrito. The bar’s kitchen is closed, so Alex promises the woman to retrieve the item within five minutes. He discovers the gas station across the way is also closed, so he breaks in with some difficulty, secures the burrito, and runs back to the bar in hot pursuit by the cops. He is Tased and put down but is able to get the woman her dinner, earning a smile. The next morning, big brother Stone alerts Alex that he’s going to be joining the Navy. It seems to me that after breaking and entering, destroying quite a bit of private property, and resisting arrest (he doesn’t steal the burrito; we see that he leaves the money), Alex would be locked up until his 36th birthday and then be allowed into the military only with a waiver, but I guess he got off with just a misdemeanor and a fine because rather soon, in the very next scene, in fact, Alex has risen to the rank of lieutenant. And the burrito thing worked, too, as Alex and the woman, Sam (Brooklyn Decker), are together now and Alex is working up the nerve to ask her father, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), for permission to marry her. Alas, the aliens attack before he has the opportunity.
The aliens arrive in intimidating warships with devastating ammunition, including the movie’s most inventive creation: spherical gadgets of gears and red energy that can cut through metal a lot better than those knives on late-night infomercials. When released, these orbs bounce around, lacing whiplike lashes of terrible power at cars and buildings (at one point they saw a destroyer in half). The warships are fairly standard, less interesting than the snake-like leviathans that destroyed Manhattan in The Avengers and less than even the nasty grinders that tore up Chicago in last year’s Transformers movie, but they get the job done as imposing objects. When the aliens themselves emerge from the belly of their transports, they are protected by intense body armor, modeled after numerous recent video games, and when those are peeled away, they look more or less like us except with lizard eyes and fearsome goatees made of quills. The script introduces the idea that they might be jeopardized by our sun, a sly suggestion of the simple smoking gun that has turned back many a movie alien invasion, but Battleship goes only halfway with it and, besides, the aliens are much more susceptible to bullets and missiles.
The movie does an adequate job of telling its story and keeps our interest the whole time, but it never achieves much more than that. Bright invention is few and far between (besides the circular alien weapons, I also enjoyed the final battle in which the retired USS Missouri, now a museum ship, is put back in action and crewed by Vietnam and World War II vets). There’s a star here (Neeson), a couple of beautiful women (Decker and Rihanna, who plays a petty officer on one of the ships), and explosions, all the traits of an action movie. It’s like when a child tries to imitate an adult at a party. They seem to know all the big points, they almost get it, and you indulge it for a little while, but soon enough it’s time to resume drinking and talking about the economy or the state of art in America or whatever it may be. If this feels like a paltry recommendation, just know that it is a paltry movie but it’s good enough. I guess.