Rating: 3.5 of 5
It doesn’t happen often, but Battleship surprised me. I expected it to be big and dumb and flashy and loud, lots of special effects and little story and less characters. But, I was curious and thought a little bit of big and flashy might be fun. Plus Taylor Kitsch never hurts.
Instead, it was formulaic but actually smart, with a little bit of story but decent characters.
The plus before the minus:
Battleship was a smart script, which I didn’t expect at all. I mean, the first two thirds were formulaic for a big sci-fi movie; this is our set up and this is when things go wrong and this is when the hero gets his ass kicked and then when his world changes… It was kind of paint by numbers but it was trying hard to be good at the paint by numbers; to make you care about the characters; to give them reasons for getting from one number to the next. The third act, though, breathed a whole new life into the movie. It broke from the formula and was finally exciting and meaningful and a lot of fun.
The other thing that impressed me is how real it was (and, yes, I say that knowing it’s a movie about aliens). But in every other sci-fi movie where we’re set upon by a bigger, badass enemy the only way out is some loophole, some random anomaly that allows us to avert disaster. But this was more like a real war movie, that we found our way to equal footing, that they might have bigger guns but that doesn’t mean they’re smarter than us or that tactically we can’t still have an advantage. There were no loopholes and also no quick fixes. It’s a nuts and bolts movie and that was refreshing.
And then, there was exceptional use of AC/DC. Peter Berg has effectively made a rock star movie and it works well. Except when the sound effects are too loud. There’s an entire section in the second half of the movie that not only would I have trimmed significantly, I would have made a lot quieter. Transformers is able to build a movie half on its sound effects, but that doesn’t mean everyone should do it. And it doesn’t mean they should do it that loudly.
Which makes my production score difficult. Great music from Steve Jablonsky. Awesome rock and roll that provides the perfect energy for the moment. Perfectly competent special effects, which was to be expected. But I really want to knock it down a little for just being too loud.
The knock in the story department is somehow both a detraction and an attribute. It’s a movie based on a board game, which isn’t the most inane thing anyone has ever based a movie on. But they tried really hard to incorporate the game into the story in more ways than just the fact that they’re navy ships out on the ocean battling the bad guys. I felt it was kind of cheesy in that moment when they’re actually playing battleship in the movie. But, if they had to shoehorn that element into the film they were pretty intelligent about how they justified it. I have to give them credit for doing it well, even though I kind of can’t help but roll my eyes as they do it.
Another great thing about Battleship is the sense of legacy and respect for veterans. We have this vast resource of men and women whose bodies may not be what they once were but whose minds and hearts are still noble and strong and courageous. It was fantastic to see Peter Berg acknowledge that and utilize it and allow himself to have fun with it. It really added a great element to the story and made it seem more significant somehow.
Having said all that, even though there were several things I really appreciated and thought Battleship did well, I still wouldn’t say it’s a brilliant film. The first two acts are still formulaic and I would cut at least 20 min from the second half and you can’t deny it’s a big, half empty, flashy summer movie. Just with a really decent script underneath.