out of Five
Running time: 131
Battleship is the sort of film the words “big dumb fun” could have been made for – it's frequently silly and some of the humour falls flat, but the characters are engaging, the effects are superb and the action sequences are inventive enough that the concept of being based on a board game actually pays off.
What's it all about?
Directed by Peter Berg, Battleship is based on the popular children's game by Milton Bradley and stars Taylor Kitsch as Alex Hopper, a screw-up who winds up joining the Navy after his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) pulls some strings to stop him getting arrested after his latest escapade. A few years later, Hopper is a US Naval Officer whose Destroyer becomes the first line of defence when a fleet of aliens invade the planet.
When the aliens set up a force field that separates Hopper's boat from the rest of the fleet, he finds himself in charge, so he and his crew – including foul-mouthed Petty Officer Raikes (Rihanna in her film debut), ginger crewman Ordy (Jesse Plemons) and rival captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) – have to use every ounce of cunning and ingenuity to save the day. Meanwhile, Hopper's fiancée Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who just happens to be the daughter of tough-talking Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), is trapped on a nearby Hawaiian island that's been targeted by the aliens.
Kitsch makes a solid, engaging lead and Plemons, Asano and Rihanna are all good fun in support, though Neeson is disappointingly side-lined for almost the entire film, which seems like a wasted opportunity. (Who doesn't want to see Liam Neeson kicking extra-terrestrial ass? Exactly).
The special effects are extremely good and a certain amount of invention has gone into the design of the film that actually makes a virtue of the film being based on a game: for example, the aliens fire smallish peg-like bombs into each ship and there's a genuinely thrilling, cleverly thought out central set-piece where Hopper and his crew are essentially playing Battleships (“J-17 – fire!”). Berg (who's clearly something of a Navy fanatic) has also managed to wangle the use of several real Navy ships, which helps cut down on the usual CGI overload.
On the minus side, the script is frequently silly, some of the humour either falls flat or feels forced and whole scenes seem to be missing – for example, the crew fish an alien out of the water off-screen and the force field set-up isn't at all clear. The film is also unashamedly jingoistic, but this pays unexpected comic dividends when a bunch of real-life Pearl Harbour veterans show up to help crew real-life Battleship the USS Missouri. Most disappointingly of all, however, no-one says “You sank my battleship!” at any point.
Battleship is a big, dumb popcorn movie, pure and simple. As such, it's a lot more fun than, say, the Transformers. Worth seeing.