The search for intelligent life in space has fascinated movie-goers and movie-makers alike from the very earliest days of film. We've been destroyed countless times and faced innumerable challenges, yet the prospect of encountering extraterrestrial life continues to thrill us.
If there's anything that thrills us more, it's ridiculous blockbusters packed with explosions, absurdly attractive stars and corny dialogue. "Battleship" has all of the above, and more.
In the movie, there's been a mission in place for the past few years to contact a distant planet that has a remarkably similar makeup to Earth. Something was listening, and aliens are hurtling towards Earth with the express purpose of taking over. When we first encounter Tom Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), it's in a Hawaiian bar where his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard) is discouraging him from making a move on a pretty lady (Brooklyn Decker). Hopper is a lazy low-life, and Stone is a Navy man hoping to shape up his bad boy brother by forcing him to join the Navy as well.
Turns out the pretty lady is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) and after a run-in with the law, Tom agrees to join. Fast forwarding a few years, Hopper is in love with the Admiral's daughter, but still has a tough time in the Navy, what with his defiance of all authority. Hopper's been notified that he'll be discharged from the Navy for poor conduct, but it's this independent fighting streak that will propel him to greatness eventually.
In Hawaii, the entire Navy and the navies of a few other nations have turned out for some competitive Naval exercises, but these are put on hold when several ships from outer-space wreak havoc around the globe. One alien ship lands and puts up a defensive shield around the islands. As the Navy ships are decimated one by one, it's up to Tom Hopper to take command. There's only a few brave men and women capable of facing off with the unknown enemy, and it's a full-on action-packed game of wits as they attempt to outmaneuver and outsmart their alien counterparts before time runs out.
Remarkably, no one involved in the military exercise gone wrong is particularly concerned with the alien invasion, asking one another several times if this is part of the exercise, and taking it all rather calmly. At one point, a small team goes out to get a closer look at the alien ship and are unable to determine what it is. A weapons expert (Rihanna) then mumbles, "Weird." Kitsch spends much of his screen-time staring with aggressive confusion into space.
Neeson and Rihanna have limited screen time, and most of the cast fares little better as they deliver awkward lines with half-hearted conviction. Several moments meant to be serious were unfortunately far more humorous than intended, and funny moments often felt contrived.
And yes, because this is a film based on the two player board game Battleship, we eventually see an epic battle play out in the style of the game. Though this feels interminably silly, it is still a bit exciting, and at the very least no one says, "You sunk my Battleship!" Even some of the enemy artillery look akin to the pegs used in the game, and this slavish devotion to detail is charming in its own way.
The visual effects are incredible, from the mass scale destruction to the tiniest details of water splashing against the hull of a ship. The alien life forms are pretty fascinating with their futuristic technology, amazing ships and the red spinning machinery of destruction will terrify you for weeks to come. There's plenty of robust action scenes that will satisfy even the most ardent action fans, though the film does allow several scenes to slide into silliness.
With multiple story lines, a few too many characters and a stunted script, "Battleship" doesn't quite sink, but it flounders.