Considering that the pedigree of films based on board games goes back at least to the 1980s and Clue, I was not one who was inclined to dislike Battleship based on that fact alone. Of course, if you are there are many upcoming game-based films to avoid. However, this is one that could’ve worked but didn’t.
Some have lumped this film in with things like Battle: Los Angeles. While I did like that film (quite a bit) I did not like this one. I will avoid a comparative analysis but I believe the three biggest differences are that the former film had better performances; a simpler, swifter story-line; and is more proficient technically.
This film means well in a lot of regards, but it spends so much time at the beginning trying to establish Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), his relationship (Both with older brother and girlfriend) and even creates a set-piece in part to establish a rivalry between him and Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). What’s wrong with that? Inherently, nothing. However, it’s too much time and it forestalls the inevitable, especially when the inevitable too gets drawn out.
The need to do all this expository work might be a condemnation of the Armageddon-alien attack motif if you think about it. It’s so tired that by the implication alone the motif no longer compels an audience to feel. It’s helpful that less motivation is needed for the aliens so more time is spent on the humans, but that time is misspent. The other issue is that less time is spent building character once the attack starts. The film likely works better with just vital pieces of information disseminated beforehand then allowing details to unfold during the battle.
The developing of character is an issue, but combine that with the fact that some performances are just inept and things get harder to handle. A lot of the the ineptitude is in casting. Rihanna may be many things: beautiful, a talented singer, dancer, but an actress is not amongst those things she is. She’s never believable or compelling and perhaps most annoyingly the script, direction and/or editing insists upon her. Her character’s commentary is required in nearly all situations and she’s deployed in any and all situations, if only to create drama about whether or not she can get back to her actual post. It’s the kind of role Michelle Rodriguez could play in her sleep, alas she does not, sadly.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I try to go into a film as close to a blank slate as I can. Therefore, I did not realize beforehand there were actual veterans in the cast. It became very evident quickly.The usage of veterans in the film while commendable produces mixed results. Clearly, as an American I understand and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices of the armed forces. However, this is a film about aliens and it’s plausibility is dubious so actors are needed to make it somewhat believable. As a gesture it’s fantastic, and the older veterans are hilarious when given a line of comic relief, the key is the roles are small in those cases, and they’re doing what they did; helping on the ship. The involvement of Gregory D. Gadson in a larger capacity is an issue because his role is big. Granted he doesn’t get a lot of help from the story or dialogue, but all the more reason to have someone who can try and wring something out of it.
The dialogue features its share of ill-timed lines such as “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” when things are already rather cataclysmic even in their bubble, and clichéd lines that you’ve heard in too many action and sci-fi movies.
Much of the battle is frankly rather uninteresting and not very dramatically conveyed. As a matter of fact, it’s in cameo moments later on that few of the compelling moments. Aside from that most of the other intrigue, if you can really call it that, comes when the film actually most closely resembles the board game. There’s a sequence where the ship has lost radar capabilities and they use water displacement data from buoys to gauge where the enemy is and try to time their launches to hit coordinates designated by letters and numbers.
The aliens are also an issue. Almost any film needs to create aliens that are vastly superior and are on the brink of annihilating the planet, but then some flaw inherent in them makes itself known that we exploit or become the beneficiaries of by sheer luck, this likely dates back to War of the World in novel form. Here there’s a scan interface, which we are privy to in alien POV and when biological entities are found they are not assaulted directly, yet battleships and skyscrapers full of thousands of people get blown up. Combine that with the fact that all indications are this is an invasion and attempt at conquest then this really doesn’t make sense. The technology also stinks, and they’re aliens! Example: Any one with any foreign substance on their body to aid them in a physical task (eyeglasses, prosthetic legs) is unrecognizable as man or machine to these aliens.
Now, I went on and on about the aliens in part because of the pace. I mentioned the length and the pace works hand-in-hand with it. This film gives me the time to wonder about these silly aliens that I’m not all that scared by, and I’m not all that intrigued by. The alien invasion plot is by no means foolproof, but this film tries too hard in some aspects and doesn’t try hard enough in others and the end result is that it just doesn’t work at all.