The popular board game inspires a “Transformers”-like action flick. Is “Battleship” worthy? J.P. has a review.
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano and Liam Neeson
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber
In Summer 2012, the battle for Earth begins at sea.
Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights) directs and produces Battleship, an epic-scale action-adventure that unfolds across the seas, in the skies and over land as our planet fights for survival against a superior force.
Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch as Lieutenant Alex Hopper, a naval weapons officer assigned to USS John Paul Jones; Alexander Skarsgård as Hopper’s older brother, Stone, Commanding Officer of USS Sampson; global music superstar Rihanna, making her motion-picture debut as Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes, Hopper’s crewmate and a weapons specialist on USS John Paul Jones; Brooklyn Decker as Sam Shane, Hopper’s fiancée and a physical therapist specializing in the rehabilitation of military combat veterans; Tadanobu Asano, as Captain Yugi Nagata, Commanding Officer of the Japanese destroyer Myoko and Hopper’s archrival; and Liam Neeson as Hopper and Stone’s superior (and Sam’s father), Admiral Shane, Commander of the Pacific Fleet.
Supporting the cast are Hamish Linklater as Cal Zapata, a scientist who mans the international satellite station in Hawaii that searches the skies for signs of life; Jesse Plemons as Jimmy “Ordy” Ord, a boatswain aboard USS John Paul Jones; New Zealander John Tui as the ship’s engine room expert, Chief Petty Officer Walter “The Beast” Lynch; and, in his professional acting debut, U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson, a battalion leader who lost both legs in Iraq in 2007. Gadson plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, an Army combat veteran and double amputee who begins his recovery just as the alien attack begins.
Inspired by Hasbro’s classic naval-combat game, Battleship is produced by Brian Goldner and Bennett Schneir of Hasbro (the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises), Scott Stuber (Safe House, Couples Retreat), Film 44’s Sarah Aubrey (The Kingdom), along with Duncan Henderson (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Perfect Storm). The action-adventure is written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (Red).
Battleship was created by the Milton Bradley game company in 1943, as a strategy-styled grid game played with a pad and pencil. In 1963, it was resurrected as a board game. And now, the famous game has inspired an estimated$200 million dollar budget film for the big screen, directed by Peter Berg (“The Rundown,” “Hancock”). Capitalizing on their successful toy/game market, Hasbro has been bringing their own brand of high action films, such as “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe,” and hopes to continue with that trend with “Battleship.”
At first, I really couldn’t see how the concept would work, considering this was a film based on a simple board game. However, Berg and crew somehow etch out a descent effort of nicely-crafted visuals and in-depth story threads. To some respect, I felt this film also piggy backed on the “robots in disguise” franchise, which I’ll explain later in the review. Getting right to the point, I did find “Battleship” a little more entertaining than I expected. To my surprise, there is a good deal of time spent on developing a backbone to set up events in the film.
In the first act, we experience the accounts of a screw-up named Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, “John Carter,” TV’s “Friday Night Lights”), as he celebrates his birthday with older brother Naval Officer Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s “True Blood”). There is evidence of Alex’s ambition, as he spots the attractive Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), Admiral Shane’s (Liam Neeson) daughter, at the bar ordering a chicken burrito. Alex comes to her rescue, after the bartender tells her the kitchen is closed, and breaks into a convenience store to score a burrito for her. He, of course, is arrested for this action. Alex’s brother, who is tired of little brother’s stupid antics, issues an ultimatum: “Get off my couch and join the Navy or else.”
In the second act, NASA shoots a transmission into deep space to planet G. Hoping to contact life in outer space, an eager radio astronomer, Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater), supervises the transmission. Much to his apprehension, he murmurs to his colleague that if intelligent life were to reach Earth, it would be like Christopher Columbus discovering the Indians; only we would be the Indians. Little did he realize his nightmare would be arriving at light speed: alien crafts shoot through space in formation. As one of their ships is hit by our satellite, pieces of the damaged ship fall to Earth nearly leveling Hong Kong, while the remaining ships splash down in the Pacific to form a force field around themselves and the Navy’s fleet. The game is afoot between our destroyers and alien technology. For an action sequence such as this, it takes it’s time to develop. Ships from both sides make threatening postures, sizing each other up — bringing about some tense periods. Like in the game, you wondered who would strike first. This set up prompts young Alex Hopper to put on the heroics, becoming the man his brother wanted him to be and earn his chance to take command.
The effects laden game of alien vs. human also manages to muster up enough thrills to keep the audience glued to their seats. Yet when the action does come alive, its presentation is far more subtle than “Transformers” altogether, but no less vicious to watch. When the aliens arrive, that’s when the real fun begins.
Unlike Michael Bay (“Armageddon, “”Transformers”), who likes to blow things up every second, Berg tones things down, like cutting many of the battles to a minimum and leaving room for the characters to plan their attack. As I mentioned above, there are some similarities to “Transformers” when it comes to the effects and the way everything plays out. We are treated to scenes with huge nimble ships that are capable to hop around the ocean like jet skis. The funny thing is when these beings engage in battle, you’d expect laser arrays and some type of advanced weaponry to be on broad a ship like theirs, but not in this case. Instead the aliens use projectiles and bombs etc to take out our defenses. HMM! Curious, why don’t they use laser canons? As their crafts rise to the sky, they transform from watercrafts to aircrafts in seconds. A lot of battles scenes are filled with tons of machines ravaging cities, vehicles, etc, with things blowing up left and right in chaotic fashion. Again, the fun part is just beginning when the beings break out their secret weapon, for which I call robotic “Cuisine Arts,” metal balls of razor sharp blades and scales that can viciously shred through anything standing in their path. These scenes are the most talked about through out the film, and they were ferociously fun.
There’s an especially apropos scene where Gunner’s Mate Second Class Cora “Weps” Raikes (Rihanna), has to locate their enemy using ocean waves placed upon a grid. Sound familiar? If you’ve played the game, I’m sure you know. Other moments that work pretty well involve Gregory D Gadson, a real life Iraqi war veteran, who plays disabled vet Lieutenant Colonel Nick Canales. There is even a third act that doesn’t stop at just obliterating the enemy, but has to do with stopping the aliens sending out a transmission home. You will be upset if you don’t stay in your seat to see what occurs after the credits.
“Battleship” arrives just in time to kick off the summer, and it’s sure to evoke a sense of patriotism during the Memorial Day weekend. Again, I was surprised that it wasn’t the disappointment that I figured it to be. It pretty much boasts more of the same type of in your face, blow’em up action as with any action film. Unfortunately, I have to say the film left me a little “board” — or is it bored — after a while. It’s not that the movie is terribly written, just drab near the end. There are no real surprises except for a third act, so I’ll give it a solid B-.