Thu
May 17 2012 11:00am

“Prepare to fire.” “Sir, which weapons?” “All of them!” — Battleship

Battleship is not a good film. It is, on the other hand, a ridiculously awesome one.

I realise this is something of a contradiction in terms. Bear with me.

It doesn’t open promisingly. To be honest, one could skip the first ten or twenty minutes of the film and lose very little by it. In the first scenes, we learn that our protagonist, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), is a dudebro screwup with an ego who’ll do anything to impress a girl, whose brother (Alexander Skarsgård) inveigles him into joining the U.S. Navy — at which point, we learn that Mr. Hopper also has a temper and some impulse control issues. Meanwhile, scientists are sending out signals to a newly-discovered planet in the Goldilocks zone, far, far away. If someone chooses to stop by Earth in answer to such signals, says one scientist — who seems to have a greater sense of self-preservation than the others — it’ll be “like Columbus and the Indians. And we’re the Indians.”

Fast-forward a few years.

This is where the film really gets its feet under it, when Hopper’s ship is on manoeuvres with an international flotilla, under a cloud and about to be dismissed from the service because of a locker-room fight over a soccer match with a Japanese captain (Nagata, played by Tadanobu Asano) from the same flotilla. His physical-therapist fiancée, Sam, is the daughter of the admiral, and it looks like his wedding prospects are about as doomed as his career, because he has to ask Admiral Liam Neeson for permission to marry said daughter.*

*Does that make you slightly ill? It makes me slightly ill. Sam is rather awesome, when the camera is not framing her specifically to show off her womanly bits, and actually gets to do stuff relevant to the plot. Having her fiancé ask her father for her hand in marriage — and having it be a Big Thing — is retrograde in the extreme.

There also a battleship docked handily over the proverbial mantelpiece.

Now, finally, at last we get to the aliens.

This being Hollywood, interstellar signals travel faster than the speed of light. So whatever was hanging around out in the big black yonder can get its alien ass in gear tout de suite and arrive on planet Earth while are protagonists are all still young.

But none of us are here for the physics. We’re here for the explosions and the ridiculously entertaining amount of BOOM ALIENS EXPLODING SHIPS ALIENS BOOM.

Hong Kong is in ruins. Five alien ships are down in the Pacific. Three destroyers — Hopper’s, his brother’s, and Captain Nagata’s — are trapped inside a forcefield the aliens have thrown up around O’ahu, separated from the rest of the fleet. When the chips are down, when it’s do or die, can Alex Hopper save the world?

Spoiler! The answer is yes. With help.

This is basically space opera at sea level. There is character development (in small amounts) and a plot arc: solid tension, unprepossessing dialogue that occasionally breaks out into half-decent banter, and several CROWNING MOMENTS OF SPLODEY AWESOME.

Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away there.

Rihanna puts in a solid performance as Raikes, a supremely professional Navy PO who fires the big guns and is a dab hand with a rifle. She may be one of only three women in the Navy, judging by the film! But, still. It is pleasant to have a lady making things go BOOM.

There is a solid and entertaining subplot involving Sam, one of her patients, and the mountain from which the entirely-too-optimististic-scientists have been routing the signal to outer space. There are Moments Of Awesome. The battleship positioned so handily over the mantelpiece at the start of Act Two is taken up with a vengeance in the final act.

 And it does homage to the boardgame very nicely without in any way making the callback seemed forced or unnatural.

Alas, the last five minutes of the film are terrible and saccharine and my god we are here for the SPLODEY BITS not the hackneyed sentiment people! MORE SPLODEY BITS!

In fact, tear out the “romantic” part with a spork and it would have fewer moments of utter cringe to go with the FANTASTIC SPLODEY SEA BATTLE parts.

It hit a bunch of my narrative kinks: do-or-die (do-and-die) bravery, last stands, nick-of-time reversals, splodey bits, a woman with a big gun. In conclusion: Bechdel test failure, Aliens vs. Really Big Ships, and REALLY GOOD SPLODEY BITS.

Battleship is a much better film than it has any right to be. It’ll never be deep. But sometimes you really do just want to watch the world explode.

BOOM.

Like that.


Liz Bourke likes watching things explode. Find her @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.

25 comments
JessJank
1. JessJank
It's nice to hear about a splodey movie from a fellow-female-splodey-movie-lover! How refreshing.
Chin Bawambi
2. bawambi
This film will be Independence Day for me - one of the worst films of all time LOL. But I guess that POS works for some people as well. YMMV.

BawambioftheutterlyunbelievabledrekhatingAiel
JessJank
3. jelsel
explosions and loud AC/DC make half a movie!! :D:D:D
JessJank
4. Herb512
If it's Sam that's insisting he ask her father, then there's nothing wrong with it. Doesn't women's lib involve a certain amount of liberty for women to order their lives as they choose by definition?
Brian R
5. Mayhem
Yep, I'm firmly in favour of a regular dose of good old fashioned movies full of shit-what-goes-boom on a regular basis. Especially when the director is completely unashamed about it, so doesn't hope to reach for any heights of directorial glory other than rule of cool.

It's why I love the Expendables, and a bunch of michael bay trashy messes. They'll never be classed as good, but damn, they can be fun...
JessJank
7. Qurtyslyn
He's Liam Fricken Neeson. There's no way you don't ask him for permission to marry his daughter. And if he says no, you leave and be happy he let you live.
Sarah Hale
8. rocketshale
hee. might need to get the large popcorn for this one.....
JessJank
9. build6
@7 - damn straight
JS Bangs
11. jaspax
Wait, so there are people who think it's retrograde to ask a dad for his daughter's hand? It's just politeness. It doesn't imply that the daughter is owned by the father, or has no ability to make decisions on her own, or whatever.

Also +1 to Qurtyslyn@7.
JessJank
12. iola
@jaspax No, that's EXACTLY what "asking the father" means. It's not polite, it's ownership.

That being said, I TOTALLY AGREE WITH #7 Qurt!
Scott Silver
13. hihosilver28
*open can, let worms out*
I have always viewed it as asking for him to bless the union. If I know that marrying her is the right option and he said no, my fiancee and I would sit down and discuss how to deal with the fallout from the marriage. But, it wouldn't nix the wedding.

But having my father-in-law's blessing is important to me, and I want to respect familial ties and for my relationship to be on great terms with my in-laws. For me it all comes from a postition of respect. Respect for my fiancee, and respect for her father. It is NOT a transaction for someone who has no will.
Bridget McGovern
14. BMcGovern
Personally, I'm deeply uncomfortable with the whole concept of asking anyone's father for their blessing to do....pretty much anything, as an adult. It might have devolved into a form of politeness, but the practice definitely has its roots in the whole concept of women as chattel and marriage as transfer of property--hence the preoccupation with the father as the one who gets to "bless" a union (or not). Why not the mother? Why not both parents?

In modern practice, I'm sure plenty of people do talk to male and female parents (or step-parents, or whatever family members are in the picture)--but whenever movies (or books, or TV shows) endorse and promote this particular tradition, I get extremely squeamish. There's a fine line between "blessing" and "permission," here, and there are plenty of ways to show respect for a partner's parents that don't involve blurring that line.
JessJank
15. schroob
Let's face it: if Michael Bay put out a movie called "Sh*t Blows Up" and made two hours of a seat-shaking, AC/DC blaring, mushroom-clouded pyrogasm of splodey bits, in super-mega 4D (enveloping you in a smog smelling of burnt rubber and man sweat) it would be the biggest selling movie of all time. Ten billion dollars within the first month. Man, I get goosebumps just from thinking about the McDonald's Happy Meal tie-in promo toys.
Harry Burger
16. Lightbringer
Sounds like I'd be better off just seeing Avengers again. It had 'splodey bits, epic fights, crowning moments of awesome, AND a plot, assuming you don't care too much about who these aliens are and whatnot. Plus HULK SMASH!
JessJank
17. chosen
Oh thank goodness, I was getting tierd of all the plot, tight dialogue and exposition in today's movies. I am here strictly for the splosions and the AC/DC well just thunderstruck actually.
Joe Vondracek
18. joev
I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that there's a scene at the end where Admiral Liam F'ing Neeson tells Hopper that, hell, yes, Hopper can marry his daughter, and he'd be proud to call him "son".

No word yet on whether Hopper's mom thinks Sam is good enough for her boy.

We like the guns, the guns that go BOOM.
We're Tigre and Bunny, and we like the BOOM.
Asia H.
19. Gamine
All I want to know is this: Did anyone utter those famous words? "You sunk my battleship."
Steve Allan
20. Lastyear
Saw this as a sneak preview last night. Worst film of the year so far. Rhianna is godawful and is laughable. Solid performance?
Bill Stusser
22. billiam
You're kidding with this review, right?

This is why good movies like John Carter tank at the box office and total shit like Battleship can make hundreds of millions of dollars. Unbelievable. You couldn't pay me to see this movie.

Also, I played Battleship many, many times as a kid and not once did it involve an alien invasion.

I agree with Lightbringer at 16, think I'll just go see the Avengers again.
JessJank
23. Andrea K
Battleship Aliens: Can fly all the way to your galaxy, but very bad drivers...

The review sums it up nicely. Drop the first, incredibly bad half hour then it's fun gung-ho with lots of plotholes. I liked the retired army guy.
Ian Gazzotti
24. Atrus
I...
I didn't hate this movie. That was Transformers 3.
I was just thoroughly bored. It lasted about three times as long as was necessary, and it was nowhere as entertaining as a stupid 'splodey movie should be. And the 'asking for her hand' bit, ugh.
I'll admit that Rihanna was very good for her part, but when the high point of a movie with Alexander Skarsgaard and Liam Neeson is Rihanna, we have a problem.

(You want to see a stupid funny movie with awesome fights and a killer soundtrack? Enthiran. It's in Tamil but you don't even need subtitles to appreciate it. That's how awesome it is.)
Marcus W
25. toryx
billiam @ 22:

100% agree with your sentiments re: Battleship vs. John Carter.

As far as the whole, "Asking the father for permission thing" goes...

How many people who are in favor of this practice had the female half of the relationship ask the male's parent(s) for permission to wed them?

As far as I'm concerned until both sides of the relationship are asking both sets of parents for the honor/ rights/ whatever of marrying their offspring, it's a sexist, outdated practice.
JessJank
26. Marky Mark
Seriously?
for me, first half hour was best part of movie - quest for a chicken burrito = hilarious

As for those taking issue with asking blessing for hand in marriage.... You need to lighten up. Sometimes a blender is just a blender (parenthood quote). It's polite, respectful, and done at the bequest of the FEMALE. If anything, it was her calling the shots, not him or her dad. Daughter of a career military officer...what else would you expect? If you take issue it is only due to your own insecurities.
Overall I give battleship a 7.5 of 10
Cheers

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