Once upon a time there was a promising directer by the name of Peter Berg, an intelligent man, it would seem, on the back of such movies as the darkly comic Very Bad Things, sporting opus Friday Night Lights and political thriller The Kingdom. It was around the time of his making The Kingdom, in fact, that he was touted as the next Michael Mann. That pedigree, however, is totally absent during Battleship, a $200 million SFX money grabbing bonanza that somehow has less soul than Michael Bay’s Transformers output.
Taylor Kitch is Lieutenant Hopper, social reprobate and all round fuck-up who enlists in the US Navy on the behest of his brother (Alexander Skarsgård). During a training exercise, Kitch and crew are forced to battle it out with a hostile alien race who, for reasons that are never explained, are out to destroy the world.
There’s no denying that every penny of the film’s mega-budget is on screen. Once the first battle with the antagonists starts there is rarely a moment where CGI gun porn isn’t present and accounted for. As expected, things explode in a suitably loud and obnoxious fashion whilst our grizzled heroes bark orders and spew one-liners. To expect anything less from a film based on a toy franchise defeats the point, and for those in the audience under the age of twelve, it will likely be the greatest movie they’ve ever seen.
For the rest of the audience, however, once the action starts, it becomes apparent that all notions of story, character or coherence are jettisoned in place of the next ejaculatory money shot. Noisy action, unless grounded by a plot or characters that you care about is just that: noisy action. Is it too much to ask to have a human element to the carnage, a cause where the stakes are high enough for there to be legitimate tension? Even Transformers features the underlying story of the geeky kid buying his first car. The ‘end of the world’ motif has no weight when the principals are faceless archetypes, nameless fodder whose sole purpose is to react when things inevitably blow up.
It is easy to lambast a movie such as this for being soulless, yet with Peter Berg at the helm, a man who has proven he can mix noisy action with rounded characters and, dare it be said, an element of intelligence, the faults with Battleship become depressing. One would like to think that, given Berg’s track record thus far (excluding Hancock, another effects heavy snooze-fest), there is a delirious knowing here, a parody on blockbuster genre conventions which will explain how flat-out stupid this film is at times. It is clear that, given the film’s budget, Berg has a blast squeezing in as many ludicrously OTT effects shots as he can but after a two-hour-plus barrage of relentless flashy visuals and deafening noises, Berg and co seem more interested in pummeling the audience into submission than engaging them.
If anything, Battleship, much like Battle Los Angeles, works like a shitty video game being played badly by an incompetent gamer. There’s no fun involved, only frustration. The visuals are sometimes impressive yet its problems are too big to be covered up by fit inducing money shots and excessive banging. Beat yourself over the head with a frying pan for two hours whilst having a friend scream loudly in your ear – it will deliver the same painful experience.
A hot contender for the loudest movie of the year, 2012.
Best line.: ‘Lets see if we can’t buy earth another day’. ‘…Who talks like that?’