Mania Review: Battleship -

Mania Grade: F

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  • Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard,Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker and Peter MacNicol
  • Written by: Jon and Eric Hoeber
  • Directed by: Peter Berg
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 130 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Battleship


By Rob Vaux     May 18, 2012

Remember when they first announced the creation of a movie based on a board game and the filmgoing public tried with all its might to convince the powers that be that it was a really really bad idea? We should have tried harder. We should have hopped off those trams at Universal Studios, stormed the Hasbro bungalow (with its convenient Mr. Potato Head statue for easy identification), shaken the decision makers by their $2,000 coat lapels, and screamed “If you make this movie we will hunt you for sport!” Maybe if we had done that we could have prevented this… thing from seeing the inside of movie theaters.

Battleship plays like a parody of itself. It exercises no storytelling acumen of any sort and displays only those images thoroughly vetted for maximum blandness. It has no point of view, it delivers no interesting ideas, and its key message seems to be that loud explosions work better than slightly less loud ones. It executes elaborate effects shots to no apparent end and treats its cast with a mixture of confusion and contempt. Most tellingly, it bores us to tears – we’re forty-five minutes in before the vaunted Navy vs. Space Invaders throwdown finally begins – and even its ballyhooed money shots feel like B-reels from other, better films. Say what you will about Michael Bay, at least he means it. Battleship resembles nothing so much as a Third-World Bay knock-off: assembled from junkyard scraps after the serial numbers have been filed off.

Disasters this epic make it hard to know where to start. How does one quantify a nuclear meltdown? The board game origins are an obvious culprit, a bad idea from the get-go that just gets worse with each new layer of “development” piled on top. In their efforts to turn the random selection of map grids into a gripping story, the filmmakers range so far afield that the actual elements associated with the game feel like a hastily-added afterthought. They’re propped up by every concept in the Hollywood blockbuster playbook, each one clinging desperately to ancient, desiccated formula.

And frankly, as alien invasions go, this ranks as one of the most inept in movie history. After Earth sends a signal to a distant star, a quintet of Deadly Space Killships arrives to do us whatfor. One of the ships breaks up on contact – not an auspicious beginning to global conquest – and the other four set up an impenetrable shield around Hawaii so they can lob a series of giant razor-bladed globes into our major metropolitan centers. The only hope is a single Navy destroyer, trapped inside the shield during a war game and commanded by professional fuck-up Hunky McSquarejaw (Taylor Kitsch).

Logic holes are to be expected in a film like this and Battleship sports some big ones. Grand Canyon big. But if the filmmakers executed their game plan with any kind of competence, those holes wouldn’t matter. We wouldn’t ask why the aliens don’t just make their shield a smaller radius, or why they need our radio towers to send for more ships, or why they only think we’re a threat when our guns are pointed directly at them. As long as we get cool alien ships duking it out with the Pacific Fleet, all of that can slide. But director Peter Berg bungles every single opportunity to deliver the goods with poor set-ups, fumbled follow-throughs and laughable “character development” taking up far too much time. Spectacle movies like this can always use a little humanity, but the endless blathering from our heroes about their relationships and dreams and disappointments merely reinforces the fact that we’re not watching what we presumably came to see.

Things don’t improve much once the rumble finally begins. Berg fails to delineate any kind of ground rules for the conflict – the aliens’ strengths, weaknesses, strategic options and the like – which robs the heroes’ victories of any meaning. The aliens start out virtually unstoppable, only to topple like a house of cards as the big finale approaches. The death razors lack any clear strategic purpose, and McSquarejaw’s big ideas about avoiding damage to the ship involve maneuvers that should, in any rational universe, rip the keel straight out of the hull. Battleship applies absolutely no thought to how or why its mayhem exists. It becomes a form of abstract art, with images we vaguely recognize parading across the screen desperately masquerading as a movie. Even the militarism is disingenuous: a calculated commercial designed to secure U.S. Navy approval rather than any heartfelt gesture of respect or appreciation.

Regular readers know that I don’t use the F grade very often. It’s reserved for films I find either actively enraging or incompetent on a fundamental level. Battleship isn’t enraging – no more than any other naked Hollywood cash grab anyhow – but its seizure-inducing stupidity sets a surprising new low in a genre not exactly renowned for thoughtfulness. Even the Liam Neeson cameo left me cold. The film fails on every conceivable level, leading one to wonder idly how many sessions of the board game one could fit into its running time. (Initial estimation: five.) Only a film this dull, this pointless, this utterly devoid of any remotely engaging element can prompt such equations. In that sense, Battleship may be a perfect bad blockbuster – the hollowest of the hollow – which ironically grants the rest of the summer a mild reprieve. We’ve touched bottom early; there’s nowhere to go now but up.    


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Hookedonavengers2012 5/18/2012 12:47:00 AM

 hulk smash little boat!

Hookedonavengers2012 5/18/2012 12:47:37 AM

 hulk smash little boat!

iceknight52 5/18/2012 3:20:31 AM

If you truly have to see this film at least buy a ticket to Avengers and sneak into it. I really don't want any more of this crap being made.

Dazzler 5/18/2012 3:48:29 AM

I hate seeing Rhainna in every clip like it's her movie.  That was a big sign this is going to suck.  They should have figured a story based on real ship to ship combat with modern ships/boats on large scale. 

DarthBob 5/18/2012 4:27:32 AM

I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn't think it was going to be this bad.  Sitting at 36% on RT...ouch!  Looks like this battleship has already been sunk.  I guess I'll have to wait until next weekend to see something at the theatre; Battle Royale 3D!

karas1 5/18/2012 4:40:42 AM

The concepts from the game Battleship are so broad, you could do anything with it.  You have some warships firing at eachother. 

Yet, they mess that up.  There are no aliens in the board game.

If tasked to write a movie based on the game Battleship I would have written a thriller about war games in the Pacific between American ships where a group of terrorists take over one of the ships and begin sinking the other ships in the simulation for real.  No aliens need apply.

It's sad that this movie is so incompetant.  It really doesn't take much to make an entertaining movie about things that go boom.  The kind of film where you turn off your brain and watch the pretty explosions should write itself.

spiderhero 5/18/2012 5:02:50 AM

Another trip to the Avengers for me. Well, I was going to do that anyway, so maybe I'll make it another 2 trips...

ElBaz13 5/18/2012 5:22:54 AM

LOL! The moment I saw the trailer for this and thought it was a Transformers rip, then saw the movie title...Battleship? WTF???

This is plain ridiculous and being mocked everywhere.

If you want a good laugh, go to screen crush dot com and check out the Battleship movie posters but remade with other board games like Operation, Monopoly, Jenga, etc..

Quite funny. I will pass on this one. What's sad is my kids want to see it because it looks "action packed" and as Rihanna. I will try to convince them to go see Pirates: Band of Misfits instead.

xJokersxWildx 5/18/2012 5:24:43 AM

Sucks for Taylor Kitsch thats two crap movies he was in back to back lol

fenngibbon 5/18/2012 5:35:08 AM

 This is not the first review I've seen to hold up the work of Michael Bay as a superior product to this movie.  That tells me more than I need to know about this particular piece of cinematic dreck.

And I find myself feeling sorry for the Parker Brothers.  No not the game guys, the stars of Syfy's Dream Machines who make custom cars.  They made a vehicle as part of the promotional material for Battleship and they were so happy by the end of the episode that it went over well because they thought meant they finally had gotten their "in" for more lucrative Hollywood work.  I  can just imagine future conversations by Hollywoood types when looking for custom vehicle makers for their projects:  "Parker Brothers?  Weren't they the guys who did work for 'Battleship?"   I think the poor guys are going to be what's known in military terms as collateral damage.  Or, to put it another way, when a skunk dies, everything around it gets stunk up as well.

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