By Jacob Axelrad, Editor in Chief
Published May 21, 2012
There’s a lot of Peter Berg in “Battleship.” The creator of the critically acclaimed series “Friday Night Lights” was handed the reigns of an alien-invasion movie based off of a board game where players attempt to destroy each other’s ships through a series of strategic guesses. The story is at times disjointed, making large narrative jumps without fully developing characters, and leaving plot holes too big for viewers to fill in on their own.
At Quality 16 and Rave
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Admittedly, there are a few eye-popping scenes of global destruction, yet these leave much to be desired. What makes the movie fun, however, is that Berg does what he does best — injecting humor into otherwise hackneyed moments, winking at the audience the entire time and informing us that it’s OK to laugh.
At the center of the plot is Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, “Friday Night Lights”). He is not unlike Kitsch’s Tim Riggins from “Nights” — a rebellious figure that operates almost entirely on instinct with little regard for the outcome of his actions.
But, as first noted by his straight-laced brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard, “Generation Kill”), he shows potential, regardless of his many screw-ups and mistakes. At his brother’s demand, Alex joins the navy, a precipitating event that comes so out of the blue it’s as though the movie is saying that forcing this down-and-out delinquent to serve his country was inevitable; why even attempt to build up to it?
Alex is promoted through the ranks of the navy, despite his headstrong ways. But this does not earn him the respect of his comrades or, more importantly, his girlfriend’s father (a wonderfully surly Liam Neeson, “Taken”) who also happens to be the Admiral of the naval fleet in which Alex serves. And yet, like the sly smirk that seems perpetually stained on Alex’s face, we know all along that our hero only needs a sufficient challenge to put his abilities to the test.
This challenge comes in the form of aliens who seek to (what else?) destroy Earth. Explosions abound. Wills are tested. Life-or-death choices must be made. It’s all very familiar, and it’s a familiarity that’s acknowledged by the filmmaker. This movie’s pleasures lie in the nuances that are uniquely Berg: Alex sneaks through the vents of a convenience store solely to obtain a chicken burrito for the woman he desires. At a point of climax, a naval engineer tasked with the make-or-break shot against the enemy ship, turns to his companion and, with a laugh, informs him that he has not fired a gun since summer camp. In a sense, Berg makes fun of the campy while simultaneously participating in the campiness.
Meanwhile, he looks out for his characters, always remembering to present them as complete and holistic, an aspect of his filmmaking that’s aided him well in television. Singer Rihanna makes her acting debut as Petty Officer Cora ‘Weps’ Raikes. But her sexuality is not once over-emphasized or exploited. Rather, her role is simply that of another officer, doing her job, playing her part in defeating the invaders. The same can be said of Brooklyn Decker (“Just Go With It”), who plays Alex’s love interest Samantha. As was the case with “Friday Night Lights,” Berg’s female characters are strong and on equal footing with the men, whether the setting be a small town in Texas or a battleship out at sea.
At film’s end, a team of World War II veterans is called upon to operate the nearly defunct battleship. Where they come from or why they’re ready to leap into action is unimportant. The fact that they’re present is enough, which might be, if there is one at all, the theme of this B-level movie: give the formulaic a dose of lighthearted mischief, and you’ll be sure to entertain your viewers.