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Every once in a while, a movie comes along that’s so utterly shameless that it achieves a certain grandeur. Peter Berg’s Battleship, which I swear to God is described in its Wikipedia entry as an “American science fiction action naval war film," is one such movie.
Over the past few years, the military-industrial-entertainment complex has been going great guns, with salutes to the Army (fellow Hasbro production G.I. Joe), Navy SEALs (Act of Valor), and now this $200 million hail to the fleet, which takes up the unusual task of extrapolating a story arc from that game with the little red plastic pegs, principally remembered as being easy to cheat at. (The screenplay, by Jon and Erich Hoeber, goes through such extraordinary narrative contortions in order to justify an allusion to the game’s familiar grid-work board and guessing-game strategy, it’s probably deserving of some sort of award.)
Establishing its tendency to shuttle between intimate soap opera and planetary-scale cataclysm, Battleship begins with the news that scientists have discovered and are attempting to make contact with a solar body in a distant galaxy—“Planet G,” whose atmospheric conditions are possibly favorable to life—using a transmitter in Hawaii. This is where we join shaggy Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), sousing away his 26th birthday at an Oahu bar, picking up Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) with an act of nutty bravado while his straitlaced Navy-lifer big brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), looks on disapprovingly.
When we next catch up with the Hoppers, Alex—now Lieutenant Hopper, having been forcibly recruited for his own good by his brother—is still a disciplinary case and can’t win the approval of Samantha’s father, Pacific Fleet admiral Shane (Liam Neeson). On the eve of the multinational RIMPAC naval exercises, Alex is on the brink of being busted out of the service while at the same time, vast cool and unsympathetic intellects on Planet G are regarding this earth with envious eyes. The space invaders splash down a few crafts, quite reminiscent in their intricately shifting movable-parts design and metallic cacophony to leftover Hasbro Transformers. The extraterrestrials themselves are Homo sapien–like, except they have claw-machine-grabber hands, quill-like goatees, and cool military hardware like Google glasses and forcefield technology, which they use to seal off the Hawaiian islands. This effectively strands the assembled fleets of the Pacific Rim out at sea, leaving only destroyer USS John Paul Jones inside, the last craft capable of preventing the aliens from using the transmitting equipment to dial up reinforcements, meaning an end to life on this planet as we know it. It should go without saying that the JPJ is the ship crewed by out-of-his-depth Lieutenant Alex and—why not?—Rihanna.
Peter Berg, creator of Friday Night Lights and director of the estimable The Rundown, is in street-fighting mode here—that is, he does not hesitate to pull any dirty trick in order to get the job done. I was able to withstand the emotional suction when hothead Alex, suddenly cut off from his relied-upon sibling, learned to control his temper, tamp down his ego, and appreciate the value of teamwork. I restrained with effort the palpitations of One World sentiment when Hopper and his former foe on the soccer pitch, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), banded together to resist another sneak attack in the common protection of all mankind, exorcising the ghost of Pearl Harbor. I was even able to maintain my composure, just barely, when the double-amputee ex-Army hero played by Iraq vet Gregory D. Gadson—shades of Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives—got his wish to play soldier again. But by the time the crew of old salts who had weathered Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and Korea emerged deus ex machine–style to serve their country once more, I was a lost cause. And when the F-14s came out for a triumphant flyover, I looked around the room to find the moron who was applauding only to realize that it was me.
thanks, Nick. i just watched Independence day for the umpteenth time, now i have to go check out battleship. i was going to wait til it came out in dvd, but you make it sound like my kind of movie.
"... when the F-14s came out for a triumphant flyover, I looked around the room to find the moron who was applauding only to realize that it was me" may be the greatest exit line in a movie review I have ever read. Bravo!
F-14s? Are you fricking kidding me? Those were F-18 moron. I guess you were not paying too much attention to the movie. Makes me wonder about reviewers and how they watch and review movies. The F-14 hasn’t been used by the Navy for years now. The F-18 is now the main steam fighter jet. As for the movie, it was a much better than I ever expected it to be.
Love the Battleship, hated that the Navy removed it from our arsenal. It’s a ship that is very imposing and has a great history of doing so. Anyone who’s a fan of old Battleships will love the movie. The Missouri lives up to what we would expect it to in a time of need.
Er, dude, just as the F-14 hasn't been used for years now, neither has the battleship, as you point out. So why are you freaking over one and not the other? Now let's do some math together. Let's pretend all the old folks returning to the battleship were only 20 when WW2 ended in 1945. That would make them 87 today. Get it? This movie is a stupid, $200 million ad for the military-industrial complex. It has already bombed on opening night, so f you like it so much you will be able to buy it for $5 pretty soon.
Hey David, theres a Hugh difference in something that’s been docked and something that’s been retired. And you do realize that the Dept of Defense has mandated that the Existing 4 Battleships will never be scraped and that they are to be maintained to and never upgraded from their current technology from what they were since they were built, and parts are to be kept readily available if the ship was to ever be re-commissioned in a time of need right? No, I guess you too stupid to know that. The Battleship in this movie being brought out of retirement was not far fetched. But who are you to know since you seeming have no clue about the history or the back ground of the battleship and its mandate.
I also thought that WWII Vets would be to old to play that role so I looked up the USS Missouri and found that it was in World War II, Korea, and the Persian Gulf. So I guess they could have came from any of those wars.
Don't listen to the moron who called you a moron. I applaud your review for being authentic and from the heart. Too many reviewers go to great pains to be anylitical and detached from their review and you gave a review that a normal person can relate to: heartfelt and visceral - the way normal folks watch movies. Thank you.
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