Does Taylor Kitsch have what it takes to headline a feature film? That’s the question I asked myself after his last two films, John Carter and Battleship, both bombed at the box office. I won’t talk about the former here (you can read my review to find out more), but I will explore the latter, which earned $25.5 million in its opening weekend, well below the expected $35-$40 million. Despite failing to draw a big audience, Battleship did inspire some fairly positive reviews. For that reason, I gave it a shot.
I will admit that I am a fan of the Hasbro board game Battleship, but I was a bit skeptical a full-length film could be constructed around the game’s simplicity. How could they do it? The answer is simple: aliens.
For those who don’t know, here is how IMDb.com describes Battleship’s premise: “A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.”
Now I happen to like alien movies and fancy a good navy flick. Could a fusion of the two succeed? The recipe obviously didn’t resonate with the masses, but I confess that the movie proved to be better than I expected; in fact, I actually enjoyed it. It’s certainly not a future Oscar winner, but it is a special effects flick reminiscent of Transformers, Independence Day and Under Siege. Interestingly, the U.S.S. Missouri was the ship featured in the latter film and it plays a prominent role in Battleship.
Like the naval game itself, the story in Battleship is simple. Aliens land in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii, the navy responds and battle ensues. The story itself couldn't carry the film on its own, but it is strengthened by good special effects, engaging visuals and some surprisingly solid performances.
For instance, Kitsch put in a satisfying performance as Lieutenant Alex Hopper, a irresponsible guy who is about to get kicked out of the navy before a serious and deadly situation force him to change his ways. Seeing his transformation from a self-indulgent flunky to a well-meaning hero was believable and gratifying. In my opinion Kitsch gave one of his best performances, one that has temporarily restored by faith that he can carry a film.
Another actor who put in a tremendous performance was Alexander Skarsgård, who played Commander Stone Hopper. He was the opposite of his brother (Kitsch’s character) in that he was responsible, put together well and had a promising future. I last saw Skarsgård in Straw Dogs where he played a villain, and while he did a fine job there, I prefer him as a hero. Skarsgård's time in Battleship is cut short, but he did a stellar job with the scenes he was given.
The same can be said of Rihanna (making her feature film debut), Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano and Gregory D. Gadson, all of whom had major roles. Gadson, who is a real-life marine and lost both his legs in duty, does a fine job interacting with Decker’s character. His acting may have been a little weaker than that of his fellow cast mates, but he brought a sense of realism and emotion to the film that reaches the audience.
While the performances were good as a whole, I was disappoint with Liam Neeson’s character, Admiral Shane. As I’ve said many times before, I like me some Neeson, but his role in Battleship was so minimal that it was an extreme disappointment. His character got little screen time and wasn’t essential to the storyline. He was an outsider, and he’s too good a talent to be utilized in such a capacity.
Complimenting the actors were some pretty cool sequences. For instance, I highly enjoyed the scenes that showed just what our battleships and destroyers can do. It’s really awe inspiring to watch as they let loose and demonstrate their full capabilities. In addition, I thought it was a nice touch for the director, Peter Berg, to pay homage to the Battleship game. He did this in two ways. The first was shaping the alien “missiles” like the pegs used in the game to mark hits and misses. Sounds corny but they definitely made it work as those pegs packed quite the punch; come to think of it, they made a few corny moments work.
The second way they paid homage was a clever, albeit far stretched, way of tracking the enemy ships through tsunami buoys when their radar was down. It was completed with a full grid marked with letters and numbers. A nice nostalgic nod to its inspiration.
All in all I enjoyed Battleship. It was definitely better than I expected and I walked out of the theater satisfied. If you’re looking for an action-packed quasi-sci-fi film, I recommend you ignore all the box office bomb talk and give it a try, I’m glad I did.Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%