What’s most insulting about Battleship isn’t its awfulness, which was practically preordained by its very premise, but that everyone involved knew it was a terrible concept from the get-go, and yet nonetheless threw time, toil, and money at the project with a gusto almost as unchecked as its story’s pilfering of other blockbusters’ ingredients. Shamelessly mimicking Michael Bay’s larger-than-life dialogue, sweeping cinematography, cornball romance, and military fetishism, Peter Berg delivers the bastard child of Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and Transformers with his adaptation of Hasbro’s board game, which amounted to little more than a guessing game requiring players to surmise the location of (thereby sinking) opposing players’ ship-shaped pieces. That basic construct is laughably duplicated midway through this lumbering spectacle, all under the guise of its heroes using “water displacement” analysis to attack enemies that can’t be detected with sonar. Nonetheless, such ridiculousness pales in comparison to the absurdity of the film’s expansion of its source material, with the plot focused on the Navy’s efforts to thwart an alien invasion at sea instigated by our preceding attempts to contact a distant planet—because if we hadn’t called, these super-advanced extra-terrestrials never would have thought to visit!—and which directly interrupts Naval exercises off the coast of Oahu.
Fortunately, this development gives underachieving slacker Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) an opportunity to finally live up to his potential. About to be kicked out of the Navy, which disappoints big bro Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) and is set to ruin his chances of getting permission from his commanding officer (Liam Neeson) to marry the man’s daughter, Sam (Brooklyn Decker), Alex finds forthcoming extinction a great motivator to act like a responsible team player, which mainly means playing nice with rival Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). Trapped in an enemy force field that cuts him off from help, Alex must go it alone against the creatures, who wear armored suits straight out of a video game (Crysis in particular), and travel in ships that leap around the ocean surface like grasshoppers and shoot spinning, flying, screeching ball devices that seem like leftovers from Dark of the Moon. While Kitsch blandly attempts to save humanity, physical therapist Sam endeavors to stop the aliens from calling for reinforcements for the planetary takeover (though why do they need to phone home, if Earth’s whereabouts are already known? And why didn’t they just initially send more troops?) by destroying a satellite station on a mountaintop. In that quest, she’s aided by nerdy scientist Cal (Hamish Linklater) and legless war hero Mick (Gregory D. Gadson), the latter of whom functions as the vessel for the film’s admirable, if woefully pandering, wounded-vets-still-rule veneration.
There’s no logic to anything that takes place in Battleship, be it Alex’s sudden elevation to ship captain, or communications officer Weps (Rihanna, given all the “cool” trailer-ready one-liners) being on the first boat out to investigate the aliens. Berg, meanwhile, cherry picks from Bay at random (a lovey-dovey beach moment from Armageddon here, whirring sound effects from Transformers there) without crafting a single unique image of his own. Rather, his film feels like the byproduct of focus-grouping, with the Battleship moniker tacked on for brand recognition and multimedia merchandising opportunities. Someone says, “It’s a miss!,” someone else says, “Direct hit!,” and, yes, someone else says something about “not sinking this battleship,” but the action is far too turgid to achieve anything resembling unintentionally campy humor. Having failed to succeed in his mission with modern destroyers, Alex ultimately commissions an aged battleship to take out the alien hordes, in the process enlisting retired Naval officers to man the ship and give it to the invaders the good old-fashioned analog way. Far from a marriage of old and new school, however, Battleship instead proves to be merely high-gloss dross that’s dumber than a grade-school dropout.