Lieutenant Alex Hopper has a lot going for him. He can quote Homer. He's got a jaw that even Matt Damon would envy. He plays a mean game of soccer.
He also sometimes acts like an idiot.
Now, I'm not saying that to be cruel. It's not like Alex is a metal terrier shy of a Monopoly board. I did, after all, mention his knowledge of Homer.
But Alex clearly could use a little help in his decision-making skills.
Let's pretend, for a minute, that you're Alex—with your fine chin and Homer-filled mind. A pretty girl sits next to you in a bar and mentions she has a hankering for a chicken burrito. Do you A) ignore her, B) offer to take her out to a nice Mexican restaurant sometime, or C) break into the convenience store next door and grab her one right away—running away from Taser-wielding police as you do so?
Now pretend you're playing soccer and get smacked in the face, triggering a penalty kick. You see stars and birds float, cartoon-like, around your head. Then you A) allow someone else to make the penalty kick for you, B) skip down to "Positive Elements" because you're tired of this illustration, or C) disobey the team captain—your own brother—threaten the potential substitute kicker with death and insist on taking the kick yourself?
With Alex, the answer is usually C.
"You've got skills," an exasperated admiral tells him, "but I've never seen anyone waste them like you!" Even when strange alien craft land in the Pacific next to Hawaii, Alex makes a series of C-style moves that, indirectly, get several people killed, two boats blown up and perhaps trigger what scientists call an extinction-level event.
So when mounting casualties force Alex to take command of a battered destroyer—perhaps the last real barrier standing between humanity and the aliens—his new crew seems less than inspired. They know of Alex's penchant for C answers. And many of them seem on the verge of grabbing him by the lapels and shaking him until his nice, square jaw starts flapping around.
"What's wrong with you?!" they might holler. "Do you think this is some sort of game?!"
Uh, yeah, about that …
Not one character ever declares, "You sank my battleship!" But I guess I can still give the film a little credit: Alex's decision-making skills do improve as the movie wears on. He and a bitter rival unite to fight a common enemy. He shows humility by temporarily relinquishing his captaincy to someone with more experience and a good idea. He shows creativity and heroism on this watery field of battle and (I don't think this is a big spoiler) eventually saves the world. In fact, by the end of Battleship, it would appear that Alex might start picking a few B's in the future instead of all C's.
A bevy of old, old sailors pop up from nowhere and chip in when the chips are down. (It's as if they were all held in a glass case labeled with a sign, "In case of alien attack, break glass.") A soldier who lost his legs during the war realizes he still has plenty to offer his country. Several men and women show a great deal of courage under extraordinarily trying circumstances.
A ship bears the slogan, "In God we trust, all others we track." Alex's girlfriend, Sam, utters a heartfelt "Thank God" when she realizes her beau is OK.
Sam's wardrobe consists largely of tightfitting, chest-accentuating garb (dresses and tank tops). Her immodesty is particularly obvious during a nighttime beach rendezvous with Alex. Wearing a tiny white top and miniscule jeans shorts, she straddles Alex while encouraging him to ask her father for permission to marry. The two kiss passionately, there and elsewhere.
Battleship, of course, is loosely (very, very, very, very loosely) based on the popular Hasbro game of the same title. And, obviously, that classic game was built on the idea of implied destruction: If your ship fills up with red pegs, it sinks metaphorically into the imaginary bottomless plastic depths. The only real violence involved is when you get upset enough at losing that you fling a sunk boat across the family room.
Onscreen, Battleship requires no such flights of fancy or even fury to generate its violence. Multiple ships, both human and alien, are sunk, almost always accompanied by massive explosions and eardrum-rending noise. Alien shells embed themselves in hulls and then explode, ripping boats apart. We see scrap metal fly and wreckage sink, dragging dozens, perhaps hundreds of people into the depths. A sonic boom blows out windows and makes the faces of sailors shake like Jell-O molds. But perhaps the most fearsome weapon in the aliens' arsenal is the metallic spinning yo-yo of death, the edges of which tear through metal (cutting through an entire ship, sinking it) and concrete (causing part of a freeway to collapse, sending several cars crashing into a gaping chasm). And if something escapes the yo-yo's toothy clutches (as a helicopter nearly does), the thing whips out a blade-encrusted whip to finish the job.
Even when the alien ships crash, they're deadly. One hits a satellite on the way into the atmosphere, breaking apart as it descends. A chunk smashes into a Hong Hong skyscraper, sending the building tumbling (and providing an uncomfortable reminder of 9/11). In news footage, we see wreckage and ruins on fire, and fleeting riots in the streets. We hear that 25,000 people have been killed.
But for all that destruction, the aliens seem bizarrely averse to "unnecessary" bloodshed. Their equipment doesn't seem to target anything that isn't immediately threatening, and in the beginning, they never shoot anything until it shoots at them. While the body count is undeniably high, the movie rarely shows much blood beyond lacerated and bruised faces. We do see countless injured people strewn about ship decks or being taken to infirmaries.
The aliens engage in fistfights with humans. They destroy two police jeeps, tearing them apart and leaving the resulting corpses in the wreckage. Alex falls hard on his back while breaking into a convenience store. He's Tasered twice, and the next morning his back bears the marks.
Crude or Profane Language
Two f-words are abbreviated by way of loud explosions. We also hear just over a dozen s-words. Somewhat milder exclamations tally in at around 30 and include "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard." God's name is abused nearly 10 times, once connected to a "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
The first time we see Alex, he's in a bar for his birthday, drinking shots and beer with Stone (his brother).
Other Negative Elements
Alex picks fights with people and breaks into a convenience store. (He leaves money to pay for the burrito, but presumably not for the damage he caused.) As the crews for armadas from different countries are announced as part of a multinational naval exercise, a sailor lightly mocks them under his breath. Someone mistakes a legless man for a "cyborg." Alex says that asking Sam's father for his permission to marry her is an "obsolete tradition."
Battleship shares some similarities with our good Lieutenant Alex: It's big. It's bombastic. It's slick-looking. And it can feel really, really dumb at times.
But it also knows a bit of Homer. And by that I mean it has the wisdom to know what it is and what it isn't. This is not a movie that aspires to be an Oscar contender. Its only ambition is to keep audiences entertained and eating pricey popcorn for a couple of hours. By those limited standards, Battleship is not abysmal. And in its own cacophonous way, it offers some pretty nice thoughts.
It's great to see, for instance, such a positive portrayal of the American military working with an assist from an ally or two. And living at a time when most films suggest that you have to be young and handsome to do anything worthwhile, it's great to see a bunch of tough-as-nails 70- and 80-year-old men do their part to save the world. Alex and his sibling have clear affection for each other—and even when Alex strains their relationship to the breaking point, Stone's belief in his brother remains steadfast. So this flick won't strain anyone's brain, but it may spark a bit of inspiration.
Which isn't necessarily reason enough to throw the fam in the van and drive to the nearest multiplex. The violence is nonstop. Foul language is an issue. And there's a scene or two of sensuality.
I won't Flat-out tell you whether or not you should C Battleship. All I'm saying Here is 2 B prepared Going in if you Ever Decide to Join the Invasion. In other words (or numbers), watch your 6.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, War
Taylor Kitsch as Lieutenant Alex Hopper; Alexander Skarsgård as Commander Stone Hopper; Rihanna as Petty Officer Cora 'Weps' Raikes; Brooklyn Decker as Sam; Tadanobu Asano as Captain Yugi Nagata; Liam Neeson as Admiral Shane; Gregory D. Gadson as Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales
Peter Berg (Hancock, The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights, The Rundown)
May 18, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay