RECAP: Battleship

Battleship (2012): Peter Berg

Nothing gets me excited for a movie like seeing the word HASBRO on the screen. A military science fiction film literally based on a board game, Battleship was a star vehicle for Friday Night Lights actors and Rihanna. If that sounds like a good time to you, by all means.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Aliens attack Earth, and the only way to stop them is with a child’s board game. 

Hero (4/10)

Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) begins Battleship as a societal reject. On his 26th birthday, Alex’s only friend is his stick-up-butt older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), he’s got no job and $65 to his name. To top it off, he’s about to waste a birthday wish on a chick.

Also drinking in the podunk bar across the street from a gas station is the unfairly gorgeous Brooklyn Decker. She plays Sam, a woman in need of a late-night chicken burrito. Too bad for her the bar’s single microwave “kitchen” is closed.

Alex is not the kind of man easily denied. He promises to get Sam a burrito in five minutes. Across the street, at that gas station, lies a burrito. Too bad the owner locked the door seconds before Alex arrived.

Refusing to be denied, Alex breaks into the store through the ceiling, gets a burrito, leaves payment on the counter, tries to leave through the roof, collapses more of the ceiling and eventually outruns the cops to hand Sam her desired burrito, and it was even jumbo size.

The next day, after surviving a tazing, Alex chills in a bathtub while Stone demands he change his life. Stone signs Alex up for the Navy.

Let’s play Battleship.

Skip ahead a few years. Alex is still a clown with authority figure problems. He won’t take his shades of when on deck of the USS Missouri, he won’t come out of an important soccer match when he’s concussed, and he’d rather fight a guy than ask his boss for his daughter’s hand in marriage. At least he cut his Friday Night Lights hair.

Alex and Raikes
Alex and Raikes

When RIMPAC, the international naval games held in Hawaii starts, it’s no wonder that Alex is about to be kicked out of the Navy he joined five minutes ago. Just as soon as RIMPAC is over.

Alex’s boss is Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), father of Sam, the chicken burrito woman. He’s disgusted with Alex, has never seen a man waste skills like him. When Alex quotes Homer to Shane, that further infuriates the admiral.

Good thing the first alien attack in history derails the plan to discharge Alex. After some terrible fortune, Alex becomes commander of the USS John Paul Jones, a destroyer designed to dish it out like the Terminator.

Called by his friend Raikes (Rihanna) a “Donald Trump-Mike Tyson mutant combo,” Alex wants to attack the aliens right off the bat. His officers talk him out of it, and for the first time in his life Alex listens to someone’s advice against his will. It was a wise move that saved his life and the lives of billions more, not to mention and expensive warship.

Earlier in the film Alex was kicked in the face by a Japanese Captain named Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano). Alex is forced to work with Nagata on the John Paul Jones to thwart the alien threat. Alex is able to bury his ego for a few hours and listen to the captain, even handing him his chair in the weapons room.

Alex might be a ship’s captain, but he’s not averse to the dirty jobs. He helps carry a 1,000-pound shell across a battleship. He snipes at the enemy mothership from hundreds of yards. He inspects a captured alien soldier. Captain’s got to do what a captain’s got to do.

In the end, Alex’s bravery and skills weren’t wasted in the fight to save the human race. He even summons the courage to ask Shane permission to marry his daughter. Shane says no, but Alex will work on that.

Kitsch, in his second feature role after breaking out in the TV version of Friday Night Lights, is great. He commits to his role as reluctant naval captain, and not as star of a child’s board game movie. They had Dillon, Texas’s Riggins shave his hair after the opening sequence, so we’d know this is a change for Kitsch. Considering where his career went after 2012, it didn’t matter.

Villain (2/10)

Armored, angry, and hungry for planets, the aliens of Battleship resemble Halo characters. Only in the rare moments when the masks come off do we see them for what they are–heavy metal enthusiasts.

In the ancient times of 2005, an Earth-like planet in the Goldilocks Zone was discovered. The next year, NASA started up the Beacon Project to contact Planet G, as it’s called. Earth didn’t hear anything until 2012, when five alien ships streak into Earth’s orbit, through its atmosphere, and into Hawaiian waters.

Alien or Juggalo?
Alien or Juggalo?

One of these five ships, a communication ship, collides with a satellite and crashes into Hong Kong. We should leave our space junk in orbit for exactly this reason: protection from incoming alien ships. The junk won’t save the rich moviegoers of Hong Kong, but the pieces might save Earth.

With only four ships remaining and without communications, the aliens set out to capture the Hawaiian trio of dishes that comprise the Beacon Project, which they will use to contact their home world. What will they tell Planet G? We never learn and don’t need to.

The aliens are a mystery for much of the film. At first we only see their technology, which is impressive. The largest craft doesn’t show up on radar and projects a forcefield 300,000 feet up and two nautical miles into the water, surrounding Hawaii and blocking out the navies of the participants of RIMPAC.

Three alien ships inside the force field face off against two American ships and a Japanese also trapped within the bubble and Earth’s only defense against the aliens. The alien technology is terrific, as you’d expect. The ships skip across the water like water skimmers, making them faster and more maneuverable than Earth ships.

The weapon of choice is a magnetic bomb. The alien ships fire them by the half-dozen, like eggs lobbed at a neighbor’s house, and when they pass human defenses they affix themselves to ships and burrow down before exploding and ripping ships apart.

The only other alien weapon is the whirling ball drone. Tossed onto Hawaii, these drones destroy infrastructure both civilian and military. They possess some intelligence, and perhaps some enjoyment at destruction. Both weapons are equally effective at killing people and weapons of any size.

The aliens themselves are anthropomorphic and reptilian. Jesse Plemons‘s character Ordy discovers that they can’t handle the light of our sun. They all wear sun visors on their helmets, making their invasion precarious. Had they attacked at night, the aliens would easily have taken our planet.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Battleship is at its best when the aliens are destroying human surface vessels. Despite their firepower, they get only three before losing the war.

This might sound silly, but it makes sense. They sent five ships from their home planet. Five is the number of ships in a standard Battleship game. One ship collides with a satellite in space. The next three are subsequently destroyed by the John Paul Jones. The last and largest ship is killed by the USS Missouri and some fighter jets. Five to three, humans win.

When the aliens send out their force field, only three human ships are inside it. Alex’s John Paul Jones, Stone’s Sampson, and a Captain Nagata’s Myoko.

After Alex makes first contact, three alien ships burst from the water. They don’t attack until fired upon, and that doesn’t take long. The ships whip out dozens of flying bombs. These souped-up grenades arc toward the human ships. Many are intercepted by automatic mini guns, until the aliens correct for this and launch dozens of the things.

drones
drones

The bombs strike the Sampson and magnetically attach to the hull before driving into the ship. They explode. The Sampson is torn apart in seconds. Alex knows his brother is dead.

The JPJ is attacked, too. As Alex boards the ship from a dingy, he learns that he is the highest ranking officer left alive, thus the ship’s captain. He’s less than thrilled. The others are waiting for orders. Ordy demands an order.

“Full attack,” Alex shouts. The aliens killed his brother and he’s going to ram the ship to death like it’s an ancient trireme. Meanwhile, Nagata’s ship is blown apart by magnet bombs.

Alex’s crew wants to rescue the sailors in the water. Alex won’t listen, and he ignores the fact that he is outgunned and outmanned. Finally, after a crew member yells at him enough times, Alex turns the JPJ from a collision course and avoids execution.

The next part doesn’t make sense. The aliens did not kill the JPJ because it turned from a collision course. In the next sequence, the aliens send three spherical drones to attack Hawaii. The powerful drones destroy highways and helicopters, anything that could be used to retaliate.

Human beings are not attacked, but weapons are. A helicopter on the ground might threaten the alien ships, but wouldn’t a modern destroyer yards away and fully armed do the same?

Later, the same ship will kill two alien ships with cruise missiles, proving that it possessed the right weapons. What were the aliens thinking?

They were desperate to make landfall and pilfer the powerful satellite dishes to communicate with their home world. As night falls, the JPJ fights off two of the ships using a technique described later.

In the morning, the destroyer finally meets its match. Alex and Nagata snipe out the windscreen on the last alien scout ship. The sunlight bothers the aliens enough for them to miss all the torpedoes, missiles, and bullets streaking toward them.

The aliens fire three whirligig drones. They tear the ship apart. Battleship‘s best scene is a long take showing the destruction of the John Paul Jones. The drones ruin the entire ship. A mast nearly crushes Alex and Nagata. The crew leap overboard. Ordy nearly dies. Alex and Nagata climb the sinking ship and leap off the rear as a drone splits the ship in half and sends it to the bottom. All of that in one take. Well done.

Sidekicks (5/8)

Alex is backed up by a loving crew. His three best mates on the John Paul Jones are Raikes and Ordy.

Rihanna plays Raikes, a role she took because it was”badass.” Raikes is the weapons specialist, which allows her to act like a badass, smirk, and chide her commanders.

Raikes drives the dingy that carries Alex to the alien mothership. She later shoots at the defensive craft guarding the force field generator. She’s got an itchy trigger finger and knows who Donald Trump is. Other than that, Rihanna doesn’t have much to do.

Ordy provides comic relief. He knows how to say hello in many languages and once owned a pet lizard named Penelope III, one of the better pet names in film history. It’s this pet lizard that leads him to the theory that the aliens can’t handle sunlight.

Alex’s best friend turns out to be Captain Nagata, face kicker extraordinaire. After Nagata’s ship is destroyed by the aliens, he is dragged aboard the John Paul Jones under Alex’s command. It’s Nagata who thinks up the silliest scene in the movie, discussed later.sam

On land are other important characters. Alex’s girlfriend Sam is a physical therapist taking on a new case, the hard-headed Mick (Gregory D. Gadson).

Sam and Mick, a double amputee, hike a mountain on Oahu as the aliens attack. Mick is sick of life and of trying to rehabilitate. He’s the most ornery person in the film, and that includes Liam Neeson. If you lost both your legs, you might be ornery, too.

The pair climb a mountain Mick’s grandmother could handle. The gorgeous setting and company don’t interest Mick. “I’m a soldier,” Mick says. “That’s all I know.” He struggles to have a purpose without two meat legs.

Together with a tech geek from the Beacon station, Sam and Mick attack the aliens with a jeep, a gun, and a metal case. Somehow, they are opposed only by one alien troop. Mick spear tackles the armored alien and fends off a whirling sword blade as the tech nerd (name unimportant) beats the alien’s face with a metal electromagnetic spectrum analyzer.

Henchmen (0/8)

The aliens are never named, nor is their planet, and they never speak. We don’t see the commanding alien, if one exists. They have no henchman.

This might be as good a place as any to mention that Peter MacNicol plays the Secretary of Defense. Liam Neeson, also present in a few scenes, appears to phone it in.

Stunts (3/6)

Battleship‘s most impressive stunt is working in an alphanumeric grid plot to shoot at enemy ships.

Through the night the John Paul Jones survives because, as Nagata believes, the aliens can’t see the ship and thus can’t kill it. I don’t know why he thinks that, considering the ship nearly crashed into an alien ship and was not fired upon. The aliens obviously don’t always shoot at ships. Despite this logical flaw, the crew accepts the reasoning.

But the JPJ can’t see the alien ships either. We already know radar doesn’t work, so how can they see the enemy without being seen? Nagata has a way. Turns out Japan has used tsunami buoys to track American ships for 20 years. Water displacement registers on the buoys, and that can be tracked.

Nagata orders NOAA data pulled up on a screen. Someone plots a chart. The grid points are alphanumeric, just like a certain board game. Yes!

"I think they're bunching their ships."
“I think they’re bunching their ships.”

Nagata studies the plot for patterns and finds one. Raikes is on the weapons. Nagata calls out grid points like Foxtrot two six and Charlie one nine, making this game of battleship a big one.

When the Japanese captain says, “Fire,” Raikes sends two cruise missiles toward the buoys. The first pair of shots miss. So does the second. Meanwhile, the JPJ has given away its position. The surface ships are playing the game submarines play. Unfortunately, the JPJ has nowhere to hide and can’t outrun the alien craft.

A second alien ship moves toward the destroyer at rapid speed. More missiles are launched and miss. The aliens send their magnet bombs toward the human vessel, but its guns take out the bombs.

Nagata lines up two buoy targets at once. He waits to fire, while the crew is anxious and distrustful. Nagata orders shots fired, and four missiles streak out to kill both targets mere yards from the ship.

Four hits, you sank my alien destroyers.

Climax (4/6)

After the destruction of the John Paul Jones, its crew needs another ship. The modern navies of 14 nations are still outside the forcefield and the ground support in Hawaii is destroyed, leaving only Alex Hopper and company to defend the world from alien destruction.

Problem is, “We have no ships left,” Nagata says as the JPJ lifeboats zip away from the wreckage. Unlike Pearl Harbor, it was a bad thing that all the aircraft carriers were at sea on the morning of the attack. However, when I said no ships remained to fight with, I meant no commissioned ships remained.

Alex knows that “we’ve got a battleship.” The USS Missouri is literally a floating museum. “It doesn’t end like this,” Alex says. He and the others stand on the geriatric warship and count the ways it won’t work. The weapons systems are analog. The engines might explode when turned on. They need more crew.

Enter the original Mighty Mo sailors. These men linger on the battleship like ghosts. Without beck or call they assemble and address the ranking naval officer as if they knew what he wanted without asking.

AC/DC’s guitar anthem “Thunderstruck” plays as a sailor smashes a toy grabber like he was Jesus in the temple casting out money changers. The song continues as the young and old boot up the ancient ship. Raikes is psyched to work on a floating fortress.

Weapons loaded and engines firing, the last great American warship breaks waves again. She rounds a cape to find the force field tower has moved closer to the island, which can’t be good.

It’s really bad. The generator turns out to be an enormous ship, at least five times the size of the alien craft that destroyed the John Paul Jones. It has hundreds of magnet bombs and flashes them at the Missouri.

I thought the Missouri would be too slow and/or old to show up as a threatening red target, but it wasn’t. Alex, watching the enemy through binoculars, cracks a smile, turns to Nagata, and cracks, “Art of War.” He orders the ship’s nine guns to turn away from the alien ship.

Mighty Mo back at it
Mighty Mo back at it

Ordy says Alex is “losing his mind again” but follows the order. We see the alien in charge of the mothership confused. It still fires magnet bombs.

Alex orders an anchor dropped. When it hits the bottom it jolts the battleship into left turn, much like an ice skater turning to a stop. The magnet bombs overshoot the ship, and now those nice, big cannons, aimed starboard, are pointing at the enemy mothership.

The Missouri unleashes its full payload on the ship. Much damage is done, but more magnet bombs fly out and blow up the rear turret. Battleships are built to take hits, and she ain’t about to sink after one barrage. The front turrets, quickly reloaded, fire again.

It’s enough. The ship dies and the force field falls. Admiral Shane orders every plane on the USS Ronald Reagan into the air. Alex says to Nagata, “‘Fight the enemy where they aren’t,’ after all these years it finally just clicked.” Nagata tells him that his interpretation is “not even close.”

The aliens are still working on the Hawaii communication station. Sam, Mick, and that nerd guy have nothing but Sam’s good driving skills and a standard issue M-16 that all Hawaii State Parks employees have stashed in their jeeps to fight the alien menace.

Sam crashes through the base and breaks some stuff, enough to disable one of the three dishes communicating with Landsat 7. But she’s stuck in the driver’s seat. Mick gets out of the car and faces down an alien. He tackles said alien. All he has to fight is his cane and an Army t-shirt. For some reason he leaves the gun behind.

Mick gets the upper hand by removing the alien’s mask and punching out three teeth. The alien, angered, flips Mick onto the ground and nearly kills him with a retractable blade, but the alien struggles to see in the sunlight.

The nerd shows up in time to smash his spectrum analyzer into the alien’s face, and Mick finishes the job. However, they are unable to prevent the re-uplink with the satellite. The nerd does help Sam escape the jeep.

While this fighting is going on, Alex and seven or more sailors are carrying the Missouri‘s last high-explosive (HE) round 500 feet through the ship. The thing weighs a half ton, but they load it.

All these things happen in rapid succession: the Missouri aims and fires the HE round; the mothership, not dead, sends three whirligig drones at the Missouri; the HE round explodes and destroys the dish station; Sam and Mick survive; the bad drones are shot down by Aussie pilots; and the rest of the jets kill the mothership. Earth’s saved.

After a memorial where Admiral Shane hands out metal to both Hopper brothers, Mick almost smiles, and Alex receives a standing ovation, Alex finally musters the courage to ask Shane if he can marry Sam. Shane says no.

And they lived happily–

What? “No”? Alex saved Earth. To Shane, his daughter is even more important than Earth. He will, however, discuss Alex’s “terms of surrender” over chicken burritos.

Jokes (1/4)

Battleship was funnier than I expected. Alex’s break-in at the convenience store was shown as security footage, making it funnier. That he did all that for a burrito makes it funnier.

It was also quite funny when Alex, calling out to the alien mothership from a dingy, says, “prepare to be boarded.”

Setting (2/4)

Places on Earth don’t get much better than Hawaii, specifically Oahu. Pearl Harbor must be the most sought-after post in the Navy, and it’s easy to see why. Lush greens, blue waters, perfect weather, Brooklyn Decker and Alexander Skarsgard; what American sailor wouldn’t want Hawaii on their resume?

Much of Battleship takes place inside warships, of course. I love naval battle movies. I’m amazed when filmmakers can take sea battles and make them interesting when compared to land battles, in which thousands of soldiers often fight on huge fields. At sea, it might be one ship against one ship, as it is in this movie.

Compared to submarines, surface ships are downright penthouse-ian. Alex and company have plenty of room to work inside the John Paul Jones, and destroyers are hardly the most spacious of warships. Consider the I-can-sunbathe-amongst-jet-fumes flat top aircraft carriers.

Commentary (0/2)

Battleship has little to say about the world and its readiness for alien invasion. We learn that World War II sailors are capable of crewing a battleship right now. We learn that Rihanna is pretty good. We learn that the US Navy is equipped to kill alien vessels.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Early on Alex makes fun of Nagata by ridiculing The Art of War. Ha ha. So funny. Before that scene Alex quotes Homer to Admiral Shane as the latter berates his character.

How could Alex know Homer so well but not understand the most famous war text ever written, nor know that it’s a Chinese, not Japanese, text? It doesn’t make sense, and it appears that the script writers thought it was a good joke. It wasn’t.

Others

  • (2) Gadson is the most interesting actor in the movie. An actual army colonel and actual double amputee, Berg cast him in the movie after seeing his image in National Geographic. Gadson is now a motivational speaker, and after speaking to the New York Giants in 2007, that team won 10 straight games away from home, including the Super Bowl win against the 18-0 New England Patriots, enough to earn a specially minted Super Bowl ring. Bonus points for casting Gadson and giving him a prominent role.
  • gratuitous product placement: girl drinking Subway cub, a Stihl chainsaw sawing through alien metal.

Summary (27/68): 40%

Battleship is not terrible.