I appreciate the irony of me telling you to ignore the critics - at least the paid ones - because BATTLESHIP is a lot of fun. And I say this as someone who couldn't watch TRANSFORMERS and generally doesn't do mindless action summer blockbusters. I can see why the critics are being sniffy. BATTLESHIP is, no pun intended, an easy target to hit. It has more than it's fair share of ludicrous action sequences and clichéd dialogue. Its plot is a pick'n'mix from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, INDEPENDENCE DAY, STAR WARS and TERMINATOR - utterly predictable from start to finish. And worst of all, it stunt-casts a Sports Illustrated model (Brooklyn Decker) and a pop star (Rihanna). It's also pretty long.
But forget all that. Here's the deal. NASA has sent out signals to an earth-like planet that have resulted in an early-invasion alien task-force targeting a satellite station in Hawaii, putting up a forcefield that keeps out the US navy. Luckily, BSG-stylee, a few ships are trapped inside the field, and it falls to them to destroy the alien force, eventually decommissioning an old battleship complete with vets on board. Part of this involves tracking the alien ships, battleship game style, by trying to hit grid co-ordinates. Meanwhile, on the island, a geek, a girlfriend and a war-vet come together to knock on the communication satellite via which the aliens are due to bring in the rest of the invasion force.
There are a lot of battles and fights and whatnot and the vis-effects are all top-notch. But what makes the film a success is that it takes its time establishing character, so that when it gets to the battles we actually care about the outcome and the character development they engender. The movie starts with a clean-cut Naval officer Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) witnessing his love-able loser brother Alex's (Taylor Kitsch) attempt to woo the daughter of an Admiral (Brooklyn Decker). The intro is genuinely funny, just as the opening scenes with Kitsch as John Carter trying to break jail were really funny. And what this movie does right is that it recognises that Kitsch has a Harrison Ford like loveable-rogue quality and rather than squashing that (as in John Carter) it actually lets it run throughout the movie. All the way through we have him wise-cracking even as he becomes more mature and takes on command of the ship.
Moreover, whenever, the dialogue gets too hammy, you have another character commenting on that. A lot of critics have criticised Kitsch's character using the line "I have a bad feeling about this" after a destroyer has pretty much been shot to shit. But I think they're missing the fun that the screenwriters are having with the genre they're in. How else can you explain having Hamish Linklater play the science geek Cal looking basically like a young George Lucas? And a couple of times he even explicitly says things like "who talks like that?!" This is a movie that internalises its own critique - it knows it has a mockingly self-indulgent attitude toward the genre conventions its playing with.
What's interesting is that this self-indulgent, gentle mockery sits alongside a very earnest, patriotic streak that runs throughout the film. Early on, we have a scene where Korean War vets are saluted. They play a key role later on. And real-life vet Gregory D Gadson plays a pivotal role in the island storyline. I like the fact that alongside all the action sequence nonsense, the movie looks us straight in the eye and shows us the true cost of war - men with their limbs shot off. And it doesn't do this is in a sensational way - it just quietly makes its point.
So for me, BATTLESHIP is pretty much the perfect summer blockbuster. It's a mindless action movie that actually has a lot of intelligence - combining respect for vets with a conciliatory attitude towards the US' historic enemies. It deals in cliché, but does so in a funny and self-aware manner. And we finally get a movie that understands that Taylor Kitsch is best used in a role which shows off his easy charm. I'm all about this movie and look forward to the sequel.
BATTLESHIP was released on April 12th in Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Finland, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Spain and Vietnam. It opens on April 19th in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Turkey. It opens on May 11th in Brazil and Colombia; on May 18th in Canada, Paraguay and the USA.