Battleship: Big, Dumb Summer Action Flick Jumps, Licks My Face

People are divided in their reactions to Irish setters.

Some folks don’t mind when those big, enthusiastic, galumphing canines dance all around their legs and jump up and deliver a tongue bath to the face. They find it endearing and sweet, a nice change of pace that any creature should find them so enticing and exciting that it goes to such efforts.

Other folks think those dogs are a nuisance. Setters slobber on you. They get their fur all over your clothes. They don’t take no for an answer. They aren’t polite or introspective or quietly charming. They won’t hold still in your lap (or fit comfortably in your lap). They won’t sit nobly at your feet while you play a game of chess (being much more likely to turn the board over).

My reaction to Irish setters? It depends on my mood and what I’m wearing. If I’m in a hurry and dressed in a suit, I don’t want an Irish setter within ten feet of me. But generally, I put up with them with a slightly arch affection, at worst. Most of the time, I like them just fine.

I must’ve been in the right mood for Universal’s and Hasbro’s summer action blockbuster Battleship last night. It won me over. It helped that I had my kids with me; I’m generally more predisposed to like this sort of film if my main purpose is to entertain my kids, and the film does that (without being inappropriate). Honestly, I probably gave the picture at least one additional star just based on the fact that Judah was dancing on my lap with excitement and Levi and Asher were oohing and aahing next to me. On the other hand, I have previously blogged as a strong skeptic of major motion pictures based on toy and game properties. So there’s that. I could’ve gone either way in my reaction.

Oh, I’m not going to make a case for Battleship being a well-thought out extrapolation of alien invasion and/or the U.S. military’s response to said incursion. On that front, the 2012 film represents a definite slide backwards from prior Saturday matinee fodder such as 1956’s Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, which portrayed both the aliens and the U.S. military in a more intelligent light. I’m not going to bother pointing out the internal inconsistencies and implausibilities that pepper this movie (chief among them being that the U.S.S. Missouri could be transitioned from being a museum ship to an active combatant in the space of three hours or so). Plenty of other reviewers have carried out that task. And besides, doing so is no more sporting than shooting fish in a barrel (or toy battleships in a bathtub).

No, what won me over wasn’t the film’s logic. It was the film’s Irish setter-like enthusiasm and good naturedness. In Battleship, everyone gets their turn to be awesome. Bad-boy rebel hero? Awesome! Stick-in-the-mud, by-the-book older brother? Awesome! Tomboy woman sailor? Awesome! Japanese naval officers visiting for war games? Awesome! Paraplegic, African-American retired Army soldier who used to be a championship boxer? Awesome! Cowardly science nerd who the paraplegic retired soldier convinces to be a hero? Awesome! Old World War Two battleship dragged out of mothballs in record time to confront the aliens’ version of the I.J.N. Yamato? Awesome! A gaggle of eighty-five-year-old Navy veterans who volunteer to show the young ‘uns how to operate a sixty-eight-year-old battleship? Awesome! The fuddy-duddy admiral dad of the girlfriend of the bad-boy rebel hero? In the end, you guessed it – he’s AWESOME!

After a half-hour or so, a viewer (unless he or she is predisposed to harbor negative feelings about members of the U.S. military) is simply worn down by all of this awesome!ness. The repeated licks to the face force smiles in a Pavlovian fashion, particularly from a viewer (like myself) who waxes nostalgic for old-style 1940s war movies like Destination Tokyo, Action in the North Atlantic, and Wake Island. No ambiguity, no moral relativism, just plenty of action, action, action! And a dash of heartfelt patriotism, too. Even patriotism for the Japanese Navy — and this in a movie that prominently features the U.S.S. Missouri, site of Japan’s WW2 surrender!

Oh, and the SFX shots of the Missouri going into action are very good, as are the scenes of three guided missile destroyers being blown up and sunk.

The movie makes its sole stab at subtlety in its gossamer-thin connection to the Hasbro board game of the title. The aliens’ force field shuts down the U.S. Navy’s and Japanese Navy’s advanced radar systems, so a Japanese officer comes up with the notion of utilizing NOAA water depression readings as a substitute measure for tracking the locations of the attacking alien warships… and the resulting screen images look just like – you guessed it! – graphics from the board game. This Easter egg alone, the film’s “Rosebud,” may cause critics of the future to rank Battleship as the Citizen Kane of toy-and-game movie adaptations.

I predict that this film will do much better in the home video market than it did in the theaters (where it has been one of the year’s more notable box office bombs). It is the sort of picture kids (and many dads) will enjoy watching over and over again (maybe fast-forwarding to the things-go-BOOM! scenes).

My family’s rankings?

One ”This is the most AWESOME movie I’ve ever seen in my whole LIFE!” (Judah)
Two ”Pretty awesome”s (Levi and Asher)
One ”More entertaining than I’d expected it would be” (that would be me)

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