Battleship

Oh but that I could lose a limb for my country
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2012
Director: 
Peter Berg
Starring: 
Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker
The Setup: 
Attempt to start another lucrative franchise and product placement venue based on a game.
Discussion: 

So yes, my life is in THAT sad a place that I saw Battleship on opening weekend. This is something that has only brought shame on me and, ultimately, my family. The fact is that I had to get out of the house, I has puttered around too long to make a showing of Aardman's The Pirates, and this was playing everywhere on the hour. But honestly, I have no excuse, and really, I did feel like "Is THIS what it has come to?" afterward.

So after forty previews the movie starts with a press briefing with wall-size projection straight out of Lost in Space (the movie), where we learn that we've discovered another habitable planet, and are sending a radio signal there. You might be shocked to learn that radio signals create visible beams of light. Meanwhile our future hero, Hopper, is a Hawaiian layabout with long, greasy hair and no job prospects who is being lectured to by his brother, who is marked for death so that Hopper can learn some responsibility. You can see it all now. In strides a woman with large breasts and Hopper falls instantly in love because all he needs in a lifelong companion are large breasts. There's this whole thing about how she wants a microwaveable chicken burrito but the bar won't give her one--for NO reason--causing Hopper to break into a convenience store across the street and steal one in order for him to demonstrate what a romantic, lovable rogue he is. He causes several hundred dollar's worth of damage to the store, yet only leaves two dollars to cover his burrito, which is supposed to be utterly charming. He also causes a car accident and generates a large police response, which adds up to a few thousand dollars, but isn't it adorbs that he got her her microwaveable chicken burrito?

And let's just pause to observe--what the fuck kind of white trash wanders into a bar when she's hungry looking for a MICROWAVABLE CHICKEN BURRITO? Like, THAT is the kind of sustenance she seeks? And, um, even with the finest digestive system, our hero is probably not going to want to be around this lady by the time that crap cycles through, you know? We also later find that she is a physical trainer, so theoretically she has read an article once about the kind of shit you should not put in your body. But Hopper is still in love, because she has large breasts.

Turns out she's the daughter of the big admiral or whatever, and a few years later they are in love, and she's the kind of person who lays atop her boyfriend on the beach in a string bikini top and Daisy Dukes. That's all you need for a relationship, folks! The Navy is having these big war games and Hopper is going to ask Liam Neeson as Admiral whatever for his daughter's hand in marriage, and all of this is supposed to be charming to the cretins this movie is aimed at. But first there's a soccer game where Hopper won't be replaced out of the game and thus "His stubbornness lost the United States," at which point you know that the moral of this movie is going to be about how you have to be a team player and not try to be a star, even though through the rest of the movie he'll be largely on his own and almost single-handedly save the planet. Sure he'll rely on a team, but they'll be largely at his command, following his orders. Anyway, then he's late for the war games kickoff ceremony, supposed to be charming, then gets in a fight with a Japanese captain (these war games are in cooperation with the Japanese, which perhaps strikes some as progressive?), then is told that he's a fuck-up by Neeson, i.e. no daughter.

Actually, in here is a nice little detail in which Hopper finishes and identifies a quote from Homer. That's right! When he's not committing crimes to obtain preservative-packed snacks to woo women with large breasts, he's sitting around reading HOMER! Studying it to the point that he can finish quotations from memory, by the way. We also later learn that he has also memorized The Art of War between nights hanging out at bars and making such a wastrel of himself that everyone agrees he has no future, and is in fact a giant fuck-up.

You know what? It COULD happen.

During the ceremony we have introduced the old battleship Missouri, now a museum ship docked at Pearl Harbor, and dragged out several of its crusty old surviving crewmembers, which I'm afraid to learn are actual surviving crewmembers.

We see Hopper instructing his crew that they want to WIN, not learn or be a team or whatnot, so we know he hasn’t yet changed. Once they’ve launched, he learns that once the exercise is over, he’ll be kicked out of the Navy. Of course you can see where this is going. Anyway, also on hand is Rihanna as a gunner with sassy attitude. Now, I didn’t keep an eagle eye out, but I was generally aware, and I don’t think I saw a SINGLE other female in the entire Navy! I was also surprised to learn that basically every man in the Navy is a serious bodybuilder. And while we’re at the small observations, you’ll notice that much of the score seems to be lifted intact from Tron: Legacy, with sections also lifted from Star Trek. But the whole film is just a collection of familiar bits from other movies anyway.

So anyway, aliens from the planet we have contacted send five ships, one of which crashes into a satellite. Yep, they’ve made it all the way across the universe, but can’t avoid a satellite. But actually, we’ll have cause to note that these aliens are not the super-advanced kind we’re used to, and are in fact pretty non-fearsome. This fifth ship crashes into Hong Kong and destroys the skyscraper that you see in the trailer. Sometimes in the movie there’s talk of aliens in other cities, or something happening in other cities, but I could never really make sense of it. In here is an unmistakable 9/11 image as we see the public running from a whooshing white cloud. Anyway, the aliens land in the Pacific, with only part sticking up. I would stop trying to make sense of the aliens’ plan right now—if they even have a plan—because it never makes any sense.

Now recall that Hopper’s girlfriend is a physical therapist? She could actually use some of her own therapies on her face , as she seems to have only two expressions; ‘Ewwwww’ and ‘Oh My God.’ Anyway, we suddenly cut to this clinic where we are seeing all of these people, presumably veterans, who have lost limbs. We are seriously panning around a room full of amputees, and it’s a little disconcerting. Then the girlfriend, her name is Sam, takes this giant man who has lost both his legs out and he has a big speech about how he is “half a man” because of his injury, and that he’s a soldier, and his life has no meaning, because he can no longer be a soldier, and thus has no purpose. We’ll come back to this at the end.

So there are these aliens out there in the water, and Hopper, Rihanna and another huge powerlifter go over in a tiny little inflatable raft to investigate. Hopper gets right on board, walks up to the thing, touches it, and it comes on. Ummm, does that make sense? This ship was waiting for someone to come up and touch it? The whole alien plan hinges on that? Or was it just a coinkidink? Anyway, they shoot up this whole defensive shield that locks three ships [including Hopper’s, natch] inside and the rest of the fleet [including dour dad Neeson] outside. This motif of a ray shooting up into the sky where it explodes out seems to be a new recurring theme in movies, as it was seen in last summer’s Transformers 3, The Avengers, here, and is seen again in the trailers for the upcoming Spider-man. The aliens shoot these bombs [some say they’re supposed to look like pegs from the game] that kill Hopper’s brother! But we knew he was marked for death, so that Hopper could become serious and learn responsibility and all that. He gets a start here when he orders the ship [oh, he is thrust into command when everyone else is killed, a la Star Trek, btw] to go attack the aliens, but finally accedes to go pick up survivors.

Then the aliens launch the next phase of their “plan,” which is to shoot those razor-balls over to destroy stuff and create special effects. The aliens have a complex Red/Green system to classify ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ [they have no color for ‘frenemy’] and we get lots of ‘alien-vision’ shots with it. We now start seeing a lot of wholesome white kids, presumably on one of the Hawaiian islands? Of course you know that, in these kinds of movies, nothing says “the American way of life” than a bunch of white kids playing baseball. I can’t recall seeing a child of another color, but I’m sure they’re there, if only by requirement. The other “American way of life” shots we get are minivans on a freeway, which is all too true. Anyway, all of a sudden we’re seeing a ton of wholesome white kids, and of course I start getting excited that we’re going to see them all ground to pink slime, just for evil kicks, not of course not. One razor ball comes to rest in front of one of the kids, decides he’s not the enemy, but then decides that the highway IS. It targets the columns supporting the highway and it collapses, Then we just move on and the movie is so swiftly-moving it isn’t until later that you say: WTF with that? The aliens hate our highways? They want to stop traffic on Hawaii? Since we never come back to any of it, we’ll never know.

Once the battle gets going its all battle battle, blah blah, and you start to notice that the special effects are really very much the same throughout. Alien ships rising out of water, and battleships being blown apart. That's about it. We also have some stalking through the ship with rifles action, since the aliens have come aboard. These aliens--do they have a plan at all? We keep seeing them classifying humans as not their enemy, and walking right up to humans but not hurting them and, well, then who IS their enemy? What do they want? They aren't subduing cities, as it appears in the trailer. They don't even seem to want to engage the Navy. What DO they want? The only thing we find out is that they want to use our satellite to call home and send more aliens, but since the ones here seem to have no plan and no beef with humankind... maybe they just want to be pals?

The aliens are also a quite lame alien race, and are quite evenly matched with our Navy. Their ships can't even leave the water, they just kind of do a butterfly stroke across the surface. Wouldn't it be far more efficient for them to just travel underwater? Again, you don't really put together until afterward how very lame these aliens are and really, mankind shouldn't feel that proud of fending them off, as pretty much any child could do it.

Ever-present are the extremely prominent product placements one has come to expect from movies of this kind, almost as if its perceived audience would be uncomfortable if not aggressively marketed to. On hand is Hamish Linklater, so charming in The Future... so charming in fact that one starts to wish it's not really him, but unfortunately it is.

SPOILERS > > >
So eventually Hopper's ship is sunk, and he and the Japanese captain run up to the rising stern of the sinking ship just like Kate and Leo in Titanic. They get rescued, and return to Pearl Harbor where they're going to take the old Missouri, now a museum ship, out to fight the aliens! And then you see all the crusty old Navy veterans just waiting to get back into some military action! And they don't just come offer their services as a group, but array themselves in dramatic poses all over the ship! (which is IN NO WAY supposed to bring to mind an old Village People video). I guess this museum ship has absolutely no security. You'll also be stunned to learn that this decommissioned ship that is permanently at anchor also has fuel in its tanks, and a full complement of LIVE AMMUNITION!!! I guess they're just lucky some tourist kid never climbed behind the ropes to try out one of the guns or missile launchers.

They also cut through all of the anchors except the ONE they will use to execute a Bat-turn with the entire ship. That's right, you can drop the front anchor on a huge ship over a half-century in age and what will happen is that the whole ship will skid around sideways, not just snap its anchor chain. I personally did not know that. They use the last missile to destroy the radar array used to send the alien signal, and everything is all right? There's a coda where Hopper gets an award and presumably gets to marry the girl with the boobs, but I had to bolt the theater.
< < < SPOILERS END

Yeah, so it was bad. Several of the reviews I had read before said its bad, but kind of FUN, so that made it seem palatable, but it's not really that fun. The opening with the burrito is supposed to be kind of goofy fun, but it's all so obvious in what it's trying to do (introduce the hero, his girlfriend, the brother, establish that the hero is a romantic fuck-up, be a "fun" opening) that it kind of fell flat. Then there's a bunch of tedious drama and set-up that goes on too long, especially as it's all composed of cliches from other films, and then after a certain point, non-stop alien combat. But even that loses its thrill fast, as the battles are all very one-note and the special effects are mostly of the same type: fireballs ripping through ships, or Transformer-like ships with different parts locking into place.

Adding to the lack of overall momentum, as mentioned, is that we never really know what the aliens want, making it hard to have much of a sense of what's at stake. What is portrayed as an attack on Hong Kong in the trailer is just an accident because the dumb aliens can travel across space, but can't avoid a satellite. They launch an attack on Hawaiian highways, for some reason, then that whole line is forgotten. And I guess they would have remained sitting harmlessly in the ocean if our hero hadn't touched one? And what we need to do to prevent more coming is just stop their transmission? These aliens will just give up if they never get a signal to send more? Not to mention that the aliens never express any wish to take over the planet, and make clear that their beef is not with humans, as there are several occasions in which they are shown leaving humans alone and going about their business. So if these aliens have no real plan and even if they did, seem too lame to execute it, why should I feel like there's any real challenge to humanity here?

Finally, there's this creepy subtext about how it's great to lose one's life or at least a limb or two for America. Now every movie like this, that is made with substantial assistance from the Navy, is going to have a certain degree of jingoism, and have a touch of the recruitment video feel to it, but this one takes it to the point where it isn't yearning for a strong military defense, but for actual WAR. First we have the long pan around the rehab center filled with vets who have lost limbs, showing how they get to hang out in pleasant rehab centers with all their buddies. Then we have our featured amputee giving his prominent speech about how his life only had purpose while in combat, and now that he is no longer in combat, and has lost his legs, he is "half a man" with no purpose in life. We are supposed to feel good that the alien attack offers him another chance to get into combat. That's just a touch, but becomes a sustained statement the movie is making when we drag the Navy veterans out, then see that they are unable to leave the ship they once served on, and again, are excited for another chance to get back into combat. The implication is that their lives have been meaningless outside of war, and we're supposed to get warm-hearted that they are miraculously offered another chance to die in combat. And since their ship is destroyed and we don't see them escape, we must presume that many of them DO die, which we are invited to feel is the fulfillment of their dreams.

The point is that while it's one thing to want to SERVE one's country, it's another to specifically want to DIE for one's country. It's one thing to have a defensive Navy to protect and prevent conflict, and go into war if it becomes a necessity, it's another to WANT war so that we can kick ass with all our awesome toys. By portraying several Navy men as disappointed and adrift in life because they can't die in war, then feeling their lives are reaching fulfillment when they DO die in war, points to the general awesomeness of WAR, not peacekeeping or defense.

This movie left such a bad taste that, since I saw it on a Sunday afternoon, the first thing I did upon getting home was to check to be sure that it was beaten by Avengers. It was then a nice surprise to discover that not only was it beaten, it is a massive flop in the US. This movie generated such ill will, it made me want to see it fail. It thankfully complied.

Should you watch it: 

I'd like to think that if you're the person who would enjoy this movie, you're not a regular reader.