In Defense of Battleship
Battleship pleasantly surprised me.
Successfully selling shlocky dialogue, SIR.
It’s not that I have a soft spot for “E for effort” action movies. Of the Transformers movies (with Rifftrax; I found the first one decent and the latter two punishingly bad. I slept through half of Battle Los Angeles, and War of the Worlds and I Am Legend bored me numb. Even John Carter, with its game actors and healthy sense of humor, annoyed me overall.
What separates a bad-bad action movie from a good-bad action movie? What flaws are forgivable? Why would I be more likely to watch Battleship again than any other of the above? Why would I categorize this movie with Independence Day and the other movies with a dull headache?
(Your mileage may vary.)
Pretty sure this is a still from Battleship
Let us start with the TERRIBLE:
– Anything military Despite my occasional pretending, I really don’t know much about military dress or procedure — all I can do is complain about haircuts and hats. But there are so many lolwuts that the complete lack of trying is entertaining in its own right, such as when Sam and Max visit a Philippines “drawn without reference material.” For example: on the way to RIMPAC exercises, our hero Lieutenant Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) engages in some fisticuffs and gets dressed down by his admiral. The. Admiral. This is like screwing up at work so bad that President Obama comes to chew you out.
Starboard the aft mainsail deck!
Later Lt. Hopper’s commander brother warns him, “They’re going to kick you out of the Navy. The day you get back.” Not now, but later. No court martial or anything. And not a fancy term like “dishonorable discharge.” Just “kick you out,” like the Navy is a big floating Key Club. Silly.
Also there is a tendency in this script for sailors to argue with their superiors. Again, not Key Club. At most, a crazy order warrants a well-timed, incredulous “sir?” But then generally captains in movies are cool heads with clever unfolding schemes, instead of meatheads.
– Anything logical The alien baddies attack only what they perceive as threats, as informed by their color-coded HUDs: green means go, red means destroy. This means they will knock a dude to the floor but then turn their back on him. Not only is this very silly (you are punching me! I punch you back! You stopped punching me! OK, we’re done here!; and raises odd questions (are the aliens a hive mind? Is “threatening-ness” determined programmatically, so that on-the-ground aliens don’t have to face the day-to-day question of what dudes to punch?; but it’s also self-contradictory. Red: industrial equipment, freeways, cars sitting in traffic, battleships not doing anything. Green: dude as soon as he stops punching you.
I can see your Ha-lo… Ha-lo… Ha-lo… Ha-lo-o-o…
– Character design Predator they ain’t. The alien baddies are beige, doughy and have big square teeth (SQUARE!; so they look sort of like Shrek with a beard. They have angry eyes, you know, like the snake in Anaconda, but if you’re going to drop in aliens with no clear objective (colonize the planet? sack it for resources?) it helps if they look dangerous. Like, at all. These space-bros look like they’re just down for beer pong and courting Princess Fiona.
Can we stop doing the angry eyes thing? It is not scary. Like at the end of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, where the alien is melting Cate Blanchett’s brain, and he leans in one last time and makes an EXTRA mean face, and it’s so silly you want to die of carpet burn?
Now THAT’S a bad movie
– Love interest Brooklyn Decker plays Lt. Hopper’s girlfriend, Sam. I hesitate to blame Decker for the performance lodged in this movie, irritating and unpalatable, like gristle in one’s teeth after a steak sandwich. I don’t think she picked the tank-top, short-shorts, dangly gold hoop earrings she’s forced to wear for most of the movie, which is the outfit she wears to work… as a physical therapist… for disabled vets. Because when helping 250 lb former soldiers with missing limbs, you want as many self-inflicted wedgies as possible.
These are my physical therapist earrings
In Sam’s few scenes, we learn much about her. We learn she is rude to pushy drunks until they commit crimes for her, and then she likes them a lot. We learn she enjoys compliments and making out. We learn that even if a big strong hard-headed veteran of the war in Afghanistan says he won’t do a thing, she’ll be all like, “You’re gonna do it,” and then he’ll do it.
Gregory D. Gadson as Lt. Col. Mick Canales, here to destroy cutesy acting
It would have been neat-O if, in this scene, she had shown her powers of persuasion, or knowledge of medical science, or understanding of his condition, or wisdom of experience, but no. The script does not rise to the occasion, and this scene is a terrible galling waste. A more experienced actress might have been able to make it work, but, as Decker was sent to set that day in dangly hoop earrings and short-shorts, she may not have received much helpful direction on her character’s motivation.
Peter Berg just said to make this face a lot
(Spoilers imminent… If you have any plan to watch this movie, I advise you not to read. The warm glow of Battleship‘s pleasures is not so bright as to survive a spoiling.)
– Random dead people Cities are destroyed. 9/11 imagery is evoked. A skyscraper gets chopped in half, and a whole freeway gets flung to bits by some chainsaw Langoliers. Weirdly I am able to forgive civilians getting killed for my amusement more than I am military personnel getting killed for my amusement. It bothered me less when all of Hong Kong was demolished than when Lt. Hopper’s brother’s ship got blown up. This reminds me that, in response to the death of his brother and countless others, Lt. Hopper gets this reaction shot of “aw, dang!” I understand it is hard for a cartoony action movie to take the time to depict grief, but then maybe it would be better if it didn’t blow up ships full of people ‘n’ stuff.
Now the lollable:
– When an alien encounters Hawaiian horses, its HUD helpfully identifies them with a horseshoe. What. What. What. *head asplode*
– Admiral’s daughter is successfully hit on by law-breaking drunk meathead who looks like he doesn’t smell great. If this were written into the character — that she is secretly super into drunks, meatheads and not smelling good, and has been looking all her life for the right man to give her dad nightmares — well, that would have given her a characteristic, and that would have been nice.
– At the last moment, the cowardly nerd arrives to save the Army vet and the love interest. This is dumb and makes no sense, which in this movie is forgivable, but it’s also unsatisfying, which is less forgivable.
Now the kind of great:
– Rihanna. Totally game. Totally effective. Exactly what she needed to be in this movie. I sort of wish she had played both her rifle-loving role and the love-interest — like, they happened to be identical twins. No, it wouldn’t have made sense. No, that wouldn’t have mattered.
Standing by to blow up Shreks, sir.
– Acknowledging, casting and characterizing disabled vets. Hell yes. It is cruel that Gregory D. Gadson’s naturalistic performance as Lt. Col. Mick Canales is so often paired with Brookyln Decker’s prohibition from doing anything unpretty. However it leads to him bodily beating the daylights out of a space-Shrek, and I found this tremendously satisfying.
– A multiculti cast! With women! And old folks! This is the kind of movie where a Japanese captain reminds American meathead Lt. Hopper that “The Art of War” is Chinese — and Hopper doesn’t have a snotty comeback. Where a white petty officer’s Colonel-Sanders-resembling whiteness is worth remarking about — and there is someone of color around to do it. Where an alien smacks around Rihanna, so she blows him up with a missile (very satisfying.)
Right between the angry eyes
– The entire movie as excuse to take the USS Missouri for one last spin? To honor the vets thereon? To show quintessential young buck rock star Rihanna eagerly taking instruction from them? To the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”? On some level I hoped this sequence would take us all the way to the credits, a la Death Proof: nothing but old timers blowing the living crap out of an evil spaceship while AC/DC songs played. Well, the movie slows down and has a normal ending, but I still enjoyed it.
– Speaking of inclusion, this movie has an American meathead and a Japanese slightly-less-meathead teaming up IN HAWAI’I and ON THE MISSOURI in order to defeat a greater evil. Come on. COME ON. Admit you were not expecting subtext from Battleship.
This is why I think Battleship works where others fail. Transformers‘s stupidity serves a racist, sexist, mean-spirited and childish product. Battleship‘s stupidity serves an inclusive, multi-national, good-natured and childish product. Transformers is a thirteen-year-old boy who talks back to his mom and flames strangers on CoD. Battleship is a thirteen-year-old boy who visits his grandparents and offers to help with the dishes.
Come on rude boy boy, I will blow you up