Thursday, May 31, 2012
Movie Review: Battleship (2012)
Coming out of the experience, I have to say Battleship was more entertaining than it had any right to be. Don't get me wrong, it is still a cheesy, 'splosiony, totally implausible action movie. Basically, this is Independence Day but with the Navy as the protagonists. In fact, it is in many ways better than ID4 because it doesn't try to be anything terribly deep or meaningful. This is a summer movie in exactly the way summer movies were meant to be; cheap thrills, action, rock 'n roll soundtracks, and pure escapism.
Not that it's terribly complex, but to give a brief plot synopsis, the US Navy, along with warships from other countries in the Pacific theater, is performing a massive series of wargames off the coast of Hawaii. During these wargames, a number of alien spacecraft splash down off the coast of Hawaii, but one of the ships crashes into Hong Kong (why things falling out of the sky always head for massive urban population centers or midwestern corn fields, I have no idea). The ships crashing into the ocean ignite a force field that cuts the wargaming fleet off from Hawaii, and the only forces within the field are three destroyers - two US Navy, one Japanese. The crews of these three ships have to face off against the alien vessels and defeat them before the aliens put their McGuffin plot hook into effect and doom the world.
A few words about the cast. Taylor Kitsch was pretty entertaining as the main character - I thought he was far better here than he was in John Carter. Liam Neeson is his usual professional self, and although he doesn't get a lot of screen time, he's perfectly acceptable in his role. Alexander Skarsgård plays his relatively small part very well, and it was good to see him away from True Blood.
However, there are two cast members I want to give special notice to. The first is Rhianna. When I saw she was going to be in this movie, I just rolled my eyes and shook my head. I was expecting another example of Beyonce in Goldmember, where her heavy-handed acting and horrible dialogue made the scenes with her utterly unwatchable. Rhianna's character and her performance, on the other hand, was spot on. In the film, she is just another naval gunner's mate, doing her job and working with her other crew. There are no slow-motion shots of her ass in an unrealistically tight uniform, no flirty inter-character banter, no love interest, no sexually suggestive comments about "making big guns explode" or any of the million other ways you could have needlessly exploited her in this film. Instead, she was just another crew member, doing her assigned duties and trying to survive. There is not one moment where being a woman comes into play, and I think that is exactly how it should have been handled. So, if nothing else, major kudos to Rhianna and director Peter Berg.
The other cast member is Gregory D. Gadson, who plays Mick, a double-amputee veteran who's lost his "fighting spirit", but finds new purpose when he and Samantha (the Admiral's daughter and main character's love interest), who is his physical therapist, get stuck on the mountain where some deep space signalling equipment is located. The aliens take special interest in this installation, and Mick and Samantha and Zapata, the scientist who runs the installation, work to stop the aliens' plans. I was curious while watching the film if Gadson was an actual amputee or if he was the recipient of some very convincing special effects, but looking at his Wikipedia page, he is in fact a decorated Army veteran who lost both of his legs above the knee to a roadside bomb in 2007. That he was brought into this movie and actually pulls off a decent performance is rather heartwarming, since they could have just picked some random character actor and CGI-ed his legs with fake prosthesis. The film student in me couldn't help but draw parallels between Gadson and Harold Russell, the Army veteran who lost both hands to an accidental explosion, and who was later cast in the movie The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
So in conclusion, Battleship was a surprising amount of fun. We never get to see "warship" movies these days, and it was cool to see even a fictionalized depiction of the modern US Navy. Although the use of the USS Missouri was utterly impossible (the ship is essentially a floating husk these days, with no real functional systems), the fun awesomeness of having a bunch of retired veterans get the old gal into fighting shape while AD/DC's "Thunderstruck" blasts you through the montage more than made up for it. Actually, the soundtrack as a whole was quite good, with a lot of rock n' roll numbers alongside more generic action movie scoring. While this movie has received generally negative reviews (although this Washington Post review follows my reasoning), I think it superior to Battle: Los Angeles, the most recent alien invasion vs. the military movie I can think of, and its relatively unique place as a naval sci-fi action movie, if anything else, recommends it for a cheap matinee or Netflix rental sometime in the future.