Battleship (2012), directed by Peter Berg
I was conflicted over whether I wanted to see Battleship or not, quite frankly. On the one hand it’s made by the same team behind Friday Night Lights, the best show ever, including director Peter Berg and actors Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons. On the other, it’s based on a board game for heaven’s sake, and had a terrible, Transformers-looking trailer. You’ve heard mixed reviews, some in support, some vehemently opposed. Imma mix the two up into one.
Which means I thought it was okay.
Listen, I’ll say this much: it was a lot better than I thought it would be. When you have material like this, which seems straight out of Michael Bay’s playbook (I mean really, robotic looking dudes attack Pearl Harbour? It’s like a film snob’s nightmare), it’s hard to have high hopes. But it doesn’t take long into the screening to realize, oh right, wait a minute, this isn’t directed by Michael Bay, it’s made by people who have a sense of story and characters and making films that make some sort of sense. How refreshing.
They don’t save the premise entirely, but they sure give it a good go. The first third of the film is great. It has this Top Gun-esque setup, it’s got interesting, believable characters, it knows how to have some fun. There’s great music, a rarely-seen these days lightness to the material and, of course, all the bells, whistles, close up, handheld, zoomy, quick cut camera work of a Peter Berg show. Normally I would use most of those descriptions as a complaint, but somehow Berg always manages to pull that kind of filmmaking off and make it work really, really well.
I’m often the wet blanket that just wants to see the characters having fun and thinks films get bogged down with ridiculous stories and action and climaxes and so on. So when the aliens arrive and the digital effects team kicks it into high gear, the movie lost me somewhat. It’s still a heck of a lot better than other similar movies, but I’m sick of the aliens thing. I know we all love each other now and can’t have the US Navy squaring off against the Ruskies or the Chinese or something, but can we come up with something other than aliens, aliens, aliens?
Despite my wet blanketism, I still mostly enjoyed the last two-thirds of the movie. The action is coherent and exciting. At times it’s a little hand-to-forehead obvious in trying to tie in the movie to the game, but again, at least it has fun with it. It feels too long, which is never a good thing for an action-packed movie, but it remembers throughout that characters are the most important element of good storytelling and doesn’t fall too far into cliches (okay, maybe a little).
There’s still a lot of speculation over whether Taylor Kitsch is a bankable Hollywood star. This is his year to prove it, with two major releases (John Carter, Battleship) and one semi-major (Savages), but unfortunately it’s not going all that well. Both of the majors have been box office disappointments, especially, nay, notoriously John Carter, and it seems like Kitsch hasn’t been much of a selling feature for audiences.
Which I think is too bad and not Kitsch’s fault. I like the guy. Sure, I already have a fondness for him because he was my favourite character in my favourite TV show. But even if you don’t know and love Timmy Riggins (Texas forever), I think that Kitsch has a charisma and nonchalant screen presence that is refreshingly reserved and subtly humorous. John Carter, despite my standing up for it (or maybe because of it?) was a disaster that Kitsch in no way could have saved. Battleship is another underrated, under performing movie that can’t be saved, which is even more frustrating because Kitsch is far better in this one than Carter.
Only time will tell what the career of Kitsch holds, but wait for Savages, because it looks excellent and will be more of an acting-focused film than explosions and whatnot (well, maybe). And give the guy a chance. He may just win you over yet.
As for Battleship, it’s generally good old fashioned summer movie fun, if not a bit haywire for my liking. Check it out. Oh and, for the record, I like Rihanna in it. She’s got some great, punchy on screen presence going on.
Also, one last point, I could do with less of the “missile heading for something finale”. Mission: Impossible 4, The Avengers, this one…we get it.
Battleship is in theatres now.