Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is pretty much a loss. As his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) points out to him, he’s smart, energetic, capable, and completely lacking in motivation to make anything of himself. He will therefore join the Navy. (Big brother is a Commander in said branch of the armed forces.) Fast forward to Hawai’i, on the eve of joint naval exercises with the U.S. and several allied ships, most notably a Japanese destroyer captained by Yugi Nagata (Tadanobu Asano), with whom Alex, predictably, gets into a fracas in a pre-exercise soccer game. Alex has also managed to catch the eye of Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who happens to be the daughter of the Admiral in charge (Liam Neeson), and for a change, Alex is serious.
There is also, nearby on the island of Oahu, a signal array that has been beaming a message to an Earth-like planet discovered several years before. As the exercises are about to begin, the inhabitants of said planet send their answer — five ships, and from the looks of things, they’re not awfully friendly. As one might expect, Alex winds up commanding the destroyers ranged against the alien ships — who have managed to set up a barrier cutting themselves and a chunk of Hawai’i off from the rest of the world, while Sam manages to rescue the scientist manning the signal station (Cal Zapata, played by Hamish Linklater).
Battleship was developed from a board game, so let’s just be frank about it: it’s an action/adventure flick, with the emphasis on “action,” and in that regard, director Peter Berg delivers. Once the action starts, it doesn’t really stop, and it’s well done. The aliens have some pretty nasty tricks up their sleeve, and the battle sequences are pretty spectacular.
I was going to say, in regard to the acting, “Don’t look for any depth of character,” but thinking back, that’s not really true. Taylor Kitsch, of course, is central, and while he turns in a creditable job, I’m not sure there was a lot of room to develop Alex — this is a film, after all, that depends on the action, not depth of character, and I’m not sure that Alex has a lot of depth to begin with. The ones who really stood out for me were Rihanna, as Petty Officer Cora Raikes, who not only knows what to do with the battery on a destroyer, but also knows what to do with an assault rifle; and Gregory D. Gadson, as Lt. Col. Mick Canales, one of Sam’s patients. (She’s a physical therapist, he’s a double amputee.) Gadson manages to pack a lot of emotion into a stone face. If the performances aren’t universally stellar, they are at the least very good and ultimately believable.
By way of a teaser, the battleship of the title is the U.S.S. Missouri, decommissioned and turned into a museum, but still seaworthy.
There’s a lot in this film that’s thoroughly predictable, but it’s a lot of fun, the effects are effective, and the action sequences are real edge-of-the-seat sorts of things. It’s tight and focused and the pacing is excellent. Perfect if you want to spend a couple of hours cheering on the good guys.
Running time 172 minutes, rated PG-13. You can view a trailer here.
(Universal Pictures, Hasbro, Bluegrass Films, Film 44, 2012)