Battleship, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna

Wednesday Rewatch: Sink into a new appreciation for Battleship

Contributed by
May 9, 2018

Welcome to Wednesday Rewatch, a SYFY WIRE series that challenges writers to rewatch a science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise genre-adjacent movie they've already seen and reevaluate in a new context.

This week we rewatch Battleship (2012).

Director Peter Berg has steadily become one of Hollywood's most solid directors, making the leap from acting to working behind the camera in an effortless motion that has delivered a series of certifiable hits like Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. But it was in the disappointment of the board game adaptation craze that Berg was forged in a trial by fire with 2012's Battleship.

As one of the first Milton Bradley/Hasbro titles out to lead the charge for a proposed invasion of classic family games transformed into live-action feature films,Battleship was nearly sunk before it sailed into theaters. Monopoly: The Movie, anyone?

Barnacled with bad reviews and a head-scratching storyline involving an uninvited alien armada, it seemed like Battleship left port with a 10-ton rusty anchor, especially after taking in its diminutive domestic box office numbers. Was this our beloved '60s board game come alive, or some imposter to run screaming from as our hallowed youth was trampled upon by Hollywood?

But against all odds, this $220 million production was saved by the international marketplace; the gung-ho Battleship actually collected $303 million after the campaign dried out, with 82 percent of that total coming from overseas.

THE FIRST WATCH

Fearing the deep waters of desperation and watching the trailers in confused horror, I intentionally avoided Battleship when it first cruised into multiplexes. In my mind, the cloak of failure was draped tightly over its distorted ad campaign, which made the movie look like a goofy bathtub full of Navy ships attacked by Star Trek-ish outer space intruders. It seemed to spring straight out of a boisterous Transformers films or a dozen other uninspired sci-fi spectacles I'd seen. After all, the project did originate with the same toymakers who brought you those iconic franchised robots in disguise.

Critics were not kind when the film opened on May 18, 2012, and, after a while, I felt sorry for the film. I understood that the creators didn't start out to make an uneven movie, but instead got pushed and pulled in myriad directions until the finished product didn't at all resemble the cherished naval combat grid game. My virgin viewing of Battleship came a year after it sunk stateside and after it drifted onto premium cable TV, replete with warts, plot holes, and bad puns. All I can recall is watching for a half-hour or so, then migrating into the kitchen to repaper the cupboard shelves.

THE OFFICIAL REWATCH

Armed with fresh enthusiasm and sporting a jaunty captain's hat, I plunged back into Battleship with renewed optimism. I discovered that, given the right frame of mind and some sugary snacks, his abomination of a favorite board game can be quite entertaining.

Spotlighting a jumbled cast of Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna (huh?), Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, and Liam Neeson, the actors do an admirable job selling the premise, which revolves around an international naval coalition encountering an invading alien armada. Just be sure to toss out anything you know about the original family night amusement it was "loosely" based upon and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how watchable this forgotten sci-fi mashup really is.

Battleship, poster

Credit: Universal Pictures

The gist of the plot centers around five intimidating extraterrestrial spaceships crashing the annual RIMPAC war games party in the Pacific Ocean after receiving a welcome message from NASA.

Lt. Alex Hopper (Kitsch) is a hotshot weapons officer aboard the naval destroyer USS John Paul Jones, while his big brother, Stone (Skarsgård), is commander of the USS Sampson. Caught in the surprise attack, RIMPAC-participating warships for America and Japan must band together to attempt to thwart these otherworldly visitors before they rid Earth of its natural resources.

Battleship starts out on some solid-but-predictable ground: Scientists tell each other things people with PhDs attached to their names would already know for the sake of the audience. These types of summertime action films are always filled with this sort of over-explanatory exposition, so I just went with it.

Kitsch's rebel character is introduced swigging a birthday beer at a bar with his brother as a newscast airs word of the Beacon Project's broadcast of a high-powered radio signal into outer space. (Kudos to whoever chose Stone Temple Pilots to be rockin' in the background!) After a semi-painful sequence involving a chicken burrito and a hot hungry girl (Decker), we dive into the Hawaiian RIMPAC festivities a few years later after Alex has transformed himself into an officer and a gentleman.

Remember the sweaty volleyball game in Top Gun? Well, Battleship does it one better, this time with sweaty male and female military personnel playing soccer. Turns out the blonde of Kitsch's desires is the admiral's (Neeson) physical therapist daughter, Sam, which obviously complicates things but adds that hint of fun familiarity to the ocean activities.

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Once we're riding the waves with the RIMPAC exercises, we shift out of setup mode precisely 23 minutes into the film, signaling the beginning of the second act, heralded by an angry AC/DC tune. Berg's production obviously had the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, as it's filled with beautiful images of billion-dollar engines of war. Aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, anti-submarine cruisers, and squadrons of screaming jets populate this segment until the insidious big baddies arrive.

One of the most interesting and noble aspects of Battleship is its unflinching depiction of wounded warriors and the advancements of high-tech prosthetics for paraplegic and severely injured soldiers at the Naval Physical Therapy Center on Oahu, Hawaii. Those are actual combat veterans we see in rehab and it's a solid shot of pride and admiration for these courageous souls. One of the double amputees was played by real-life retired Army Commander Gregory Gadson, who portrays the angry veteran Mick Canales and regains his fighting spirit through the ordeal.

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Once five distinct objects get picked up by NASA and other detecting stations around the world, Battleship gears up for what it does best — beating us senseless with orchestrated explosions and destruction.

Chunks of debris strike Hong Kong, Scotland, Germany, France, and even Iowa, then plunk into the ocean right in the zone where the military exercises are taking place. The world sent out a signal and got back an unfriendly alien response.

Next time, worry more about the possible dispositions of the inhabitants of Planet G.

The special effects by the geniuses at ILM are exceptional, especially for a six-year-old flick, and those digital wizards display some astonishing sequences involving the amphibious alien spacecraft, the reptilian race, and the awesome majesty of the mothership. These machines were elegantly designed to be something unique to the big screen and, in that respect, this movie achieves its cult status — sonic blasts, rolling juggernaut bombs, and power-armor included.

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Racing against time to prevent the infiltrators from communicating back to their home planet, the combined naval craft of the USA and Japan are able to discern a weakness in the extraterrestrials and destroy their scout party before phoning home.

After the John Paul Jones is sunk, one intriguing element of the tale involves dusting off a World War II treasure, the USS Missouri, and outfitting her with some fresh weaponry to go hunt down the invaders. Using current sailors, preservation volunteers, and a crew of retired veterans to make the old girl seaworthy, they succeed in taking down the shimmering forcefield barricade and defeating the floating alien fortress.

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All ends happily with the obligatory sacrifices, decorations for heroism and valor, a potential wedding, and a renewed sense of hope and optimism following the alien beatdown. With a 15-minute diet, this Universal Studios tentpole might have done far better. And if the ultimate focus you're left with after watching Battleship is anything like what the triumphant cast displays, then this oceanic combat flick succeeds with no Dramamine required for excessive nausea.

Oh, and it's also got a now-standard post-credits scene with a trio of Scottish teens and a handyman stumbling across a crashed alien pod. And when they open it... well, you'll just have to watch it to see what horror lurks inside!

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THE TAKEAWAY

Yes, full disclosure here dictates that I tell you the film was nominated for seven "Razzies" that year for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay and other embarrassing accolades. Rihanna actually won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress!

While Battleship will never be confused with a classic of the genre, it does exist in a comic book-ish pocket universe where blistering special effects and old-fashioned character tropes are paraded out proudly. It contains enough breathtaking alien craft bombarding massive military might and two-fisted machismo to satisfy invasion fans of all ages. Filmmakers were obviously looking to fill in the void left following the mega-hit Independence Day, and once you drop in an unsettled ocean and stir, you've got Battleship.

It had the unenviable task of being born from one of the most recognized board games of all time. But the resultant adaptation — thought it bears none of the tactical strategy hallmarks of the old grid-and-peg game — absolutely delivers a rousing sci-fi experience backed by cliched-but-capable performances, respect for our veterans, state-of-the-art CGI, and a killer soundtrack of Michael Bay-pleasing hard rock songs.

Does the repeat viewing make me want to go buy a new 4K UHD copy, join the Navy, or listen to a Rihanna record? Maybe not, but I'm thinking about it! What are your memories and favorite bits of Peter Berg's Battleship?