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'Battleship,' now streaming, is one of the stupidest movies ever made. It's perfect.

The 2012 film adaptation of the classic board game is a truly bizarre and wonderful piece of blockbuster filmmaking.

By James Grebey
Rihanna in Battleship (2012)

Have you ever played Battleship? It’s a classic board game. You and an opponent take on the roles of two rival naval admirals in what appears to be roughly World War II-era combat. You take turns trying to attack your opponent, attempting to guess and surmise where on the ocean grid their ships are hiding. If you sink all your opponent's ships, you win. 

You would think, if one were to make a movie out of Battleship, it would probably be fairly similar to the basic premise of the board game: two naval fleets duking it out. Maybe it would be a quasi-historical war drama. Simple, right?

Wrong. Because the geniuses behind the 2012 Battleship movie — and I call them geniuses unironically with admiration — instead zagged hard when every rational person would have zigged and created the most contrived and dumbest movie ever made out of what should’ve been a straightforward adaptation. It is streaming on Peacock right now, and it is perfect. 

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To be fair to Battleship, it does feature the most important thing you would want from a movie called Battleship: battleships. Set in the present day, the action takes place largely in Hawaii, where the U.S. Navy is participating in RIMPAC (the Rim of the Pacific Exercise) an annual international warfare exercise. However, rather than fight each other, like in the board game, our plucky heroes — Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, and [checks notes] Rihanna — are fighting aliens. 

Yes, perhaps in an attempt to echo the success of another Hasbro-owned movie IP, Transformers, the Battleship movie doesn’t feature two fleets of battleships, destroyers, and cruisers fighting one another. No, this movie features some fairly generic aliens in a big ship who land in the Pacific and set up a force field, trapping several ships inside and rendering their communications useless and a lot of their high-tech weaponry ineffective.

The aliens aren’t totally generic, because the distinct qualities they do have are so painstakingly reverse-engineered from aspects of Battleship that you would think they are secondary to the core premise (battleships fighting other battleships, which again is not actually a part of this movie). Because the aliens — who are quite elusive despite being inside the same contained force field expanse of ocean as the U.S. boats — knock out communication and tracking devices, the heroes create a grid and use that to narrow down where their enemies might be… just like in the game!

More jarringly, the weapons the aliens use to sink ships are these giant shells that fly through the air and land in ships, devastating them. The shells are shaped like the pegs from the board game, because when you think about the defining traits of the Battleship game, it’s the pegs themselves right? They’re not meant to be stand-ins or markers on a map at naval HQ. No, they’re actually these giant pegs that are plopping into destroyers to take ‘em out. This is what Battleship is all about.

The characters are the charismatic stock characters you’d want from a movie like this, simultaneously too dumb and too smart at the same time. Every actor is extremely, comically hot. Kitsch opens the film getting int trouble while drunk and attempting to get a burrito, and then after a time-skip to the movie’s present-day setting, he’s a naval lieutenant who is still trying to get with the admiral’s daughter. What a card! 

In the final act, Kitsch gets a bunch of old, old World War II veterans (played by actual veterans, which is sweet but also a little perverse when you think about the premise of this movie compared to the stakes of the actual second World War) to take the decommissioned battleship USS Missouri out to sea to defeat the aliens. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” arguably the most famous American anti-war protest song, blares during the closing credits in a truly sublime bit of cognitive dissonance. War is bad, the song says, rockingly. But kickass battleships and the might of the American Navy blowing up CGI aliens is good.

But the point of Battleship is not to read into its politics (or lack thereof), nor is it to really, truly, get invested in the character arcs or weirdly selective fealty to the board game. The point of Battleship, in a nutshell, is when Robyn Rihanna Fenty — nine-time Grammy winner, cosmetics empire founder, and international celebrity — stands aboard the USS Missouri, the real-life site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan that ended World War II. Rihanna, singer of hits like “We Found Love” and “S&M,” is graciously fighting an alien menace alongside real WWII veterans who served in a war more than four decades before she was born.

Rihana takes aim at an alien and says “mahalo motherfu—” as she fires off one of the battleship’s massive guns, the sound of the blast deafening out the rest of her swear and thus helping preserve Battleship’s PG-13 rating. 

This, to me, is bafflingly stupid. It is also cinema. 

Battleship, in all its glory, is now streaming on Peacock.