No-one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that the world of product licensing was being watched keenly and closely by great intelligences; that as Hollywood busied itself about its various concerns, it was scrutinised and studied. Yet across the gulf of commerce, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded the exploitation of intellectual property rights with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us, the victim consumers. So it was that Hasbro invaded Hollywood with a bucket full of money and began discussion for the production of films that would promote their existing lines of toys. And in the fullness of time, there came the explosions that landed the Transformers and GI Joe franchises near Grover’s Mill which, for our purposes, is the name of a cinema chain with outlets around the world. A new billion dollar revenue stream began to spawn like bacteria that ate up all the money in our pockets. Now comes the first film to promote a game owned by Hasbro and, I’m amazed to be able to say, it’s actually rather good.
That said, there should be a caveat with that assessment. The goodness only comes if you accept an incredible amount of incompetence and inefficiency on the part of the aliens. This is, of course, one of the standard terms in the contract between Earth and all prospective invaders. That they must always make plans based on a complete misunderstanding of our capability to fight back and then only send their most stupid warriors to execute the plan. So here comes the plot together with some spoilers. If you want this film to be a complete surprise, you’d better stop here with the news that I went into the cinema believing it would be awful, but emerged with a slight smile on my face. It may be a tad too long, but it’s entertaining for most of the time.
In its infinite wisdom, Earth decides to send a message to a Goldilocks planet. For those of you who never read fairy stories and nursery rhymes when young, our “heroine” invades the home of three bears and finds, among other things, three bowls of porridge. One was too hot, one was too cold, and one was just right and she ate it all up. So this is a planet at just the right distance from the sun to recreate the conditions for life as we know it on Earth. This message comes as a wake-up call to the inhabitants of this planet. The local fishy lizards think our Earth sounds like just the porridge they ought to eat up. So they send an expeditionary force of five interstellar craft. These navigate all the way from there to here but, a few miles out from Earth, their communications craft has a fender bender with one of our satellites and crashes into Hong Kong. See what I mean about sending the dozy ones to fight. You would think even an auto pilot would see a big communications satellite, but not the fly boy at the wheel of this interstellar whizzbang. It’s a direct hit and this leaves our invaders without any line of communication back home.
For once, they show intelligence and decide to land in the sea just next to the communications array that sent the signal to them in the first place. They reckon they can use our technology to report a successful landing and the bridgehead established. But this is another miscalculation because this array is on Hawaii, home to Pearl Harbor. To add to their bad luck, there’s a massive naval exercise about to commence. Normally this would not matter because these aliens have a force field that can keep out unwelcome visitors. For the record, this is one of the fixed-circle, domed-shaped varieties. But they make a strategic mistake by surfacing and then pausing before switching on the field. This traps three destroyers inside. Now this is where they are really unlucky. They don’t want to use up all their ordinance too quickly, so only shoot when there’s a direct challenge. This means they only sink two of the ships. The remaining ship turns away from confrontation. Atypically, it’s American (obviously captained by some pinko, Commie faggot). But this restraint pays off big time because, when they pull survivors from a Japanese ship out of the sea, our American antiheroes discover this foreign Captain is the only one to have played Battleships before! At this point, I wave a flag of admiration. The writers have come up with a particularly ingenious way of recreating the game in this fictional world. I have no idea whether it’s technically possible, but I was impressed by the quality of the idea. We now get into a race against time. The aliens land on Oahu and begin to jury rig their communications systems to interwork with our technology. To maintain protection from air attack, they have to move the force field. At this point, they have another piece of really bad luck because, having finally sunk the third destroyer, the crew is able to get into Pearl Harbor and find a replacement ship in which to continue the fight.
The human hero is quite clearly Tadanobu Asano who not only understands how to find the alien ships without the use of radar, but also sells the film into the Japanese, Asian and other foreign markets. Along for the ride are Taylor Kitsch (fresh from his triumph in John Carter) as a boneheaded American lieutenant (typecasting already in evidence), Brooklyn Decker who just happens to be wandering around the hills next to the array when the aliens arrive to plug in their gizmo with the flashing lights, Rihanna who’s strangely wooden but actually quite effective as action dolls go, and Gregory Gadson who, despite being short two legs, takes on an alien and manages to scratch the Power-Rangers-type battle armour they wear (by the way, he’s a real hero). The person to feel sorry for is Liam Neeson who, as the Admiral in charge of everything, is never seen planning to do anything other than refusing to accept Taylor Kitsch as his son-in-law — a profoundly sensible strategy.
So there you have it. Battleship is a trojan seahorse designed to sell more Hasbro stuff but, even though it’s crud (a technical term used by reviewers to signify nonsense or rubbish), it’s enjoyable crud. Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber have written a halfway bearable script and Peter Berg’s direction blows up a lot of stuff which, when aliens are on the receiving end, is highly satisfying. I’m surprised to be able to say that it’s worth seeing so long as you don’t think about it very much as you’re watching it.