Yes, I know all the words to “The Bad Touch.” No, I’m not ashamed. Yes, it gets stuck in my head every time anyone says, “You sunk my battleship.” Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk Battleship, a movie that I can only conclude was, like 2012, conceived by someone scuba diving in my id and creating a film out of what they dredged from the very bottom.
We’ve all got our guilty pleasures, and disaster movies are mine. (Only I’m not guilty. I love 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow and will defend my passion for them to the death.) I’m not completely hopeless, though; I have preferences. My most favoritest disasters are in some way aquatic (let’s not talk about the number of times I’ve watched The Deep Blue Sea, let’s just not, because if you’re reading this you probably like me and I’d like to keep that list current). I’m also a pretty serious sucker for military shit, and aliens are a long-lived and deeply-felt passion of mine. (I’m learning to be discerning about that one, though. Skyline was a genuinely traumatic experience for me, my partner, and our wallets, and is single-handedly responsible for inspiring an indie renaissance in our film-going habits.) All this is to say that I saw and enjoyed Battle Los Angeles – my partner and I may be the only two people in America who can make that claim – and since Battleship is basically that, transplanted onto boats, with all six feet four inches of Alexander Skarsgård in a supporting role, you can bet damn sure my ass planned to be in a seat.
I give the trailer designers credit, though – they were doing their damnedest to scare me off. The first trailer was practically gold-plated Sara bait, all aliens and boats and Skarsgård, but the second was ominous, involving far less water and explosions and far more land-based conversation between bad actors. I had begun to rethink my enthusiasm when the Atlantic published the auspiciously titled ‘Battleship’: Not as Bad as It Should Have Been. This coincided with Entertainment Weekly’s incredibly positive review – I’ve trusted EW’s critics for years, and they’ve rarely let me down – and my realization that Battleship actually had a 41 on Metacritic! That was a solid 20 points higher than I’d expected. I was sold.
I am delighted to report that far from being simply an excursion into my hindbrain, Battleship is a fully solid action movie. The premise is flimsy and scientifically broken (as they always are – remember The Core? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) but once the aliens arrive and start blowing shit up, the premise no longer matters. The aquatic fights between the aliens and humans have the feel of 19th century naval battles, the kind where someone wears a huge hat with a feather in it and screams words like “broadside” and “cannonade,” and Taylor Kitsch and Tadanobu Asano are extremely likable as the sailors who wind up in charge. (Rihanna is, of course, useless, but she’s pleasantly gruff as an excited shooter-of-guns. At least she’s no Gina Carano.) There’s a Hunt for Red October-style sequence where Our Heroes have to track the aliens without radar, and when Our Heroes finally find themselves on an actual battleship (battleships have been defunct basically since WW2), the results do not disappoint. That sequence combines the wisdom of old veterans with the excitement of young whippersnappers and is, in my opinion, the high point of the film. The land-based action is similarly engaging, with physical therapist Brooklyn Decker and one of her clients trying to defeat the aliens on a mountain. (Don’t ask, just enjoy.) Her client is played by Ret. Col. Gregory D. Gadson, a West Point grad, combat veteran and bilateral above-the-knee amputee making his film debut as a veteran trying to find his way back to life as a bilateral amputee. I think that’s incredibly cool.
As far as action movies go, Battleship gets everything right. It’s lightly plotted, tightly paced, very high-concept, and non-stop. There are several moments of genuine emotion, and several others of genuine emotional evocation (i.e. moments when, had I been with a more charitable audience, I’d have yelled “WOOOOO” and pumped my fists; as it was, I did so very, very quietly). I’m honestly a little disappointed that they tied such a cool movie to such a stupid concept (a film adaptation of a board game, I fucking know) because I think something this much fun could have landed a broader audience than it did. As it is, I recommend it full-throatedly. Don’t listen to the haters. Listen to me. I’m wonderful.