Viewed a certain way, Battleship is no worse than its three Hasbro predecessors, those wretched Michael Bay Transformers films that prove it is possible to make gobs of money on the strength of CGI alone. In fact, Battleship is better than any of those three movies in many facets. The problem is that to view it in this certain way you have to have not viewed the Terminator films or Independence Day or the other blockbuster sci-fi flicks from which it so heavily lifts. Based on the box office numbers of those films, that's not going to work for most people.
The film opens, as so many before like it, with the U.S. government trying to make contact with far-away planets and a talented but misguided screw-up who is soon going to pay the price for that ill-fated decision. Our screw-up in this case is Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), who, after running afoul of the law just to impress a girl, is forced into the Navy by his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard).
Fast forward several months and we learn that Hopper was actually able to impress the girl, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), but that's about the only thing that's going right for him. Reckless and over-aggressive, he's on the verge of getting kicked out of the Navy on the eve of the RIMPAC games, an elaborate military exercise that I was stunned to learn is quite real and not just a plot device to get Kitsch to call out "J-10" an hour or so later. Not only is he about to lose his post on the USS John Paul Jones, but it's his girlfriend's father, Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson), who is about to give him the boot.
So much for the wedding plans, at least until the non-descript and technologically far superior aliens bear down on Earth, isolating Hopper's ship and a few others participating in RIMPAC in a giant dome-shaped force field off the coast of Oahu. The aliens seem hellbent on the destruction of the human race -- we learn this because Hopper links telepathically with a captured invader -- and what is Earth's loss seems to be Hopper's gain. Here is his chance to turn the ne'er-do-well story of his life on its head. I bet you'll never guess if he does.
There are things to like here starting with Kitsch, who I have a soft spot for that stretches back to his days as Tim Riggins on the cult NBC drama Friday Night Lights. There's a Harrison-Ford-as-scoundrel appeal to him and I can see why both Peter Berg, the director of this film, Andrew Stanton, the director of John Carter, tapped him as their leading man in the space of a few months. Unfortunately, the commercial success (or lack thereof) of these two big-budget flops could torpedo his next-big-thing status before his movie career even gets off the ground.
I liked John Carter quite a bit, actually, and I certainly don't blame Kitsch for the many shortcomings of Battleship. It wasn't even the hokeyness of it all that got to me; on the contrary, I was quite impressed with the way they were able to deftly work in the board game that inspired the movie during one of the more tense action sequences.
No, what bothered me were the so plainly derivative features of the film. There are numerous shots from the alien perspective that will feel awfully familiar to fans of the Terminator franchise. There is a geeky but ultimately heroic scientist type with horn-rimmed glasses that is just too reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum's character in Independence Day. The aliens themselves are susceptible to sunlight -- something the Earth fortunately has in abundance -- not unlike the invaders in Signs who can't handle a little water.
Blame the Transformers movies. Or Berg. Or an industry that doesn't give the moviegoing public enough credit for having at least a little sophistication. Whoever is at fault, they put out an awfully stale product.