Though ostensibly inspired by the Hasbro board game of the same name, “Battleship” is a special f/x-driven, sci-fi adventure that actually has much more in common with bombastic blockbusters like “Armageddon” (1998), “Transformers” (2007) and “Independence Day” (1996). To its credit, this variation on the theme does devote considerable attention to developing a back story before letting all hell break loose.
That gives the audience a reason to care about the characters upon the breakout of war with bloodthirsty invaders from outer space. Another positive is director Peter Berg’s capable cast, led by veteran thespian Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard and Brooklyn Decker. Along for the roller coaster ride is pop icon Rihanna, who more than holds her own in an auspicious acting debut as Petty Officer Cora Raikes.
However, the diva’s diehard fans might be disappointed that she doesn’t get to sing here, unless whispering a few bars of “Sentimental Journey” counts. Furthermore, her curvy physique is kept camouflaged for most of the movie under unflattering military fatigues.
The picture’s point of departure is 2005, which is when we meet Stone (Skarsgard) and Alex Hopper (Kitsch), two brothers seemingly headed in opposite directions. The former is serving his country as captain of the destroyer USS Sampson, while his ne’er-do-well sibling lands in jail over an attractive blonde (Decker) whose father (Neeson) is in charge of the entire Pacific fleet.
Fast forward to the present where we learn that Alex has not only enlisted in the Navy, but that he’s already risen to the rank of Lieutenant. He is also dating Samantha over the objections of her disapproving dad who doesn’t 100 percent trust that her hot-headed suitor has turned a new leaf.
Alex is in the process of summoning up the courage to ask Admiral Shane for permission to marry his daughter when five vessels arrive from planet G and proceed, without provocation, to decimate an international armada on maneuvers in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly, wedding plans have to take a back seat to defending the planet.
Furthermore, as the most senior officer aboard his ship to survive the initial attack, Alex assumes command of the USS John Paul Jones. This affords the former bad boy an opportunity to exhibit his bravery (in the tradition of Revolutionary War hero Jones’ “I have not yet begun to fight!”) as well as a much-needed chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his future father-in-law.
The epitome of a summer blockbuster: a dizzying display of derring-do, patriotism and fearlessness in the face of an overwhelming alien invasion on the high seas. And the guy even gets the girl.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence.
Running time: 131 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures