Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cinema File #44: "Battleship" Review

In the first five minutes of Battleship, an astronomer mentions that if aliens ever came to Earth, that it would be like Christopher Columbus and the Indians, only with us as the Indians. This is obviously reminiscent of the quote by famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The thing is, through this entire movie, I couldn't remember when Stephen Hawking said that, and I could have sworn it was relatively recently, to the point where I was actually starting to think that Stephen Hawking, one of the smartest men on the planet, stole a line from Battleship. Obviously, he did not. That quote is from 2010, and I don't know if the shock from that misunderstanding just distracted me from the bad things in this movie everyone's talking about, but all in all, I actually thought Battleship was mostly entertaining, and certainly above average for this kind of usually "brainless" action sci-fi flick.

On my podcast, The Dirty Sons of Pitches, I once ironically proclaimed that based solely on the premise and the presence of Liam Neeson fighting aliens, that Battleship was poised to be the best movie of the year, if not of all time. It is not quite that, and there are definitely a lot of things that you can nitpick to death about it in an effort to be just like all your friends and pretend to hate this movie whether you really do or not, but in a world where Independence Day is considered a modern classic, if only in the "Shut Your Brain Off" school of cinema, then Battleship deserves its place in that curriculum as well. Yes its light on plot and the parts that aren't about blowing shit up are pretty much by the numbers, guy meets girl, learns something about himself pablum, but even then, there was just enough ingenuity in the action and effects work, and just enough relatability in the more human moments, that I was never bored, and never angered by any inconsistency or example of trite execution.

A lot of this has to do with the protagonist, who if I didn't know any better, I'd say was almost a self-aware satire of heroes in movies like this. I was reminded of Ben Affleck's character in Armageddon who survives only by virtue of the actor's innate charm, as the character himself is such an annoying douche bag, and yet is rewarded at every turn, with the expectation that we as the audience are supposed to like him for his douche baggery. Here, the main character starts out that way, but he's actually punished for it. He's a complete fuck up forced into the Navy and about to be drummed out of it precisely because he acted just like every other dick head we're meant to follow in these movies. And as he matures through dire circumstances, despite the absurd randomness of said circumstances, I actually bought it.

I genuinely loved the concept behind the aliens in this movie. Coming from a so-called "Goldilocks" planet, they evolved much as we did, basically monkeys with technology, only taking their most savage impulses to other worlds after we inadvertently summon them here with a signal of peace. They can be destroyed and they know it, and their technology has limitations that they must work around, and while a lot of it seems silly in the abstract as an attempt to simulate the fighting style of the board game, it still made for a more interesting adversary than the typical reptilian or squid-like bad guy that invades for no reason and always with the same strategy as everything else. They weren't some amorphous, unstoppable force, but rather a band of soldiers that could be fought in hand to hand combat, which, weirdly enough, you rarely see in alien invasion movies.

This movie has often been compared to the recent Transformers movie series in terms of tone and visual style, and while I understand why, I don't see how this is anything other than a vast improvement. With the possible exception of how they choose their targets, the division between safe green ones and hostile red ones often seeming muddled, the action beats were clear, easy to understand, and for the most part more engaging than any given moment in any of the Transformers movies, up to and including John Turturro's sweaty balls in your face. The designs of the ships, armored aliens, and spherical attack drones were simple enough and in the latter case I thought very clever. If this movie had simply been Attack of the Big Metal Balls, I'd still have enjoyed it. The moment one of them just barely misses an escaping helicopter, only to reveal a concealed chain whip and slice it in half essentially out of spite, I was sold.

Battleship is by no means a perfect movie. There's a lot of corn ball and cheesy moments. The last minute return of some old timey soldiers to help out is as hackneyed and asinine as it was painfully predictable, and its not the only moment that could merit that unnecessarily long description. But even then, those annoying moments that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich of late always seem to think are the best parts, so much so that they linger on them as if we're supposed to be enjoying them, here are included almost in an obligatory fashion and the movie does not dwell on them. It's constantly moving to the next thing, and sometimes its good, sometimes its bad. Overall, I still feel its more of the former than the latter.

This is not a classic movie that I'm going to go back to year after year to appreciate its greatness. It was fun while it was here and I'll probably forget about it until the time it randomly shows up on TV somewhere. But when it does, I'll gladly watch it again, and I'll probably still get a kick out of it. At the very least, it's not nearly as bad as the hype. I'd say if anything in the trailers led you to think this was the kind of movie you'd get any enjoyment out of it, give it a shot. And for the record, Rihanna wasn't bad in it at all. I know I'm supposed to rag on her performance simply because she's Rihanna in a movie and not singing, or maybe make a Chris Brown joke even though I don't actually know who that guy is, but she was fine, and I wouldn't mind seeing her in other movies after this. As long as she's behind a big ass gun again anyway.
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