'Battleship' propelled by action cliches, early reviews say
Battleship, a board game with no characters or plot, might seem like odd source material for a movie. Then again, recent blockbuster franchises have sprouted from toy lines ("Transformers," "G.I. Joe") and a theme park ride ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), so perhaps it's not much of a stretch. Early reviews of "Battleship," which opens in some foreign countries this week and May 18 in the U.S., indicate that although the film does indeed offer some semblance of a narrative (briefly: humans vs. aliens on the high seas), the storytelling takes a back seat to the explosions.
In the Birmingham (England) Post, Alison Jones says director Peter Berg is channeling Michael Bay, and she characterizes "Battleship" as "'Pearl Harbor' by way of 'Transformers.'" Jones adds that "No action movie cliche remains unmilked in a movie so jingoistic it practically bleeds red, white and blue." Berg, however, does have a sense of humor, and "his decision to just embrace the machismo" earns the film some bonus points in her opinion.
MSN Movies UK also invokes the ghost of action movies past, calling Berg's film "a long, loud and very spectacular actioner that does on the sea what 'Independence Day' did in the skies." But because the film has "an obsession with artillery," most of the characters fall flat: "it's hardly surprising that 'John Carter's' Taylor Kitsch gets lost in the crush as a disgraced officer shocked to find himself in charge of the human resistance." At least pop singer Rihanna has fun as "a spunky munitions ace."
In the Hollywood Reporter, Megan Lehmann deems "Battleship" "a sort of just-add-water 'Transformers'" (sensing a theme yet?) and says that although the film is "at once silly and overly ponderous," it does offer plenty of "big, loud sci-fi action," if that's your thing. A sequence that pays homage to the original board game is "niftily engineered" and the visuals (by ILM) are impressive throughout, Lehmann says, but "Battleship" is also laden with cliches, one-dimensional characters and "some truly awful dialogue." As for Kitsch? He "soft-pedals the charm, exuding just enough charisma to get by."
Vicky Roach, in the Telegraph (of Australia), appraises the acting as "adequate," writing that although Kitsch "has the physical charisma required to carry the lead role in an action film … he's still some way away from wrestling the crown from his more experienced rivals." Rihanna "doesn't embarrass herself," and Brooklyn Decker "makes the most of her role" as Kitsch's love interest. Alas, the film's flimsy plot and characterization "might have been better suited to a video game."
The Sydney Morning Herald's Giles Hardie seems surprised to call the film "an adrenalin[e]-packed winner," especially after saying that "there is just no way ['Battleship'] should work." Yet Berg manages to find a middle ground "between action-packed imagination and not taking the premise seriously," much like — you guessed it — Michael's Bay's "Transformers." The actors manage to find the same balance, Hardie says, "each surfing the fine line between silly and self-serious."
Variety's Guy Lodge is less impressed, calling "Battleship" a "loudly, proudly ridiculous soldiers-vs.-aliens blockbuster" that is "overlong and underwritten even by the standards of summer f/x extravaganzas." Even so, Lodge says, the film "should perform robustly enough to greenlight the sequel patently set up by its post-credits sting."
In other words, if you've ever wondered what a movie adaptation of Hasbro's naval board game would look like, the answer seems to be, well, pretty much what you'd expect.
[For the Record, 12:30 p.m. April 13: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said "Battleship" opened in the U.S. May 4; it opens May 18.]
— Oliver Gettell
Photo: "Battleship." Credit: ILM/Universal Pictures