“Battleship” has been rightly compared to the “Transformers” movies, which were also inspired (if that’s the word) by Hasbro products. In this case, the old board game has been considerably updated with lots of special effects, a thunderous, rock-heavy soundtrack, and some really nasty—if curiously humanoid—aliens. Yes, boys and girls, the Earth is in peril once again, but this time it’s up to the Navy to save our collective hides, with nary a superhero in sight.
Indeed, the primary savior is something of an anti-hero, a ne’er-do-well who reforms just in the nick of time. When we meet Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), he’s celebrating his 26th birthday with his naval office big brother (Alexander Skarsgard) by getting smashed. After breaking and entering a convenience store to get a chicken burrito for a girl (Brooklyn Decker) whom he wants to impress, Alex is more or less forced to join the Navy.
Turns out the girl is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), a craggy sort who is not likely to grant Alex his daughter’s hand whenever the (now) Lieutenant Hopper gets up the nerve to ask him. In fact, he wants to throw him out of the service after he gets in a fight with a Japanese captain (Tadanobu Asano) during some war games we and our allies are carrying on not too far from Pearl Harbor, home of the mothballed battleship U.S.S. Missouri. Yes, this is no coincidence, as events will later prove.
Also no coincidence is that Oahu is home to several large transmitters beaming signals toward a “Goldilocks planet,” i.e., one that has conditions close enough to Earth’s to support life. Unhappily, the planet’s denizens are significantly less friendly than the Three Bears. They arrive in some impressively scary-looking and well-armed spaceships, one of which breaks up and levels downtown Hong Kong. The Secretary of Defense (Peter McNicol, still too boyish for the part) orders the admiral to give ‘em hell, but the alien ships are protected by an impregnable force field.
Only three allied ships are trapped in the field—two American and one Japanese—and they are, let’s say, way overmatched. Only Japanese cunning and Yankee ingenuity can save the day and our own planet. I’ll let you guess whether it does.
Along the way to a totally cliché ending, director Peter Berg does afford some comic relief, largely supplied by a young iconoclastic scientist (Hamish Linklater) and a double amputee Army vet, played by an actual decorated officer, Col. Gregory D. Gadsdon. A legion of digital artists provides some very cool destructive machines that resemble flying buzzsaws. Music lovers may like seeing Rihanna in a role that absolutely defies credibility: she only hums occasionally.
We don’t expect good dialogue in these flicks nor much in the way of good acting, and “Battleship” doesn’t disappoint here. Neeson looks to have taken the role for, presumably, some good paydays spent in Hawaii. Still, this is a curiously old-fashioned war movie, in its way, one that will likely have its earning dampened by going up against the new-fangled “Avengers” and the various superhero movies to come. It’s rated “PG-13” and is relatively free from the blood and gore we have come to expect from movies with that rating.