‘Battleship’ requires that you check your brain at the box office

Booklyn Decker in 'Battleship'
Booklyn Decker in ‘Battleship’

Battleship deserves two ratings but only one can be chosen.  So I’m spelling out the two ratings here.  For action-adventure lovers who don’t know much about the military in general and the Navy in specific, and who aren’t bothered by bad science or logic flaws in a movie, the rating is definitely four stars.  On the other hand, if you fall into one or both of those groups mentioned above, score this as only two stars.

Battleship opens in 2005 when scientists have discovered the existence of other planets in our galaxy that are similar to Earth.  That similiarity being that they aren’t either too close to the star they orbit and are too hot to support life, or are too far from that star and too cold to support life.  This results in a communications array and a satellite in orbit around the Earth being used to beam a signal in the direction of one of these planets.

This takes place as Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is celebrating his birthday in a bar with his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård), who is an officer in the U.S. Navy.  A beautiful blonde comes into the bar and Alex makes a wish for her when he blows out his candle.  He walks up to the woman whose name is Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker) just as the bartender is telling her the kitchen is closed and she can’t have the very specific food item she’s asked for.  Alex gets nowhere with her at first, because she is focused on food, so he promises to get exactly what she wants if she will just give him five minutes.

The bartender won’t cooperate and the nearby convenience store has just closed as Alex walks up.  So he gets inventive and decides to break into the store through the roof and score the required food item.  Sadly his plans go awry and just as he’s running up to the bar with that item in his hands, he’s tased by chasing police officers.  Twice.  After he gets released, Alex gets an earful of lecture from his brother, who also tells him that his future is now set.  He’s going to join the Navy.

Fast forward to 2010.  Alex is now a lieutenant serving as weapons officer aboard the John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer.  His ship and the ship his brother commands are taking part in a “war game” that involves some 14 nations, including the Japanese.  There is a big soccer game and both Alex and Stone are on the Navy team taking on the Japanese team.  Things don’t go well for Alex and they get worse when Japanese Self-Defense Force  “Captain Nagata” (Tadanobu Asano) he scuffled with during the game gets into a much bigger fight aboard the USS Missouri.  We’re referring to the WWII era battleship that now serves as a museum at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, where Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) has just given a speech about the upcoming war games.  After the fight, he tells Alex that his career in the Navy is probably over.

But the war game is interrupted by the arrival of five alien spacecraft, four of which plunge into the Pacific not far from the war gaming location.  The fifth hit an orbiting satellite and crash-landed in Hong Kong, causing massive damage.  The war game force sends the John Paul Jones and two other ships to investigate, but the aliens erect an impenetrable force field around the Hawaiian Islands, cutting the three ships off from the rest of the force and then fire on and destroy two of the three approaching ships.  The Jones is hit and the captain and other senior officers are killed, leaving Lieutenant Alex Stone in command.  He orders the ship to rescue survivors from the Japanese ship that was with them that was sunk, which stops the aliens from attacking it.

Aliens invade Earth in 'Battleship'
Aliens invade Earth in ‘Battleship’

Meanwhile, Samantha (now Alex’s girlfriend) is a physical therapist, taking her patient for a hike in the mountains.   They are hiking near the communications array, in order for him to get more comfortable with his two artificial legs.  The actor performing this particular role as retired “Lt. Col Mick Canales” is an real Army Colonel, Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007.  The aliens land at the array and begin taking control, killing all of the scientists except “Cal Zapata” (Hamish Linklater).  Zapata helps out by going back into the lab and grabbing an instrument that allows him to put them in touch with the John Paul Jones in hopes the ship can destroy the array.  The aliens are planning to use the array to “phone home” for reinforcements.

Meanwhile, Captain Nagata  has found a way for the John Paul Jones to ’track’ the aliens, even though the ship’s Aegis system is down.  His method involves using something he claims his Navy has been doing for two decades to track U.S. ship movements without their knowledge.  It allows them to engage the alien ships.  It is also discovered that the aliens wear helmets to protect themselves from exposure to the sun, which they apparently can’t handle.  This becomes a plotpoint as the story develops.

Sam reaches Alex aboard the John Paul Jones and warns him of what must be done, but even though he’s managed to destroy some of the alien ships, they used their incredible weapons to sink it.  So, he and Capt Nagata and the other survivors of the Jones hightail it to the USS Missouri and enlist the help of the WWII veterans who maintain the ship as a museum.  He plans to sail the battleship out and take out the rest of the aliens and then destroy the array.

Like I said earlier, if you’re an action-adventure fan and you like big explosions, big special effects and don’t care much about the reality of stuff, you’ll fully enjoyBattleship.  What follows is why it is not such a great film for those who know about military, the Navy and science ’stuff’.  Feel free to stop reading here.

Because he’s made out to be such a slacker, one has to wonder if Alex Stone ever graduated from a college or university.  Even if he had, the idea that he’d get into Navy Officer Candidate School with an arrest record for breaking and entering is absurd.  It requires serious suspension of disbelief to swallow the notion that his arrest and subsequent tasering didn’t result in the conviction that would scuttle any Naval career before it began.  It also boggles the mind that if he was as bad an officer as Admiral Shane makes him out to be, that he’d have been promoted to full Lieutenant and given a billet as Weapons Officer aboard a destroyer after only five years.  The errors they make at the end involving his rank and how he is awarded a decoration can be blamed on whoever the military technical advisor on this film not doing a proper job.  The science is bad for reasons not worth getting into except that the idea that a message that was beamed out into space only five year earlier would result in an alien visit is silly due to the distances involved.

I’m a fan of Peter Berg.  There are a lot of people who will enjoy this movie.  I’m just not one of them.  Maybe my experience was impacted by the choice of song to play over the closing credits.  I love Credence Clearwater Revival and have since their music was new.  But “Fortunate Son” is all about the Vietnam War and how only the sons of the less fortunate men were forced to go and fight.  Alex Hopper may have had his arm twisted to get him to go into the Navy, but he wasn’t drafted.  It wasn’t a time of war, protest and when the “fortunate sons” got to stay home, safe.

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