Hasbro Inc. has entered the entertainment business on a whole new level. After the Transformers trilogy grossed more than $2.6 billion worldwide (and made the Transformers toys the company’s top selling brand last year), the toy maker has joined forces with Universal Studios to adapt the board game Battleship for a theatrical staging in a cinema near you.
Considering the US military’s significant involvement in the production of this movie, the film might also be mistaken for a kind of promo ad—except that thousands of soldiers die when several ships and a military base are blown to bits. Still the story pays homage to the fighting skills of past war veterans and combat amputees. (US Army Colonel Gregory Gadson, who lost both legs in Iraq in 2007, makes his acting debut as Lt. Col. Mick Canales. Other film star newbies include singer Rihanna who gets her acting legs under her as Petty Officer Cora ‘Weps’ Raikes and Pres. Barack Obama who makes a cameo appearance.)
In the story, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) may have read the Chinese treatise Art of War several times but the badly behaved sibling of Naval Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard) hasn’t learned a thing about getting his life in order. After committing a stupid stunt to impress a girl (Brooklyn Decker), Alex gets a harsh dressing down from his older brother who forces him to join the Navy. (In reality, he probably should have been doing jail time.) Yet despite Alex’s continued aversion to discipline that has him headed for a dishonorable discharge, he appears to skyrocket his way up through the ranks. This questionable officer’s status suddenly propels him into the commander’s chair after his ship’s captain is killed in a face-off with aliens.
The attackers, with helmets that make them sound like Darth Vader, have found their way to Earth thanks to an “invitation” beamed through the galaxy by a group of deep space scientists. Like E.T., these invaders are eager to establish a communication link that will let them phone home, but they won’t be appeased with a simple sampling of Reese’s Pieces. Their intent is to exterminate the natives and bring in the rest of their clan.
Like in so many alien movies, these extraterrestrial ships are monstrous, with technology seemingly light years ahead of earthlings’. Part of their weaponry includes huge, whirling robotic balls that can chew through the metal hull of a ship like a teenage boy through a bowl of breakfast cereal. A wall of ammunition launching devices cover the side of their spaceship and hurl drum-like containers of explosives that rip apart boats and buildings. In the face of this, audiences are asked to believe that a few humans, with some military missiles and a couple of short-range guns on a decommissioned battleship, can annihilate the intruders. It’s a plot with a glut of special effects that requires a universal suspension of reason.
Although the script’s salty language along with enormous explosions and frequent attacks will dissuade some viewers from buying tickets, Lt. Alex Hopper is the real problem. Of necessity the military prides itself on discipline. However, Alex continually goes off half-cocked, getting into scraps with fellow and foreign officers and making decisions that threaten the safety of other soldiers. While the glamorization of his disorderly conduct might be okay in the pretend world of movie war, it would no doubt cost lives on the real battlefront.