To think this started life as a game of detection you could play with pencils and paper, trying to guess where each other’s naval forces were secretly lurking on a hand-drawn grid. Nowadays, the same basic principles are played out on your tablets and smartphones, though there’s one common factor – a distinct lack of aliens.
That’s now been rectified, as this pixellated extravaganza pits combined US and Japanese seagoing forces against powerful extraterrestrial foes, who look suspiciously like kiddies’ action figures, presumably because the same toy company which has the rights to the ‘Battleship’ game also brought you the ‘Transformers’ range. Essentially, then, we’re talking a marketing exercise as much as a movie.
And not much of a movie either. Predictably big on military hardware, explosions, explosions and, yes, more explosions, its appeal would seem largely limited to little boys who like playing with plastic figures and detachable accessories, an age group forbidden from seeing it by the 12A certification.
Taylor ‘John Carter’ Kitsch confirms that he lacks leading-man charisma as Alex, a youthful rapscallion who shows his mettle when he joins the navy, taking on the invaders so Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson, not over-taxed) will let him marry his blonde bombshell daughter, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker). Oh yeah, and he might save the world while he’s at it.
The action delivers a certain amount of mass destruction – did we mention the explosions? – but tends to assume the viewer has a four-second attention span, since the aliens seem all-powerful one minute, laughably vulnerable the next. This dampens any prospect of excitement, and though director Peter Berg (‘Hancock’, ‘The Kingdom’) seems to have played his most spectacular cards too early, the movie rallies in a final reel of such outrageous, shameless, unrepentant (not to say explosive) idiocy that one can’t help but smile.Briefly.
Elsewhere pop foxtress Rihanna gets little to do in a Lt Uhuru-type supporting slot; Hamish Linklater graduates from Miranda July’s indie quirkfest ‘The Future’ to prosper in the beardy/speccy/scientist geek role; while otherwise supercool Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano seriously dents his arthouse cred in a clunky turn as Kitsch’s rival-turned-pal. Guess his presence takes care of the Asian market, though, in a package which never, ever lets you forget its brand-led priorities. Still, when the name of the toy company is above the title on the poster, you can’t say you weren’t given fair warning.