As if it wasn’t enough of a challenge to try to create a movie based on a board game — and a board game based on a game that is perfectly adequately played with pencil and paper — this movie has to find its way around the fact that the large armored warships that give the game and the movie its title have been out of commission as everything but museum pieces for decades, replaced by much more powerful ships called destroyers. And yet, director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) and screenwriters Eric and Jon Hoeber (“Red“) have somehow managed to add some aliens and a lot of explosions to create a good, old-fashioned summer popcorn movie that is good, old-fashioned fun.
They give us half an hour to meet the main characters. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, thankfully making it possible to overlook “John Carter“) is an impetuous but gallant young man. His brother Stone (“True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgård), a naval officer frustrated with Alex’s lack of direction, insists that Alex get some discipline and join the navy. A couple of years later, Stone is a commander and Alex is a promising but still-impetuous lieutenant in love with Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), the daughter of the admiral (Liam Neeson). In the midst of an event called RIMPAC that is like an Olympics of international naval operations, just after Alex gets in trouble for a scuffle with a Japanese naval officer (Tadanobu Asano), something happens that is not part of the program. For four years, a program called the Beacon Project has been sending signals to a planet that is similar to earth and capable of supporting life in the hope of making contact. The signals have been seen as an invitation and the inhabitants of the other planet have arrived, like Columbus. And, as a character points out, if they are Columbus, we — all of humanity — are the the Indians. Except it is more like Columbus arriving with an armored brigade and bombs that slice through destroyers like bullets through tissue paper. And they operate a enormous rockets that operate like Decepticons the size of the Chrysler Building in a world with no Optimus Primes.
The Battleship board game involves trying to guess where the other player’s warships are hidden by calling out squares on a grid, and the Hoebers find a witty way to make that a part of the story, and to bring in a real battleship, too. There’s more than just bang-bang. Alex comes up with some clever, way-out-of-the box tactics and Rihanna is a hoot as a determined petty officer weapons specialist. And in a cute variation on the whole “ET phone home” thing, the aliens need to get to the Beacon Project communication center. The only people who can stop them are none other than the beautiful daughter of the admiral and a wounded warrior she happens to have been trying to inspire by taking him for a bit of a mountain climb. He is played by real-life West Point graduate Gregory D. Gadson, a double leg amputee, in a performance adding some nicely quiet dignity to the story. There is not much quiet or dignity in the rest of the movie, but Berg stages the action scenes with kinetic energy and a sure sense of fun. (And be sure to stay all the way through the credits for an extra scene.)
Parents should know that this movie has non-stop action-style violence with aliens, many explosions and military battles, characters injured and killed, and some strong language (s-words, muffled f-words).
Family discussion: How did the qualities that got Alex into trouble also help him? Would you say the same about anyone else in the story who became an unexpected hero?
If you like this, try: “Independence Day” and “Transformers” – and the board game!