I have long suffered from blockbuster phobia. Too many times I have believed the hype, bravely ventured into the popcorn strewn, choc top infested local multiplex only to find my hopes dashed on rocks so inane they feel like hollow tubes of polystyrene as they crush beneath me.
So burned once too many times, I have chosen of late to see indie movies, foreign language films and the odd overly solemn documentary, and by so doing, I have largely, but obviously not completely, avoided seeing too many movies that make me want to eat my brain from the inside out.
A stupidity addled brain at that after seeing one more of these cobbled together by committee flicks than I should have. But proving that hope springs eternal, and that you can’t believe everything you read (especially the reviews that said this movie was a cut above the usual blow-em-up, shoot-me-up nonsense; reviews that I suspect were written by a village idiots after a group outing to the Idiotland cinemaplex) I skipped into the cinema to see “battleship” convinced that this time, this blessed and holy time, my hopes would be vindicated.
They were not. In fact I daresay that “Battleship” (based on the Hasbro board game of the same name and the first in a hoped-for – by Hasbro, not me! – long line of board game-derived movies to come) which possessed all the originality of a thousand cliches thrown into a blender and whizzed on high, has rendered any hope I had of seeing another blockbuster after this – “The Avengers” is circling with all the promise of a muscular man in a tight t-shirt with bedroom eyes ablaze at my favourite nightclub but I must resist its seductive appeal – a very remote possibility indeed.
But come you say, you must be skidding uncontrollably down the none-too-pleasant barbwire coated slopes of a sugar crash to be so damning of what is after all just a bright fun aliens-invade-we-fight-them-off extravaganza of which there have been many, and undoubtedly will be more. (We must be the most invaded planet in the galaxy; I have often pictured a queue of alien fleets waiting to invade somewhere out past Mars, eagerly anticipating their call up to blast us to bits… or at least try. Have they not rented a movie lately? It’s pointless guys – go back home and crochet or something instead.)
Honestly I tried to suspend disbelief. I honestly did. But my suspension of disbelief, done as I mentioned with all the fervour of newly converted believer who truly, desperately wants to believe despite all evidence to the contrary, was not enough.
Though suspended so far above my reasoning abilities that it was circling a distant star all its own, my willingness to look beyond any and all over the top silliness was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of hokey dialogue (which unfortunately was self-parodied just the once when a geeky scientist meant the rallying cry of “Let’s see if we can give the earth one more day!” with “Who talks like that?”; alas he was a lone voice crying amid the noisy tumult of a blockbuster where no one can hear you scream), slapdash characterisation, and moments so preposterously ludicrous that they made the concept of an alien invasion seem entirely believable.
For instance let us consider the protagonist of this movie – who contrary to the usual rule of thumb that the people who survive alien invasions have a dog with them at all times – one Lieutenant Commander Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch who possesses fine abs but all the acting skills of a poorly constructed IKEA chair) who magically goes from a Loser, who steals a chicken burrito from a convenience store for a girl he meets in a bar (who later becomes his girlfriend somewhat bizarrely in a move that reflects poorly on both of them) to innately talented military strategist without blinking. Any moments he doubts that he can see the aliens off are vanquished quickly and easily, and you know that he rises to the occasion because of his DNA which is coursing with the noble intelligence of his older brother, Captain Stone Hooper (Alexander Skarsgard) whose utter perfection in all things is emphasised repeatedly with all the subtleness of a sledgehammer coming down on an undersized walnut.
Naturally of course his fiancee, Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) who by some miracle manages to avoid looking like a completely helpless woman no thanks to the script, and who loves him even before his battle-hardened rise to greatness and the inevitable proving of his potential, is the Admiral’s daughter (the head of the navy being played by Liam Neeson who really should have known better). She also happens to be on the exact mountain where a communications array which punched out the welcome message into the galaxy which brought the reptilian aliens here is located and of course is integral to the salvation of the planet, along with a bitter Army veteran Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales (Gregory D Gadson) who redeems himself in battle. Where else would he does this I ask (somewhat sarcastically)? (Interestingly the only one acquits herself with any degree of distinction is Rhianna, playing weapons office Raikes, who bring some spunk and sass to a role which could have too easily tipped over into caricature.)
Yes, yes I hear you say. But it’s an overblown blockbuster! Utterly unbelievable contrivances, actions that not only mock the laws of nature but plunge a dagger , and part of these sort of Hollywood spectacles, and it is curmudgeonly of you indeed to berate this overgrown seething mass of cliches for being what it is.
And I hear you. You’re right. Just like romantic comedies follow the same predictable path from the “Meet Cute” to the growing relationship which founders briefly before being rescued in the nick of time, usually at an airport, so these action adventures have their own inevitable course which must be followed come what may.
Or do they? It is possible to inject intelligence, wit and a thoroughly substantial sensibility into these sorts of movies if you want to be something other than a garish tent pole flick. “Alien”, and “The Lord of the Rings” proved that spectacle and a sprawling grand adventure are not inimical to movies that can impress and engage your mind and your ooh-aah reflex all at the same time.
“Battleship” does none of this and despite it’s attempts to come across as the love child of “Top Gun” and Independence Day”, it simply runs through the same old tired routines that we have seen a thousand times bringing nothing but a sense of jaded fatigue and an unhealthy dose of stupidity to the table.