Shit on a stick, this attempt by Hasbro to keep the Transformers money coming in has an alien invasion occur in Hawaii at the same time, thankfully, the Navy is doing an exercise involving their most advanced, heavily equipped ships. The setup establishes our hero, Hopper, as a fuckup in the shadow of his older brother, a tenacious sailor moving up in the Navy’s ranks. After his brother forces Hopper to join the Navy to follow his footsteps, he quickly advances and gets the attention (negatively) of his commanding officer, who also happens to be the father of his physical therapist girlfriend. When the aliens show up, they cut off all but a few of the ships from the area they are attacking, excluding (obviously) the boats with Hopper, his brother, and Rihanna (more on that later). Turns out the aliens need a state-of-the-art satellite in Hawaii to get back to their homeworld and let them know this planet’s resources are ripe for the pickin’, so now, Hopper and the gang gotta make sure they never get the chance (the line “It’s time to buy the world another day” is invoked). Meanwhile the other ships, the U.S. government, and the rest of the world waits helplessly as the fate of the world is decided on the water (the spaceships seem to be incapable of sustaining flight, even though they’ve achieved interstellar travel) by cast members from Friday Night Lights (the TV show), True Blood, and Entourage, plus Rihanna.
To say this film is completely devoid of merit would be snarky and false. There are solid effects, moments, and performances bouncing around in this film, and more than one decent surprise (although there are a healthy amount of shitty ones too). One of the aspects of the film I was more cynical about, the casting of music superstar (in her acting debut) Rihanna in a major role, turns out to be one of the least annoying elements of the film; Rihanna is not unbelievable as a tough-chick (she is neither masculine nor sexualized, and her corny banter is underplayed well), and it is not unforeseeable to see her in more roles like this in the future. But if you’re reading the writing on the wall by me singling out Rihanna as a highlight of the film, you are a keen observer, for the film truly is mostly an offensive dog, an overproduced corporate statement that any property can be made into a big dumb action tentpole (Superagent Michael Ovitz got Steven Seagal his first gig as a leading man, betting that he could make anyone a superstar; despite the similarities in cynicism, I dare you to compare Seagal’s career and impact to this P.O.S. turducken). Easily the most atrocious ingredient in this crapola stew are the aliens themselves. Honestly, as Drew McWeeny at Hitfix has discussed, there is not one piece of evidence to establish that the villains of the film are aliens for any other reason than not to offend any potential international markets for the film. It is similar to Red Dawn changing their villains from Chinese to North Koreans who will never get a chance to see the movie anyway (or at least give it substantial grosses); keep the product genial and all-inclusive, offending (as well as overly pleasing) the least amount of people as possible. The aliens are so nondescript, so inexplicably hampered by their own technology and tactics, and when we finally see them, SO fucking human that it literally would make more sense to snip some dialogue and recut the movie and make the villains an invading nation or something. The shoehorning in of the actual Battleship game requires a leap of faith that the aliens are the most predictable, sloppy, and dumb E.T.s since the Killer Tomatoes. By the time they invade one of the central battleships to recover a fallen comrade and refrain from taking one life, let alone leveling the ship, we start to wonder how immense the actual threat is; not something we should be thinking halfway into a jingoistic Us vs. Them action flick.
The film is a fucking ad for the U.S. Navy, through and through. The action is cool and all, in a flashy, expensive way, but it serves only to highlight the extensive hardware and weaponry leant to the production by the Navy. The main arc of the film is Hopper’s acceptance of responsibility and acknowledging his own personal worth, which he is able to achieve due to, *duh duh duh*, BEING IN THE NAVY!! There is a massive emphasis on the discipline, dedication, and good nature of the Navy, from the highlighted impeccably clean uniforms, the various races and classes getting along without a hitch, and, of course, the die-hard veterans that are capable of anything when the ish goes down (No legs? No problem, as long as you have state-of-the-art prosthetics and a bulging upper body). The idea that boats at sea can take on aliens is so fucking stupid that I can’t imagine who said yes to the idea that all of the Navy’s aircraft carriers would be disabled for the length of the film. But in the same way the Transformers series was mostly a masturbation-fest for the military, this movie’s only substantial and consistent thematic content revolves around the idea that the Navy is omigod-the-best-thing-in-the-flippin-world, and will be at the frontlines when we are presented with advanced aliens coming for our resources (My prediction? Reagan’s freaking Star Wars program will have a bigger impact).
The Transformers movies may have had massive problems, but they kicked this movies ass in terms of their casts. The last Transformer movie had John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, and Ken Jeong running around giving the movie some life, but all we got here is Liam Neeson (more on that later) and a bunch of noobs. Taylor Kitch is boring as all hell as the lead, almost like director Peter Berg told him to suppress any and all color or emotion from his performance as so not to seem girly to the red states (obviously an extremely important demo to the filmmakers). I have not watched Friday Night Lights or seen John Carter, but from this film and the advertising for Carter, it really seems like this guy’s more of a Sam Worthington than Sam Worthington himself (who really wasn’t that bad in Wrath of the Titans). Brooklyn Decker is his girlfriend, and even though the role is simple enough to be played by a supermodel, she still comes off as stilted and awkward, much like Rosie Huntington-Whitely in Transformers 3; this trend of parading models onscreen and pretending they’re actors is getting really old really fast. Alexander Skarsgard, as Hopper’s older brother, is pretty good, and shows more range than he’s exhibited on True Blood, but his part isn’t that massive and his role is basically limited to giving our lead shit before he becomes the BIG HERO. The other sailors, including Rihanna, a young Matt Damon-lookalike, and the Japanese captain, are painted in broad strokes, and suffer at the hands at the corny script. But Liam Neeson’s in the movie!! For 10 minutes. I’d heard that his contribution to the film was relatively minor, but I assumed this was due to him getting taken out early and providing a “Holy fuck they just killed Liam Neeson!!” moment to the audience (that actually could’ve been really potent). Nope; he makes it to the end, but is on an aircraft carrier that just happens to be inaccessible to the alien ships and, thus, is completely out of the action for the length of the film. The idea that not one alien meets his demise at the hands of eternal badass Neeson (“I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you want,” etc.) is another of the more egregious offenses of this film, and exhibits its complete lack of star power, proper writing, or audience savvy.
Skip It, save for those who thought that the one major thing missing from the Transformers series was boats. $200 million dollars later, and Universal, Hasbro, and Peter Berg have a flashy, overly stupid movie that seems ideally made for that DVD-on-TV show on FX that plays behind the scenes footage in between the commercials.