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Battleship
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Battleship

Well summer blockbuster season is upon us again. This is the time of year Hollywood rolls out it’s big guns (literally) in the hopes of raking in loads of cash. Yet despite the volume of people who attend these action-based, heart-stopping extravaganzas of motion and sound, it is also a time of year that spurs the ire of the snooty who like their dramas dark, devoid of action and dialogue, and preferably made in Europe. Suffice to say this is not Oscar time, save for the special effects categories. The Avengers has kicked off the Summer with a bang and Prometheus is up next, but the Canned Laser team had pressing matters elsewhere. How could Canned Laser resist the temptation not to attend a viewing of what was sure to be the next big blockbuster franchise: Battleship.

EEON

Battleship, you sank my rating system.  As originally conceived, the Canned Laser rating system sought to limit top scores to creative works that are nearly perfect examples of action-oriented entertainment.  To quote:

“When review material surpasses all logical expectations, brings new joy to life, and meets the high bar set by Crank 2: High Voltage, a Five Can rating will be conveyed.”

 I never suspected that this category would present a problem.  How can Battleship, one of the dumbest movie concepts ever produced, live up to Crank 2?  Let’s break it down:

“…surpasses all logical expectations…”  Yes, Battleship does this. In doing so it manages to expose a key flaw of the five can rating.  Specifically, the ability to surpass expectations does not necessarily mean that the original expectations were high.  Does Coke Zero taste more like real Coke than Diet Coke?  Of course, but Coke Zero still tastes the way that turpentine smells.  On the other hand, a certain level of joy can be found in having a preconceived idea of quality completely invalidated.  Going in to watch Battleship, I had expected to receive only a headache and a renewed dislike for Rihanna.  Instead, I left the theater completely entertained and with added respect for Taylor Kitsch.

The filmmakers had almost unlimited choices for the story used in Battleship, as long as the movie included at least one battleship (it does) and takes place on the ocean (mostly).  The rest of the plot was a blank slate.  Thankfully, director Peter Berg chose to go with base emotion wrapped within a minimal story, and in doing so skirted around the self-important morass that seems to govern most toy-movie crossovers (Transformers, anyone?).  It’s a beautiful work, frankly, and panders to its audience with brutal honesty.  This movie doesn’t aggrandize violence, instead it uncovers the primitive joy and emotional rewards of fighting a battle where there is no moral ambiguity.  Aliens are bad, humans are good.  John Wayne belongs in this movie.  As Rihanna’s character might say, “Mahalo, motherf. . .  [BOOM!] “

“…brings new joy to life…”  Battleship revealed to me how deeply I have longed for a movie of pure jingoistic excess.  Remember how much you detested war, and perhaps also America, after watching Full Metal Jacket or Black Hawk Down?  This is the exact polar opposite of that feeling.  By the end, I was almost fist pumping at the screen while trying to remember the lyrics to “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue”.  To reiterate, in the midst of the third act in this movie, I began to enjoy Toby Keith music. 

The aliens in this movie are barely characters, as they are devoid of any established motive, personality, history, or dialog. As a foil for our heroes, the aliens have been perfectly constructed. Badass aliens are not in the story to prove any points about global warming, corporate greed, medical ethics, or the endurance of the human spirit.  Instead, the aliens exist only as a reason for our heroes to become angry and then shoot a seemingly endless array of lethal weapons across the Pacific Ocean.  When the protagonist is forced to bring the battleship Missouri out of retirement, a team of elderly veterans suddenly appear and restart the ship’s archaic systems.  These former servicemen arrive (via lens flare) draped in the stars and stripes, and then proceed to coax the Missouri back to life through a combination of (PG-13) profanity and (AC/DC) Thunderstruck.  On a personal note, when I think of ship’s engines starting and guns being readied for battle, it is always accompanied in my mind by the song Thunderstruck.  Strange, but this added to my enjoyment of Battleship.

“…meets the high bar set by Crank 2: High Voltage…  Arguable, but just barely.  This point comes down to the immediate fun of the movie versus its retained quality over time.  The re-watch potential for Battleship is definitely lower than it is with Crank 2.  Seeing Chev Chelios kick ass is an evergreen experience, as fresh with each screening as newly-mown grass.  In comparison, the CGI naval warfare in Battleship is not likely to age well, and the lens flares are grating.  It is this aspect that makes Battleship a four can movie.  Make no mistake, Battleship is wildly greater than the sum of its (admittedly pathetic) parts, but it can’t quite clear the bar and match Crank 2.  Mahalo, Taylor Kitsch. I hope that you get a third try at saving the world from aliens.

 

PETE

My mission was plain and simple. Frankly, I thought I had finally found the movie that would depose A.I. for the title: Worst Movie Ever Seen In A Lifetime. Mind you I’ve never walked out on a movie. I came close three times with A.I. being the most egregious, followed by Transformers 2. Then there is the first awful movie I ever saw, which planted the seed for the idea that I don’t have to withstand torture although I paid for it which is Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble.

Everything prior to the release of Battleship screamed failure. It is a movie based on a board game. It stars John Carter. The two female leads Rhianna and Brooklyn Decker are not actors. Then for flavor they throw in Eric from True Blood, Liam Neeson, and a dude from Ichi The Killer. I had two thoughts upon seeing the trailer: This movie will bomb and I need to see it.

Then it happened. I didn’t hate Battleship. I loved Battleship. I had only one thought as the credits rolled and it was the summation of all I had just witnessed: America, f*** yeah. This is a big deal because most days I can’t decide between anarchy and fascism. Battleship has postponed the debate indefinitely. There were a couple of critical miscalculations on my part. The first was that I actually liked the board game as a kid. The second was that one of my most prized possessions was a model I built of the U.S.S. Missouri. Thirdly to hate this movie would require me to hate other summertime patriotic manifestos like Independence Day and Live Free Or Die Hard.

But let me not sell this movie short on it’s own merits. The makers did a couple things absolutely correctly. The most important thing you can do when making a movie about an alien apocalypse sure to result in our extinction is never get too serious. What I mean about getting serious is, don’t delve into the psyche of the disaffected alien species to dissect their motives. The aliens want to kill us, you need to get permission from Liam Neeson to marry Brooklyn Decker. Then they kill your brother. Now it’s on.

My main fear and I guess hope for this movie to fail was my feeling that they would somehow try to integrate the actual Battleship game into the movie. Imagine my glee when the alien weapons were shaped like the game pieces, which impregnate ships in the same manner as the game. Then they skipped the pretense and actually played the game in the movie! The premise was preposterous but I found myself not caring. The level of suspense was high and I cared enough about the characters to want to see them succeed. Maybe it was my strange infatuation with submarine movies like Das Boot and Japanese space operas like Captain Harlock, but I was in total disbelief that this was working.

The saving grace of this movie may have been the supporting cast. It wasn’t the generic group you’d expect despite a Jeff Goldblum clone. But even he was utilized to perfection. At any moment the movie could have gone off the rails, yet there was someone to pull it back. The use of real veterans like Gregory D. Gadson was a clutch move.  He had the most memorable moment in the movie when as a real-life double leg amputee, he fought an alien cyborg. Can you believe that? One of our cyborgs fought one of theirs and we kicked ass!

Also the U.S.S. Missouri vets setting sail to ACDC redefined what the power of a montage is for me. Basically if you set anything to some hard rock and set your sails to hardcore it equals cinema gold. I don’t want to leave out the professional actors though. Taylor Kitsch, I know you must be struggling right now with the the box office returns of John Carter and Battleship. But hang in there. You are well on your way to being this generation’s Keanu Reeves.

In conclusion, Battleship is better than anything Michael Bay will ever do.

 
X-Factor of +3. Battleship surpasses all expectations, brings vast blockbuster action to the screen, and reinforces the idea that things are fun when they’re fun.
 
Action
Acting
Editing
Effects
Consistency
Captivation
Clarity
Painlessness

 

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