Awfully Good: Battleship

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

With INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE hitting theaters this week, we take a look at the last time aliens invaded earth in a big summer blockbuster…

Battleship (2012)

Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker


Aliens travel millions of miles to Earth and use their advanced technology to force humanity to play a large scale Milton Bradley game. 

First things first: at no point in this two-hour movie based on the board game BATTLESHIP does anybody actually exclaim, “You sunk my battleship!” 

I’ll give you some time to swallow that disappointment and collect yourself before we move on. 

This ice bath is a metaphor for Taylor Kitsch’s career after BATTLESHIP, JOHN CARTER and SAVAGES all came out the same year.

Clearly the people behind this film played a different version of Battleship than I did growing up, because I don’t remember anything about aliens in our Navy. (Maybe the writers got their childhood games confused and accidentally adapted Space Invaders?) Regardless, in this reality, humanity has located a “Goldilocks” planet where the conditions for life are…”just right.” They send a message out in to deep space using sound waves that are somehow visible like lasers, not expecting said aliens to immediately come pay us a visit to show off their best interstellar WMDs. 

The aliens. They tried to warn us…

If you’re thinking that a naval warfare movie with extraterrestrial opponents could be cool, you’re right. It could be an interesting concept…if handled in any way other than what BATTLESHIP does with it. Forgoing any opportunities for originality, the aliens turn out to be completely humanoid with a bizarre goatee design that makes them all look like Scott Ian from Anthrax. Their exo-suits and spacecraft are so generic it looks like they just copied code from a Halo video game. You also never find out anything about the alien race, where they came from or why exactly they want to destroy Earth. They’re so lame that Jesse Plemons compares them to his pet lizard and immediately figures out their weakness. (SPOILER: It’s the sun; you know, that giant thing in the sky that shines on our planet every day?). And conveniently all their ships, which traveled through the deadly reaches of the galaxy, have windows made of thin glass that Taylor Kitsch can easily shoot out, exposing them to sunlight. 

In case you thought I was exaggerating about that Scott Ian comparison.

As bad as it is—and make no mistake, this is a terrible movie—BATTLESHIP at least has the common decency to embrace its dumb source material. In fact, it’s so faithful to the board game it manages to be both impressive and stupid. As soon as they land, the aliens use a force field to lock our naval fleet in to a confined space in the middle of the ocean. Each side sets up their ships in different formations and begins taking turns firing at each other. Around this time you may notice the constant overhead aerial shots or how the alien missiles look exactly like pegs and you’ll come to the realization that, “Holy hell, they’re actually literally adapting the gameplay of Battleship in to a feature film.” And it goes on scene after scene. Eventually our heroes begin using buoys to track their opponents’ movements, allowing them to use a grid-like chart that is the exact game board used in Battleship. They even call out the locations of where to strike (“D25!”) and the results (“Hit!” “Miss!”) the same way. I’ll admit it takes some cajones to go with this literal of an adaptation, but the execution is exactly as exciting as watching someone else play a board game.

Bizarro Nick Frost hates Cornetto.

Peter Berg is a solid filmmaker and has a real love for the Armed Forces, even casting real veterans like retired Army colonel and double amputee Gregory Gadson in a major role. But here he tries to ape Michael Bay’s shiny, slow-mo military porn aesthetic and it feels like a cheap knockoff. As far as blockbusters go, BATTLESHIP comes across like a hazy mish mash of a bunch of other similar films—INDEPENDENCE DAY, TRANSFORMERS, ARMAGEDDON—with generic destruction of cities and ships but no style or substance. (It also rips off TOP GUN with a slightly less-homoerotic soccer match.) Berg even tries to out-Michael Bay Michael Bay at one point: When their entire modern fleet is destroyed, the heroes have no choice but to try and commandeer the U.S.S. Missouri, an old steam-powered ship that’s currently docked as a museum. However, since none of them know how to operate an old school vessel, a group of elderly World War II vets show up to save the day. It’s the Greatest Generation swooping in to rescue the planet from aliens—it doesn’t get more American than that. (You also have to wonder if it’s a commentary on board games vs. video games, with the trusty old battleship taking down the enemy over the more modern, technologically advanced  destroyer.)

Cobra Commander Jr. always had it out for G.I. Joey.

Taylor Kitsch stars as the main protagonist, a hothead naval officer with an embarrassing backstory. The first time we meet Kitsch, he’s stealing a chicken burrito for Brooklyn Decker, dramatically crawling to hand it to her as he gets tazed and arrested. There’s literally nothing else to their love story that we see during the entire running time, except for this repeatedly-mentioned chicken burrito. Decker and co-star Rihanna are more eye candy than actual actors, and even more dependable performers like Liam Neeson, Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons and Alexander Skarsgard aren’t given much to do. (Skarsgard’s character is named Stone Hopper, so good luck taking him seriously.) The result is a movie where you’re more likely to end up rooting for the alien characters over the humans.

Alexander Skarsgard could already feel TARZAN imploding at the box office.

While Kitsch is out at sea, Tokyo drifting his ships and learning about responsibility, his girlfriend Brooklyn Decker is given her own subplot, involving her physical therapist character and a military veteran with prosthetic legs. While out on a walk trying to convince her patient that he can still live a full life even without his lower extremities, the pair accidentally stumbles upon an alien communications camp and must figure out a way to shut them down. Eventually this leads to a car crash where Decker loses the use of her legs (irony) and the injured vet learns that he still has value. He demonstrates this by challenging an alien to a mano-a-mano fist fight in what is easily the best scene in the movie. For all its faults, at least BATTLESHIP features a real-life war hero and double amputee choking out an extraterrestrial creature with his prosthetic limb. Not many films can say that. 


The worst lines from the annoying scientist character. BONUS: Chicken burrito time!

The best moments of action and destruction, plus the epic alien vs. veteran fight.

No nudity, but Brooklyn Decker still gets a thumbs up. 

Oh brother, somebody gonna kiss the donkey! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • The film is notably like the board game
  • Someone tells Taylor Kitsch that he’s squandering his potential
  • A popular song plays
  • Someone’s life is saved by a horse
  • Someone can’t understand the Japanese character or says something racially insensitive to the Japanese character

Double shot if:

  • “Motherf—” is cut off

Thanks to Ronnie for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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