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Mr. Brown Verses Battleship (Or: Michael Bay's Poisonous Influence On Modern Day Action/Blockbuster Movies)

Eventually, I am going to get to reviewing a movie that I actually liked, because I don't just want to be be bitching about terrible movies from the past and from the present In fact, there are two really great movies i'll be reviewing within the next week (The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Master) that I think rank among the year's best; add to that the release of Ben Affleck's international thriller Argo, and you'll be seeing a weekend's worth of praise of movies from me, including my picks for the best movies i've seen thusfar. Now, before I tear into the latest review on the sci-fi action picture, Battleship, I need to give this movie some background; not as much on the board game that inspired this bloated and boring piece of crap, mind you, but rather, the director who's trademarks are all over this mess of a film: Michael Bay.

See, back in 1998, Bay released a little movie that joined together an unholy union of the Dirty Dozen, the disaster epic and the science fiction genre and married them together in a race against time in space, where a meteor the size of Texas threatens to hit the Earth, taking out all life along with it. That movie was Armageddon, and it was a huge hit, both domestically and overseas. It racked up a total of $553 million globally and it was the highest-grossing movie of 1998 worldwide. Besides making tons of money at the box office, the a classic rock ballad by Aerosmith at the end of the film and Steve Buscemi as the annoying, wise-cracking comic relief character who thinks only about money and tits, movie critics generally were in agreement that Armageddon was a loud, obnoxious and cliched mess. The great Roger Ebert put it brilliantly in his review: "The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they're charging to get in, it's worth more to get out."

Explaining why I hate this movie would take up waaaaaay too much time, and eventually, i'll return to reviewing this movie in the future, but for now, big picture on this film: no matter what the critics had to say, the fact this ultra-loud, constantly bombastic, astonishingly idiotic, and unbelievably dopey action picture still made tons and tons of money, thus reinforcing to Bay that this is exactly what his audience wants him to make and what they want to watch. Unfortunately, Armageddon was just the beginning. Over the next decade Bay would go on a streak of producing and directing one bad blockbuster after another; from the tedious and insulting World War II drama Pearl Harbor in 2001, to the racist, misogynistic and repulsive Bad Boys II in 2003 (which I feel is the worst movie to have been released this decade) to the soulless cash cow that were the Transformers movies from 2007 up until 2011 when Bay released the third installment, Dark of the Moon.

You're probably asking yourself, 'what does this have to do with Battleship?' Everything.

See, this film combines Bay's most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) works: the maddeningly illogical plot and overbearing jingoism of Armageddon, the terrible dialogue and naval warfare setting of Pearl Harbor, and the sound effects team that made the mechanical whine that made the Decepticons and Autobots change in the Transformers trilogy. Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch of NBC's Friday Night Lights and this year's criminally unappreciated John Carter) is a hot shot on the rise in the Pacific Naval fleet stationed in Hawaii, but his arrogant nature, combined with his leap without looking philosophy continues to get him in trouble with his superiors, namely Admiral Shane (Liam Nesson) and his brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard of HBO's True Blood), both of whom are sick and tired of his constant him-first attitude. It's gotten to the point where after the end of the Naval RIMPAC War Games exercise between American and Japanese fleets, he'll be booted out of the Navy. During the exercise, alien forces spring out of the Pacific Ocean, and create an energy forcefield engulfing Hawaii and the three warships inside. With no communication from the admiral and no chance of escaping the forcfield, it falls to Alex and the crew of the U.S.S. John Paul Jones to stop the alien menace before it's too late.

That's it. That's all the movie gives us, because from there, it's mass destruction, mechanical chainsaw/spinning wheel things that destroy shit, highly advanced alien ships firing pegs into battleships, blowing them up, cannons firing from said battleships, 2 minute government boardroom meetings trying to make sense of what's going on, hot girlfriend of Alex Hooper (Brooklyn Decker) along with computer wiz/comic relief and double amputee Iraq War veteran finding a new cause to fight for.

Lather, rinse, repeat. This goes on for 2 hours and 10 minutes, and even before then, there's honestly not much fun or excitement to be had. You'll just be stuck, watching the soullessness of it all, because this movie has been done before: we've seen alien life forms try to invade the earth in better movies like Independence Day and War of the Worlds, and done poorly in the Transformer movies. Hell, the plot point, where the aliens use a series of high-powered telescopes to use against the humans is blatantly lifted from ID4! The scene where Hong Kong is decimated by the invading aliens, but Hawaii is left standing with destroyed military bases and infrastructure is borrowed from Armageddon where Bay wipes out Paris from the face of the Earth, but in an earlier scene, NYC is only partially destroyed. Apparently, the asteroid and the invading aliens were smart enough to know that the might of our armed forces would have kicked their asses all the back to the Milky Way! AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!!!!! 

Even the love interest is taken from the Michael Bay playbook: her only traits are to be ridiculously hot, and in love with the main protagonist. Director Peter Berg even reaches semi-perv cam, as he lustfully objectifies every frame of her body in one scene! You can almost hear the erection. Even Liam Nesson can't save how dreadfully boring this film is, and that's mostly due to the fact he's only in it for 10 minutes! es, he's playing the admiral of a Naval fleet, and he doesn't fight any aliens. Did Berg not watch Episode I or Taken? He's a certified badass! He should be telling the aliens that he has a certain set of skills that he's acquired over a very long career that make him a nightmare for things like them, not telling Hopper that he's an arrogant dick! The only saving grace of this slog is Rihanna in her acting debut as Petty Officer Raikes, a smart-mouthed weapons specialist and friend of Lieutenant Hopper, though Berg barely gives her anything to do, but in the screen time she does have, she's actually pretty impressive. She's really into the role, and she easily gives the most effort and exudes the most personality in this movie. 

About those aliens: Who are they, why have they come to Earth, why do they want to invade the planet, and why do they wear those damn helmets and armor that make them look like a bad concept design of Master Chief? Don't worry, for none of these questions are ever explained thought the runtime of the feature! No, really, Berg makes no attempt to even characterize these creatures, we're just meant to see them as the antagonist and hut the hell up while they're destroying stuff! Now, to be fair, there's little to zero character development with any of our leads, so I guess the thinking was that if we won't give these fish-like aliens any motivation to destroy and enslave Earth other than because the plot says so, why should we treat the protagonists any different? And speaking of the plot, in the last 40 minutes the story goes from mere boring an tedious to straight-up moronic and asinine in ways that I can't explain. Not because i'm worried about spoilers, but because you wouldn't believe me even if I told you.

Battleship is much more than the already chewed gum of blockbusters. It's also a damning indictment on the genre itself: over the last decade, Michael Bay has proven time and time again with his films that audiences don't give a damn about a thought of originality, character development or story/plot cohesion when watching summer blockbuster flicks; that all they want is mindless destruction, explosions, zero character development, objectification of female characters, and action for the sake of action, regardless if it, in any way, shape, or form, ties into the story, and that studios should just feed them that kind of tripe to the masses, because that will break box office records and that's the only kind of movie that they'll be willing to watch during May, June and July, and that's what we deserve. Only that line of thinking isn't true: Battleship bombed at the box office, failing to make back it's over $200 million budget, which I say, serves them right: We're not the sullen, lazy and stupid moviegoers you cynically pegged us as, Hollywood. We can see through a blatant knockoff like this, and we refused to pay money to watch your exercise in promotion more lazy, generic, and moronic action junk food like this. Now if only we could stick it to Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich next time they release a dumb blockbuster....

1/2 stars out of ****


  1. This movie just annoyed the hell out of me by how loud and dumb it was. And even though it provided me a lot of action to be enjoyed by, the writing was just so terrible that it couldn't keep me happy for long. Good review Mr. Brown.


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