There are moments in Battleship, though they’re few and far between, when the movie pauses to admit that, yes, it’s perhaps a little silly to adapt a strategy game about blindly firing missiles at boats in fixed positions. Hearing lines like “Echo-1… hit!” as a missile clears a tall obstruction and lands on the other side is a giddy callback to the game and a reminder of the dumb fun to be had in seeing those plastic choking hazards brought to cinematic life. The rest of the time, however, Peter Berg’s clanking noise-machine falls in line with Michael Bay’s Transformers model, ensuring that the Hasbro brand is treated with the proper gravitas. The Marines got that commercial where the recruit slays the fire-spewing lava monster, and now the Navy has its two-hour propaganda film about the glories of fighting alien invaders positioned in neat little quadrants at sea. Just try to forget it’s a toy.
As the film opens, NASA has discovered a “Goldilocks planet” in another galaxy, so named because, like Earth, it’s neither too close nor too far from its sun, and therefore just right to sustain life. In its infinite wisdom, humanity has created special sonic lasers to poke this celestial hornets’ nest, called “Planet G,” and the alien life forms on Planet G answer the communiqué by sending five ships to eradicate Earth. (Which has it coming, frankly.) Standing in the way are two brothers stationed with the Navy at Pearl Harbor, one a promising fuckup (Taylor Kitsch) and the other a straitlaced tough guy (Alexander Skarsgård), plus a supporting cast of other naval officers (Liam Neeson, Rihanna, and Jesse Plemons, among others), a tech nerd (a very funny Hamish Linklater), a paraplegic Army veteran (real-life Iraq vet Gregory D. Gadson), and Kitsch’s plucky love interest (Brooklyn Decker).
There’s a shred of Starship Troopers-like political commentary about humanity needlessly provoking an enemy that has no interest in it, but any such thoughts are blasted away in a hail of metal spaceballs and a Steve Jablonsky score (featuring producer Rick Rubin and guitarist Tom Morello) that sounds like Inception dropped down a flight of stairs. Despite some promising early goofiness involving full-contact soccer and the quest for a chicken burrito, Battleship plays it regrettably straight most of the time, as if the fate of the world really might rest on how well the Navy can hurtle projectiles at alien warships. With eyes closed, the movie uncannily resembles a giant baby playing with pots and pans.