Action movies like Battleship indicate two things. One is that source material for American war movies is drying up. World War II gave you three good decades of triumphant cinema, but after that, Vietnam and the post 9/11 wars were too unpopular for celebratory films. Here, the Pacific fleet of the US navy battles an alien invasion from a distant planet, victory over whom unites former deadly Pacific adversaries—the US and Japan.
The other thing is that the narrative form that Battleship uses as its source is not the novel or theatre, but the naval combat game, Battleship, by Hasbro. In a ‘game’, you arrive at action situations much quicker and more abruptly than in a book. Also, character and motivation tend to be flat.
So when the hero of this movie, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), is transformed from a guy ‘pfaffing around’ in bars to a lieutenant in the navy, literally one shot to the next, that is ‘game’ narrative. He is dating the daughter (Brooklyn Decker) of the admiral (Liam Neeson), and, henceforth, that is Alex’s professional and romantic status, take it or leave it, miraculously arrived at shortly before the aliens arrive in a fleet of spaceships, one of which crashes in Hong Kong even as the rest hit the Pacific.
As in most alien invasion films, the paradox between a highly advanced civilisation and really dumb individual ETs is never resolved. So, finally, when an old World War II battleship knocks out the high technology of critters who have travelled light years to get here, we roar in approval.
However, if you are able to abandon logic and reason and lean back and enjoy it, Battleship is not such a bad ride. It is nicely shot, has moments of tension, and can surprise you—particularly with the driven performance of pop star Rihanna as an ace gunner on the ship. She gets involved in her role and may well be the most believable character in the movie.