Battleship [2012 Week]

(spoilers ahead! – yes, you don’t want to know if the aliens win, do you?)

Battleship. Well, how to start? This is probably one of the most ridiculed movies before it came out and it is basically impossible to take it seriously. It’s a movie version of Battleship, so what could you possibly expect? The story is absurd, the filmmaking is almost irrelevant, there are some moments that could be seen as entertaining, but, come on, no one needed this movie. It’s not the worst; it’s just dumb and unnecessary. Oh, the plot? Aliens attack, battleships fight them back. Liam Neeson is just there for the paycheck, but not for the actual movie. What else do you need to know?

Some things to look at. In one of the earliest scenes, a scientist (Hamish Linklater) comments on the possibility of aliens arriving on earth in the following way: “If there is intelligent life out there and they come here, it’s gonna be like Columbus and the Indians. Only we’re the Indians.” Let’s ignore the question why a scientist working on sending signals in outer space is actually against that idea. Or why those signals look and sound like lasers. His comment is fascinating, especially so early in the movie. Does he imply that we all know that Columbus did something horrible to the first Natives he met by making them extinct? Because I don’t think everyone really knows that. Apart from that, this statement implies something about humanity. It’s bad! He projects humanity’s supposed flaws on some aliens and says if any of them are capable to travel worlds, they will want to conquer Earth because that’s all we know people do. We can’t imagine anything else! This of course is true of most alien invasion movies, but in this one it’s even more noticeable because the movie never provides the aliens with any kind of motive. They come to earth and seem to actually have an agenda (first I thought they want to destroy any kind of weapons, but it never adds up), but eventually they just destroy everything. We get a scene in which the protagonist, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, who is a movie star why?), gets some insight into the aliens’ head but all we see are aliens fighting each other. This surely is a weakness of the movie, but again, it’s clear that we don’t need an explicit explanation, because we know that’s what aliens do. That’s what we taught ourselves, both because of our culture’s inherent fear of strangers, but also because of our culture’s will to dominate, invade and conquer. Why would any other culture want anything else? That also explains why they look so humanoid, because we actually identify with them. But because they’re invading Earth, we must kill all of them. We know how they feel, but they threaten our territory, you know?

Okay, what about women in this movie? There is Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker, great name and that’s it), who Alex immediately falls in love with because she displays a great, intelligent character and they share the same hobbies. Well, yes, and she enters a bar in a tight top and jeans. But all that other stuff comes later, I’m sure. Alex wants to impress her and the movie constantly wants to show us that he is a loser because he is irresponsible and doesn’t follow rules. The movie is very authoritarian and conservative in that respect, but more on that in a second. When he confronts her in the bar, it’s clear she is not impressed and because I didn’t know she had a starring role, I was sure she was just there to show us how fucked up he is. So he does something totally stupid “for her”, makes cars crash, is tazed by the police and arrested and shows her that he did it all for her, in a really embarrassing and pathetic gesture involving a burrito. How does she react to that creepy stranger? She smiles. And falls in love at that moment. Of course, why would she doubt him?

There is another woman in this movie (yes, only one other), Cora Raikes (Rihanna) and she so clearly is the alibi female role among the sailors in the movie. You see no one else, so she has to fulfill her role.  Which is to be tough on the one hand, so she fits into this boys club, but also to not really play any significant role because they’re reserved for all the men. Sam is the same, obviously, but she has to run alongside a veteran who lost his legs (Gregory Gadson) and his will to fight, but he still gets more to do and achieve than Sam in the whole movie. Because a man with prosthetic legs is still capable of more than a woman, I guess.

Okay, back to authority. Alex’ brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) constantly screams and shouts at him for messing up both their lives. He tells him to “grow up and mature a bit.” He ends his tirade with the definition of authority: “There will be no more debate, no more discussion, no more compromise. It’s me speaking, you listening, me saying you doing.” It’s not played as if the brother was wrong here. He forces him into the Navy because where else would you better learn to follow orders and not listen to yourself? This “method” continues there of course, with Alex no being shouted at by everyone else around him, especially Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson, really, for no reason) who is not only his superior but also his girlfriend’s father because the movie hasn’t been contrived enough already. How does Alex become the hero? By “growing up” of course and “taking responsibility.” The movie is so old-fashioned in its agenda, it’s no surprise that the last third is dominated by old men.

Finally, the movie serves as a big advertising campaign for the Navy. Sure, that happens with every movie involving the military, but that doesn’t make it better. It’s mostly battleship porn. There is a scene where a little boy asks a question about the ships and Alex stops and tells him stuff until the boy’s eyes shine with the prospect to become a Navy officer himself one day. This scene serves no other purpose that to glamorize war and make it look appealing to kids. All of this is of course underlined by the emphasis on authority, but also by long stretches of camaraderie, heroism and rituals. After all, the movie shows us that war is just like a board game, maybe frustrating at times, but overall just really, really cool because you get to use big ships and huge cannons. It’s what all the boys dream of and why wouldn’t we cater to that? It’s probably genetic. The very last shot (apart from the pointless end credit scene), shows that Alex now “got what it takes” by asking Sam’s father to marry her (because back in the days people still did that) and by being accepted by him. Look at that shot. Alex, half-covered by Shane’s shoulder, under the arm of authority, happy to serve, to follow rules, to be controlled. He won the heart of authority, so everything is fine. Thumbs up!