Battleship (2012) – Peter Berg (Dir.), Taylor “Locks of Love” Kitsch, Brooklyn “Chicken Burrito” Decker, Liam “Facepalm” Neeson, Alexander “Vampire Viking” Skarsgaard, real US Veterans
Guys. Guys. Seriously, GUYS.
It happened. It finally happened! All this time I have been waiting, patiently biding my time, nagging and needing, pushing and pulling, whining and whinging until finally, fucking ultimately and in the goddamn end, someone ACTUALLY WATCHED BATTLESHIP WITH ME. Without alcohol, drugs or anything other than Earl Grey tea (Jean-Luc Picard style, bitches) I consumed, nay feasted on this behemoth of summer movie epicness.
Wow. Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the rest of the Seven Dwarfs. What can be said about Battleship that hasn’t already been said about Citizen Kane? What can be said that hasn’t already been said about Hamlet? Paradise Lost? In fact, it was so mind-blowingly brilliant, so life-changingly beautiful that I almost gave up my entire career in Chicago to go live with the gorillas in the Congo. It is, hands down, the most important movie I have ever seen in my measly existence. Decades from now, worshippers will lay themselves on the pyres of Peter Berg to sacrifice themselves to the greatest gift known to man. That gift? Mutherfucking Battleship.
But then, after completing this tour de force, this magnum opus, this codification of all things that makes us human, I finally glanced across the various Best Of lists for 2012 from a handful of mindful critics. Much to my chagrin, Battleship was left completely by the wayside! How was this possible? How did this many scholarly filmic journalists pass up the greatest ode to human suffering that is Hasbro’s Christ-like franchise? And so, like a manic father searching for his son in a mall, though you know he was snatched by the bad guys and is going to be held to blackmail me into infiltrating the White House to steal the nuclear codes, I tore through the Oscar Nominations this year. A Munch-ian scream-like grimace came across my face as, category after category, Battleship was left in the dust, a discarded piece of brilliance too advanced for its own time and tossed aside along with yesterday’s jam. What kind of monster would nominate Daniel Day Lewis, the silliest facial hair in the business, over Taylor Kitsch? How could we have Anne “Phoning it in” Hathaway on the list but no Brooklyn Decker? And, come on, Tommy Lee Jones? He was terrible in Men in Black 3! I haven’t seen anything else with him in it, but based on that sole metric, he must be awful. Why not substitute him for Alexander Skarsgaard?
So ashamed was I in the academy that I’ve decided to write my own Best Of list for this fateful year. Get ready, plebs, and, as Mr. L. Jackson would say, HOLD ONTO YOUR BUTTS.
Best Franchise Leading Man – Taylor Kitsch (Battleship)
There is a man, not just any man, but a Canadian man. He burst onto screens and into our hearts with the emotionally hollowing and brutal Friday Night Lights only a few years ago (full disclaimer…I’ve never seen Friday Night Lights nor am I sure of what it’s about. Baseball, maybe?). Since that unparalleled start, he was thrust into a role that could not have been portrayed by any mortal man. I am, of course, speaking of the Cajun, exploding-card-throwing-kendo-stick-wielding-building-jumping-Hugh-Jackman-punching fanboy favorite, Gambit, in perhaps the greatest movie about facial hair and poor cuticle trimming the world has ever seen: X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Since then, Kitsch was catapulted to stardom. And, like that first red bird you fire in a game of Angry Birds, it usually goes a little too high, soars too close to the sun and incinerates upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. Such was Kitsch’s career. In this last year alone he starred in the massively successful and sure-to-not-be-the-only-movie-in-it’s-franchise-unless-Disney-gambled-millions-of-dollars-and-lost-catastrophically John Carter as well as this beast of genius, Battleship. How can one actor go from long hair to short in only one scene? How can a man so effectively growl and look like he’s constantly defecating himself? How can a man make his eyes so squinty-small that it seems as though someone forgot to cut them open when they tore open the Kitsch Action Figure packaging? This man is absolutely destined for stardom. Obviously we will get to see his true strengths during the inevitable Battleship 2 due to the first one’s incredible commercial success.
Sorry, what was that? Oh, it didn’t make any money? Huh. How about that?
Best Brotherly Acting – Alexander Skarsgaard (Battleship)
Now, though Kitsch was obviously the star of the show, credit must be given to his literal brother in arms, Alexander. I don’t remember what his character’s name was, but it doesn’t matter. The point is: they’re brothers. The two of them are so brotherly and so fraternally joined that any question of their joint ancestral background is nonsense. Even though Kitsch is brunette and Skarsgaard is blonde. And Kitsch looks almost native american while Skarsgaard is about as Aryan as weinerschnitzel. And Kitsch is like 5’10” while Skaarsgaard is approximately 3000 feet tall. Oh, and Skarsgaard has an accent. Other than that, any question of their filial relationship is completely absurd. But honestly, how hasn’t Skarsgaard won an Oscar yet? Isn’t there a category for best Sookie Pounding? Or maybe that’s just the Emmys (there’s an Emmy for everything). This gentleman is an epic piece of humanity whose nuanced portrayal of a naval commander truly cuts to the core of what Conrad was searching for when he penned Heart of Darkness. I mean, just look at his face-blowing-up performance that occurs at the thirty minute mark:
One might think he was a shoe-in for Best Supporting. But no, the Academy went with Philip Seymour “Butts” Hoffman. Travesty.
Best Naval Research – Peter Berg, Joe and Erich Hoeber (Battleship)
When given the task of representing an entire branch of the US military there are too many pitfalls to count. Let us all hang our heads in remembrance of the ever-lost and exceedingly terrible Aaron Eckhart growl-a-thon Battle: LA where combat verisimilitude turned every action scene into incoherent visual mulch. When Peter Berg decided to take on this, the greatest movie I have ever seen, he was given an impossible task. How does one take the tale of aliens invading the Earth and manage to keep the integrity of the US Naval forces in tact while they have to adapt and survive against this new and brutal foe? Well, the answer is: masterfully. So many questions I had about the Navy were answered in full, things like: Q. Who is in charge of a battleship? A. The guy with the coffee cup; Q. What does the commander do if he’s the only named character on the boat? A. Everything; Q. Can anyone do anything without orders? A. Absolutely not. Q. What is the first thing every single member of the crew does when given an order? A. Directly question and bitch about it to their commanding officer; Q. If aliens invaded a vessel, what’s the first thing you do? A. Send the most senior officer into the situation without any intel or weaponry other than a standard issue M4 assault rifle and then clear literally every space on the ship so, in case he does go hand to hand with a power-suited super alien, he won’t have any help whatsoever because he is, of course, the most senior officer. What we were offered was a dramatic, coherent view of everyday naval life forced into an extreme situation, an exemplary piece of filmmaking that would rival Saving Private Ryan, All Quiet on the Western Front or Tora! Tora! Tora!
This certainly wasn’t, in no way a transparent cashing in on US militarism for solely the purpose of profit and unwarranted patriotism. Nor was it the result of director Peter Berg sitting in his bathtub with a toy boat yelling “NAVY! NAVY! NAVY!” over and over again while the two English-as-a-second-language screenwriters tried to take broken dictation. No way, no how. This is an AMURKAN film. No corners have ever been cut in AMURKA.
Best Meet Cute – Taylor Kitsch and Brooklyn Decker and a chicken burrito (Battleship)
As I will go into during my multi-part, existential, soul-searching examination of romantic comedies, the art of the ‘Meet Cute’ is a practice so delicate and precise that, if done incorrectly, can sour one’s audience to the point of the entire theater bursting into collective screams and soiling themselves with rage. Thank god Peter Berg was here. This ‘Meet Cute’ (where the two love interests first ‘meet’ in a cute fashion) wasn’t even necessary for this film. No. We could have just skipped to the next part where Kitsch has his hair cut off and is suddenly in the Navy and the audience would have believed that the two prettiest people on screen are in a relationship because, let’s be real, eugenics is a thing. But not Peter Fucking Berg. No, we had to see them meet while Kitsch was still sporting his rad doo earned from the deserts of Mars. We had to see the truest love committed to the silver screen since Casa-fucking-blanca.
What’s the scene? Kitsch is at a bar. So is super-blondie and constructed-in-a-Victoria-Secret-Secret-lab-owned-by-Michael-Bay Brooklyn Decker (also the name of the most hipster mode of transportation in NYC). We’re confronted with the age old issue that plagues all new couples. The lady wants a chicken burrito. You know, a chicken burrito. The elixir of the gods. A chicken burrito. Why does she want a chicken burrito? Because she wants to eat a chicken burrito. Because it’s a chicken burrito. And chicken burritos are delicious. So what does Kitsch do? He promises her a chicken burrito. You know, what the lady wants. A chicken burrito. He heads to Seven Eleven to get a chicken burrito but finds they are closed, thus his question for a chicken burrito is halted chicken burrito-less. What does he do? Buy her real food? Nope. He breaks in while the Pink Panther theme plays and steals her, yep, you guessed it, a chicken burrito.
And then he gets tazed.
I haven’t seen anything so true, so heartfelt, so fundamentally brilliant in all my 25 years. If I hadn’t gotten lucky and met a beautiful woman recently, I would march into a bar tonight and just start handing out chicken burritos in exchange for love. Also, I’ll make sure to be violently incapacitated by the Chicago Police. Fucking genius.
Best Being in a Movie Without Really Being in a Movie – Liam Neeson (Battleship)
This was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Peter Berg. It is established that Liam Neeson, you know, the Irish gentleman who is known not only for his unparalleled acting chops but also for his incomparable ability to beat the shit out of non-Americans with a brutality that can only be found in a movie produced by Luc Besson, is Ms. Double Decker’s father and Mr. Kitsch must ask him permission to marry her. Of course, Kitsch, being the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants one-last-chance loose-cannon (insert other cliches here), he has not yet curried favor with the Admiral. Oh yes, did I mention? Her father is also the Admiral of the Navy. So, when Kitsch goes to Navy, gets a few Navy badges and joins in playing war games at Navy-Camp, he is determined to win her father’s trust and respect. Neeson towers over the proceedings, the aloof and terrifying father figure that is the puppet master of these Naval war games.
And then the aliens show up and Neeson pretty much disappears until the last ten minutes of the fucking film. Yep. He doesn’t stick around. He just sits on his aircraft carrier for an entire day doing nothing. While Kitsch and his cohorts battle tooth and nail, their asses handed to them in a shockingly interesting adaptation of a board game to the silver screen, Liam Neeson does nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, when the big alien shield is finally broken in the midst of the final battle, it cuts back to Neeson in exactly the same position having not moved a single inch in and entire fucking day. Now, a less observant movie-goer might ask, “Hey, did they just film all of Neeson’s scenes on one day so he could get the fuck out of there and go back to making Taken 2?” But I am one of the enlightened. Making it seem as though nothing had changed just serves Berg’s almost Rand-ian thesis that is this movie. The Navy is stalwart. It is always there, never taking breaks. It is the perpetual watchdog of our shores. Well done, Mr. Berg. Well done.
Best Actors that Have No Formal Training of Any Kind – Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Gregory D. Gadson, a bunch of really old WWII vets
Now, there have been instances in the past where roles have been filled in major films with people who are not actors. They don’t know how to read a script for beats, for character arc, for subtext. These people have no training of any kind and are thrust into the world of a movie without so much as a life vest. It’s incredible. Mr. Berg managed to wrangle so many non-actors in this film that the actual number of non-actors outweighed that of actual actors. Yes, we first have Ms. Brooklyn Decker whose performance in the chicken burrito scene alone so have clinched her Best Supporting Actress (Fantine my ass), a model with no real interest in dramatic forms. Next, we have Rihanna, a woman known for her intense hairstyles and affinity for precipitation-avoiding accessories, who is, apparently, the only woman on an active naval ship. All questions of her ability and dramatic talent were quashed the moment she utter the words “Mahalo, Muthf-” before blowing up a super alien with a fucking cannon. The fact that ‘Mahalo’ in Hawaiian means ‘thank you’ didn’t stop Rihanna from truly imbuing the moment with a level of female empowerment that would have made Susan B. Anthony ejaculate. After that, we have Gregory D. Gadson, an actual vet who lost his legs in combat and now only has titanium kick-ass legs in their place. At first, his delivery was flat, uninteresting and fake. But, as the movie went on, his delivery remained flat, uninteresting and fake. His lines, however, became more and more badass with every scene; thus by way of sheer will, he managed to, no joke, become the most awesome character in the entire movie. When he choked the alien with his fake leg I was reminded of Day Lewis’s performance in My Left Foot. That level of greatness. Finally, after the sixth act break in the movie, we are treated with an AC/DC-backed montage of 80-something-old US vets recommissioning the only working battleship left in the armada after the alien attack.
Read that bit again. An AC/DC-backed montage of 80-something-old US vets recommissioning the only working battleship left in the armada after the alien attack.
One more time: an AC/DC-backed montage of 80-something-old US vets recommissioning the only working battleship left in the armada after the alien attack.
I think I saw God during those moments. No joke. An out-of-body moment of true clarity. It really is a testament to Mr. Berg’s directing ability that he managed to coax performances out of completely green subjects that basically outshone all of his professional actors, making their ‘acting’ look like nothing more than a growly rendition of a middle school retelling of Glengarry Glen Ross. That, or his ‘real’ actors really were completely incapable of anything other that utter bullshit. But that’s preposterous.
Best Performance by Ben Kingsley as an Entire Alien Race – Ben Kingsley, Peter Berg (Battleship)
Now, I’ve been known to accuse Sir Ben Kingsley of being in every movie for nothing but a pitiful paycheck (Species anyone? Prince of Persia? Bloodrayne? Ghandi?). But today I officially take back everything I have ever said to tarnish his career. Every err he has ever made over the years, and, trust me, there have been many, have been forgiven. Now, one would think that if we were to be watching a massive summer blockbuster, then the time and effort placed in designing and crafting the alien race that invades should evoke the darkest corners of our imagination. Much like Independence Day had imitations of the god of all sic-fi horror Alien imprinted into its alien DNA, we have come to expect truly terrifying design from our summer action. Well, Mr. Berg, once again, has defied expectation and made a choice that will go down in cinematic history. In an almost Being John Malkovich-like move, he cast Ben Kingsley as every single alien on screen. The result, one would think, would be a complete lack of forethought in terms of the grander world Berg is attempting to cultivate. It is not. Instead, when the aliens remove their helmets, revealing the Oscar winner himself (with some questionable facial hair, but I think that’s written in Kingsley’s contract to combat the lack of living follicles on the rest of his cranium) we are suddenly forced to examine ourselves. Perhaps, by the end of this movie, we might think that the aliens who are invading are really ourselves. Man’s only enemy is himself. Once again, brilliant work.
Best Transformers Sequel – Peter Berg (Battleship)
I’m sure you, when scouring the list of 2012’s movies, were stunned to see the lack of a Transformers movie this year. Fear not! Mr. Berg, apparently taking over the helm of the franchise after Mr. Bay, I’m assuming, accidentally lodged himself in a stripper’s rectum, has done the unthinkable. He has so accurately and totally mimicked Bay’s auteurish flair to bring us yet another powerful addition to Hasbro’s growing film fiefdom. Now, as there are no actual Transformers in the movie itself, one must assume that all of the vehicles are actual living covertly as helicopters and boats until Sam Witwicky stops having sex with women far beyond not just his league, but his fucking sport, to come and start a new adventure. How else can one explain the film’s disjointed continuity? The flagrant misuse of lens flare? Of slow motion? The ghastly incorporation of over-saturated color filters? The broken flow and erratic shifts in tone? The complete ignorance of basic screenwriting rules? The eschewing of three acts in favor of twelve instead? The runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes? An obnoxious and utterly unfunny comedic sidekick? A flagrantly untalented super-model with about as much emotion as a bag of nails constantly visually violated with a widescreen lens? Honestly, it truly was brilliant how Berg carefully and subtly laid the groundwork for a series reboot without attempting to push its audience into deep water too quickly (see what I did there?).
As with all sequels, one must take the work done and make it better. In this instance, we had the addition of one female character that isn’t anyone’s mother. Well done there. Also, the screenwriters managed to imbue deeper meaning by way of constant quotations from Stephen Hawking, Sun Tsu and Shakespeare. These lines manage to cut deep to the emotional thrust of the action, while the less observant might just write them off as the two screenwriters scouring an edition of Bartlett’s Encyclopedia of Quotations in fear of having to write any lines themselves.
So, there you have it, my Best of 2012. I’ll be back for the Oscars where I will go through every single category and make sure you know exactly why Battleship should have swept up more Oscars than Titanic. I mean, come on. There are boats. There’s love. There’s a scene where Taylor Kitsch and the Japanese costar run up the length of a sinking ship and jump off exactly like Kate and Jack. The comparisons are innumerable. So, go see Battleship. I will watch it again and again, whiskey in hand. It truly is the new Showgirls.