Battleship is a fantastic romantic comedy. It throws together all the classic genre ingredients: the handsome, compassionate, but ultimately flawed hero; the gorgeous woman of his dreams; and the strict, disapproving father. In order to achieve his primary narrative goal—getting the girl—the protagonist must prove himself to dear ol’ dad. Battleship follows the established formula so closely and elegantly that director Peter Berg’s creative decision to resolve this central conflict by having Hero Boy thwart an alien invasion… perplexed me, to say the least.
I exaggerate, of course, but this still illustrates one of Battleship’s fundamental narrative blemishes: from start to finish, I felt an overwhelming tension between the movie Berg wanted to make and the one he was contractually obliged to deliver. Hasbro obviously expected an overblown, excessive, Transformers-esque popcorn flick (which, I must stress, is a legitimate form of entertainment, whatever other film snobs might insist). Berg, however, set his ambitions a little higher, attempting to craft a story about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances—not unlike Steven Spielberg’s (underrated, though not flawless) adaptation of War of the Worlds.
In the Spielberg picture, the Martian attack gives Tom Cruise the opportunity to redeem himself as a father; tension arises from the uncertainty over whether he can hold his strained family unit together—at least long enough to survive. Berg drops the ball by front loading way too much exposition. Hero Boy’s rocky relationship with Dream Girl’s father eats up a good chunk of the first act, shifting the viewer’s focus. Thus, when the action finally starts, we don’t ask, “Will he be able to defeat the aliens?”
No, we ask, “If he beats the aliens, will he finally win the father’s favor?”
And that kind of kills the tension.
[Originally written May 25, 2012.]