Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Battleship


Blockbuster parody or blockbuster disaster? Reviewing Battleship, a megabudget sci-fi spectacular based on a classic board game, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman argues that it's hard to tell: 

The only reasonable way to explain "Battleship" is that it is actually a deft and subtle satire of the big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster, an exaggerated reflection of the form's worst tendencies and a sly test of its theoretical limits. How else to justify its lazy conceptual gimmickry, cynical deployment of meaningless cliches, spastic narrative, visual incoherence and indifferent boredom with itself?

I say that this is the only reasonable interpretation of the movie because the alternative — that director Peter Berg is not kidding, that this cannon blast of formulaic ineptitude is in fact meant to be enjoyed straightforwardly as entertainment — is simply too depressing to ponder.

Taken as satire, however, "Battleship" is a work of subversive sophistication that exposes the emptiness of the modern summer action film.

There's the kitschy clunkiness of the dialogue, a brain-melting blend of substance-free sloganeering and impenetrable expository technobabble, and the hyperactive editing and camera work that might have future medical use as a migraine simulator. There's also the story, which appears to have been duct-taped together from the unused leftovers of a slew of older blockbusters, and the drooling fetishization of military hardware, which makes "Transformers" and "Armaggedon" director Michael Bay's oeuvre look positively anti-war.

And there's the movie's subtle, self-referencing symbolism.

Read the whole thing at The Washington Times

NEXT: "Non-White" Births Outstrip "White" Births for First Time, Says Census Bureau

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I don’t need to read this review as I can already tell this is going to be the greatest cinema in the history of the universe.

  2. “From the Hasbro toy company that brought you Transformers…”

  3. People used to wonder what would have happened if Ed Wood had had a $200 million budget. Well, now we know.

    1. No, Ed Wood would have made something weirder. This is a little mainstream for Ed.

    2. I’m pretty sure Ed would have had everyone in pink angora instead of that ugly-flage the Navy uses. And the story would probably be more coherent, too.

  4. I used to like hitting a blockbuster every few weeks in the summer.

    But, I haven’t done that for years. In fact, whole summers go by, now, when I don’t go to a movie theater at all, unless its to see the latest from Pixar.

    1. I’m actually looking forward to this year’s Pixar film, Brave.

      1. Brave looks so – so. Wall-E was preachy enviro crap, UP was liberal anti-hunting crap and Cars 2 was good ol’ money grubbing crap (I can at least respect that). The Incredibles was great but of course that hasn’t seen a sequel despite the fact that the Supers genre practically screams for a sequel. The Toy Story saga was decent but is getting old. So really color me unimpressed by Pixar on average.

        1. It must be really, really boring to live in a world of perpetual Cultural Warfare.

          1. Not really… think about it, suddenly every decision, – eg whether to read Anne of Green Gables to one’s kids – takes on earth-shaking significance.

            It’s like being POTUS without the paparazzi.

            1. Except eventually the joy is sucked out of everything because you cannot enjoy X Album by An Apolitical Artist because at one point EMI-Sony donated $2300 to the DNC.

              1. This is why I can’t stand almost everything by Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down.

                1. I thought it was because they put out terrible music.

          2. I get by, somehow. I don’t mind entertainment that’s mixed with a political message. I just don’t find Wall-E or UP to have any entrainment value that comes through past the politics. Avatar at least had great special effects and a well visualized world. The preachy Pixar movies lack this and I find them to be more propaganda than entertainment.

            1. The plot of UP hardly beats you over the head with an anti-hunting message.

              There’s a message about not being a boring old coot; there’s a strong anti-eminent-domain message; there’s a little adventure and fun.

              You are the one choosing to politicize the hell out of it. Which is why I said it must be boring to be you.

            2. Yeah, I didn’t get the anti-hunting message in UP At. All.

              If anything, it taught me not to give working dogs unchecked power and translating voice boxes.

            3. You know, I’m a hunter, and I’m way too sensitized to political messages, and I didn’t notice any anti-hunting message in Up at all. I think its a great movie; the sheer story-telling craft on display is marvelous.

              1. You know, I’m a hunter, and I’m way too sensitized to political messages, and I didn’t notice any anti-hunting message in Up at all. I think its a great movie; the sheer story-telling craft on display is marvelous.

                I generally agree with this.

                Wall-E was a great film, and expertly crafted, but yes, the enviro-preach did get almost too heavy-handed.

                But overall the movie was great quality and if you focussed on Wall-E (a robot which romanticized a time when no one gave a shit about the environment) the story was just well done.

                Wall E was also complex in that it had several sub-narratives. The environmental one was the obvious, but the one that was better and more subtle was the liberty angle where the robots escaped their duty-bound programming.

                There’s always a libertarian hiding in the background at Pixar. Like in real life!

        2. Hey, there’s this guy Timrek downthread who complains about hipster douches tearing apart movies for not being artsy enough… Oh wait…

          1. Again it’s just my opinion. I don’t get paid for it. I give it away for free. You get what you pay for.

        3. Brave is going to be Action Grrrrrl crap.

          1. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as it’s not mixed in with a heavy, leaden political narrative. I’m more than fine with the Hero being replaced by a Heroine as long as it’s consistent with the film’s plot, and there is plenty of good cinema with that in it already.

          2. I don’t mind Action Grrrrl crap as long as it’s live action. Animated kind of defeats the purpose of MALE GAZING at hot chicks in skimpy clothes or leather catsuits kicking ass.

        4. You should read Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks.

          Seriously if you are going to bitch about leftist politics in art at least you should consume some that has actual leftist politics in it.

  5. Obviously, this is part of an ongoing scientific endeavor to produce the most mindless explosionskullbombspiralsmash audiovisual experience in history the universe. It’s basically approaching The Singularity from another angle.

    1. Explosion: The Movie is going to be explosionriffic. A veritable stroke-inducing assault on the auditory and visual senses.

      1. I will be first in line when we finally get there.

  6. I’m wondering how it’s based on the board game. Are the Gamesters of Triskelion playing it?

    1. I’m guessing that the aliens are going to have some sort of technology or barrier that prevents the use of remote targetting, so the humans will need to sneak Hero Guy inside the aliens barrier and he will have to do the calls for fire.

      It’s a big budget walking-fires.

    2. I think they gave up on any connection past the title, although Subway has a decent advertizing tie-in, something along the lines of “The movie has a Battleship, a carrier, a destroyer, but what it’s missing is a great Sub.” That may be the entire reason for the title not being “Transformers 4 or 5 or whatever: Explosions!!!!”

  7. I tend to have the opposite opinion as expressed by most movie reviewers. Movies that try to teach me something irritate me. How is a movie writer qualified to teach me life lessons?

    Big, visually stunning movies that aim to do nothing more than be entertaining, are much more likely to get me to the theater, than something with a compelling story, and a well developed lesson.

    1. Especially when the “lesson” is some liberal tripe like “we must stop killing mother earth” or “corporations are evil”.

    2. I don’t care about the lessons, but the story is part of the entertainment. I hate poorly written crap that purports to be deep, which is why I will never see Avatar.

      1. Avatar is the CG version of Pocahontas. HTH

        1. Elizabeth Warren is in that movie?

          1. That’s Senator Fauxcahontas to you.

        2. Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, and Ferngully all rolled into one.

      2. I saw Avatar in the theater with my daughter. She liked it, the best I could come up with was that it was colorful.

        1. Avatar was better stoned. In Imax 3D.

      3. I also don’t typically read reviews, so if Avatar, which I enjoyed, purported to be deep, I missed it. It was a fun, visually impressive movie.

        Part of it I think, is I choose to not look for deep messages, because when I see them, I’m usually irritated, ruining my enjoyment of the film.

      4. In addition to being preachy and irritating Avatar was a poorly written piece of shit as well. It was Dances with Wolves in space.

        Also, “Unobtainium”? Really? They couldn’t come up with a better name for their mythical magic metal than that? I actually laughed out loud for ~5 minutes straight.

    3. Big, visually stunning movies that aim to do nothing more than be entertaining

      Battleship does not deliver on this at all. The Aliens are incompetent which pretty much destroys any stunning visuals.

      Seriously the big Achilles heal of the aliens is don’t make threatening moves toward them and bright sunlight….seriously horrible.

  8. Wait, this isn’t the long-awaited movie version of JAG? What a waste of potential.

  9. I’m seeing it this weekend. I’m sure it will be bad, but I have a less than mild military fetish (I prefer armored vehicles but warships will do). Suderman’s a decent reviewer but by and large film reviewers a overly smug fanboys or hipsters who revel in the fact that they can tell their parents and peers (the one’s with real jobs) how right they were for majoring in film and theater at that over priced liberal arts college. They go to most mainstream movies just to rip them apart and prove that they have a superior sense of art than the unwashed masses.

    I may be wrong here and perhaps I will come out of Battleship hating myself for wasting over over $30 for my family to see it. More likely we’ll see a lot of stuff blowing up, hear bad dialog and watch military vehicles kick alien ass. Overall, I suspect it will be far more enjoyable than American Beauty, The English Patient or any number of Oscar winners.

    1. It must be really, really boring to live in a world of perpetual Cultural Warfare.

      by and large film reviewers a overly smug fanboys or hipsters who revel in the fact that they can tell their parents and peers (the one’s with real jobs) how right they were for majoring in film and theater at that over priced liberal arts college

      Oh look, I was right.

      1. The self-awareness of this one is uncanny.

      2. Just talking from experience learned in college and further illustrated on numerous comments at, rotten, and screen I respect everyone’s right to like films that I do not care for. But that does not in any way make my opinion less valid when it comes to reviewing a movie or TV show. Different strokes for different folks.

        1. Spoken like a true overly smug fanboy.

          1. Won’t argue with that really. Just wait until I rip into Nolan. That always gets the dander up.

            My point is actually that paid reviewers are largely worthless. Whether or not one likes or dislikes a particular film is a matter or opinion. Given that many reviewers are paid shills of the entertainment industry their views are even more biased than mine. Thus they aren’t a reliable way to indicate whether or not I, or anyone else for that matter, will like a particular film. It’s just as likely that a random person off the street will give you an indication as to how “good” a movie was.

    2. I’m seeing it as well-…..-survival/

      I went to school with this guy and he’s a dear friend. If he ends up sucking, I’ll happily and heartily give him shit for it.

    3. I’m seeing it this weekend.

      Dude don’t…just don’t

      Go watch Avengers it has a little bit for your military fetish what with the flying air craft carrier…or even Red Tails. That has lots of cool air battles.

      Battleship is really horrible trust me.

  10. Next from Hasbro, Shoots and Ladders!

    1. I see what you did there. Frankly, I’d rather see what they could do with Yahtzee.

      1. I don’t even want to find out how they’d interpret Monopoly.

        1. I figure they’d just do a documentary on Microsoft.

        2. I would totally do a pro-capitalist twist on Monopoly. In brief:

          Part 1: Our hero awakens and finally notices his entire town is red hotels and green houses. Mr. Monopoly Man owns everything in the town and is mega-wealthy. Do some innuendo-y stuff about how bad Mr. Monopoly Man is. Have MMM allegedly and indirectly wrong Our Hero.

          Part 2: Our hero takes it upon himself to liberate the town from MMM. In videogame-esque progression, he goes through the security staff, MMM’s mini-bosses, and finally gets to the big boss, and avenges his dead wife (or whatever motivation we need).

          Part 3: The Twist: MMM, vanquished now, is not such a bad guy, was misunderstood, and now that his empire of hotels and affordable green (ha!) housing is broken, the whole town is drying up and out of a job.


          1. True story: Monopoly Man’s real name is Mr Moneybags.

            1. It’s Rich Uncle Pennybags, which is even more monocle-y.

              He should be the ironic symbol of the Libertarian Party.

          2. So you’re making a documentary on Detroit?

        3. As long as they cast Gary Oldman as the Monopoly man

        4. Wasn’t that re-titled as ‘Atlas Shrugged’?

      2. One Man, One Chance, One Game: Uno

        1. I lol’d

  11. So we’re supposed to believe that this battleship can take on aliens? That they wouldn’t just vaporize it in the first ten seconds?

    I also like how in the trailer the battleship sees the alien ship, and opens fire, like it’s the American Revolutionary War or something. I guess it’s more dramatic than the battleship’s computer targeting the alien ship on radar 16 miles away and lobbing a few thousand-pound shells at it.

    1. I guess it’s more dramatic than the battleship’s computer targeting the alien ship on radar 16 miles away and lobbing a few thousand-pound shells at it.

      Actually they get their ass kicked when the attack at close range…it is only after the battleship is far away from the alien threat and no shit they fire on a grid just like the board game that they ever actually start winning against the aliens….

      Plus there is a running burrito joke with the punch line delivered at the end of the movie by Liam Neeson…

  12. I have very little fear that this will supplant “Clue” as the best Movie-Based-on-Board-Game ever.

    1. If they did one based on the Game of Life, the Mormon family would win in the end because they had the most kids.

  13. Alien Admiral: G-4?

    Admiral Liam Neeson: You sank my battleship!

  14. The review seems a little over-written to me. “movie’s subtle, self-referencing symbolism” um… How do you make a movie without self-referencing?

  15. I don’t understand people, like a few posters above, who go to movies just to “see cool things blow up,” or for “visual spectacle.” If a film’ story is shit, I can’t sit through it no matter how expensive the CGI (and most CGI is still shit nowadays – 2001 looks much more believable than Transformers).

    Do people like that only read pop-up books?

    1. I would guess they don’t read, since movies basically are for people who don’t read in the first place.

      At least since they became talkies…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.