Last night I saw Battleship, because it was playing at the local second-run theater and it’s tough for a movie to not live up to a $2 ticket. This one didn’t disappoint, but it was still pretty bad. But only comparatively. “Compared to what,” you ask? Shockingly, compared to its knock-off, the Asylum’s American Warships. For the record, The Asylum initially attempted to pull a full carbon copy by titling their movie American Battleship, but a lawsuit by Universal Studios stopped them from doing that. Good for Universal.
But why would I say that American Warships was better? Well, and it pains me to say this, but it was better written. In a way this makes sense; when you’re operating with probably a hundredth the budget of the major motion picture release you need to distinguish yourself somehow. Of course, considering the damn thing was originally titled American Battleship it’s a safe bet that distinction wasn’t a goal. Still, it’s what they had. Here’s why I found it better written:
In American Warships we had … whoever … played by Mario Van Peebles as the main character and in Battleship we had … whoever again … played by Taylor Kitsch. First off, hey, kudos to the Asylum for having a black character in the lead and even having … I dunno’ … played by Carl Weathers.
It was impressive that Battleship, taking place in and around Hawaii (which boasts a significant Asian and native islander populations), still managed to have a cast made up primarily of white folks. In addition to the generic ethnic (lack of) diversity of its cast we have a painfully generic protagonist; the diamond in the rough jackass. At the start of the movie Taylor Kitsch’s character is shown to be such an arrogant, reckless moron that I have serious doubts he could have survived six years in the Navy and gotten as far as he did. But, hey, the movie makes the effort of pointing out to us that he’s secretly brilliant and just needs the right opportunity to shine. We’ve seen this type of character so many times before in movies that I had to check to make sure my life wasn’t on repeat. Mario Van Peebles’ character in Warship was also fairly cliche; he was the grumpy older guy about to retire who was pulled into one last job, but at least it’s not as common a cliche and the audience was spared having to hear a “you suck at everything you do but I’m sure you’re really amazing” speech like we had about three times in Battleship.
The scenario of American Warship worked in the use of the USS Iowa, an old ship about to be turned into a museum, because the aliens used an electromagnetic pulse to disable all of the other (newer) ships in the area. This wasn’t a terribly original idea, but it was at least scientifically sound and a fun way to explain why that particular ship was needed to save the day.
In Battleship the aliens create an invisible force field to protect their position (why it had to be as big as it was went unexplained or even why it was erected in the first place) which kept out the majority of naval forces (except those with our main cast.) When the aliens created the force field it drained the power from the nearby zodiac‘s battery. I thought this would lead into explaining why the Battleship USS Missouri would come into play, but it didn’t. In fact, the Zodiac was the only thing affected in such a way, resulting in it just being an inexplicable and unnecessary (since the craft runs fine a few seconds later) plot point.
Also there’s the whole thing about space travel. In Battleship, it’s made clear that these aliens came to Earth in 2012 in response to a signal sent in 2006 (or later) to the first extra-solar, Earth-like planet we discovered. The nearest planet fitting that description would be 10.5 light years from Earth. So in the 6 years that elapsed in the movie, no alien intelligence would have received the message … let alone managed to send an invasion force (even if I allow that they have the ability to travel faster than the speed of light, I know our signal couldn’t.)
American Warships avoided such a mess by not trying to tie the aliens’ arrival to a message sent from Earth. They simply arrived of their own volition.
I addressed this a little bit in the “Science” section, but I thought it was noteworthy that American Warships used a story element (the aliens’ use of an EMP to disable the fleet) to incorporate why the USS Iowa was necessary to save the day whereas the Battleship simply had luck or the aliens’ incompetence be the reason why Taylor Kitsch’s character was pivotal to the plot. Also, probably owing the lower budget, American Warship kept its focus tightly on the crew of the USS Iowa, whereas in Battleship multiple sets of characters and events were on screen. It wasn’t necessary to show where the love interest worked and how she ended up in the mountains of Hawaii. It was bizarre to have multiple scenes involving military bigwigs at the Pentagon communicating with Liam Neeson’s character, who wasn’t involved in the action because he was outside the force field. Why did we have to see the aliens’ blade wheels of doom destroying Hawaii when it didn’t involve any of the characters (oh, right, because they wanted to have an action set piece and budget be damned.)
Also, there’s the matter of behavior. Never having served in the military, and not knowing many military people, my perspective is probably a little off from reality. However, I get the impression that the military operates with a bit of discipline and formality. To that end, American Warships seemed more believable as a portrayal of military life, what with Van Peebles’ character occasionally correcting people on protocol and enforcing the chain of command as opposed to Battleship where Kitsch’s character, at the start of the movie, does whatever the hell he wants but is cut slack because, as the writers like to remind us, he has so much potential. Things seemed especially bizarre toward the middle of the film, after he’d become captain of the ship (because his superiors had all been killed) he picked up a rifle and lead a team on a deck-by-deck sweep of the ship for an alien saboteur. That’s not something a captain ought to be doing, but dammit, it’s a summer movie cliche so it simply had to happen.
So that’s why I think American Warship was a better movie than Battleship. It really would have been great if the Asylum knockoff could have been given the budget for special effects that the major motion picture release had been granted, as it would have resulted in a surprisingly good summer blockbuster.