On the one hand, Universal’s Battleship looks, frankly, kinda stupid. It’s an adaptation of a Hasbro toy, along the same lines as Michael Bay’s dumb (but occasionally fun) Transformers franchise, and early spots and footage did nothing to suggest it’d be anything more than an uninspired, cynical cash grab.

On the other, there’s some promising talent both in front of and behind the camera: Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg at the helm and his Friday Night Lights stars Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons in the cast, plus Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgard, Hamish Linklater, and Liam Neeson. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say the film looked smart, I respected that it seemed perfectly aware of what it was — mindless popcorn entertainment, no more and no less.

But all of that ambivalence was based more on the marketing team’s efforts than on the film itself. Now that the first early reviews are rolling out, however, we’re getting a much better sense of what, exactly, Berg is offering us next month. Read all about Battleship‘s early buzz after the jump.

One of the more negative reviews I’ve read comes from The Playlist, which gave Battleship a D-:

[Berg] is channeling Michael Bay at every possible opportunity, from the leery eye he casts on the female characters and the frankly-kind-of-racist humor to Steve Jablonsky’s horrific Zimmer Factory score (quite literally: the alien’s theme is a straight lift from “Tron: Legacy”) to the omnipresent teal-and-orange color palette.[...]

[E]ven the brains-off crowd will struggle to find anything to enjoy here. The film is so overlong (130 minutes) and sluggishly paced that the heartbeat never gets raised, and the effects never look anything other than plasticky.

Ouch.

Empire was pretty disappointed in Berg, too:

Battleship is an event movie so lunkheaded – both in concept and execution – that it’s hard not to suspect director Peter Berg of playing a prank.[...] Battleship seems geared squarely towards gun-toting rednecks. Is Berg, the intelligent filmmaker behind Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, a Michael Mann protégé no less, daring to spoof the blockbuster?

Evidence, sadly, indicates that both he and his film are in earnest.

It gets harsher:

As insane as it sounds, Battleship could see you yearning for the character development of Transformers.

Quickflix wasn’t so into it either (‘an early contender for “eye-rollingest film of the year,’”), but were surprised to find themselves actually liking the board game connection:

Ironically, the aspect of the project that has been so emphatically mocked since its announcement – the board game connection – is what works best. The scenes in which the crew of the USS John Paul Jones use radar to predict where their enemy might be laying in wait, and bombing them accordingly (with a helpful checkerboard to assist), are the most thrilling by far.

Hey U Guys says that not only did they not like it, no one else in the theater did either:

The audience I saw the film with reacted with disbelieving laughter at the serious moments and with outright incredulity at one particular moment towards the end when the final plan is revealed. The tone is so uneven that you have no idea if the filmmakers are serious at any time but tongue remains firmly out of cheek and we’re deprived of even a good laugh at the silliness of it all.

But it wasn’t all bad. Plenty of people reported having a good time, too. On the Box criticized Battleship‘s hilariously bad dialogue, but enjoyed it overall:

It may look like the kind of big-dumb project that Dwayne Johnson wouldn’t be seen dead near – and some of the time it is – but with a touch of charm, pace and wit, Peter Berg has created something sharper and funnier than many will give him credit for.

Digital Spy found Battleship a bit lacking in originality, but fun nonetheless:

Admittedly, the whole endeavour is one big cheese-fest and somewhat akin to shoving 10 different movies into a blender and throwing the results up on screen. Top Gun‘s volleyball scene is substituted for a football game, the film’s sci-fi disaster element is ripped straight out of Independence Day and Transformers, and there’s a hefty dose of James Cameron in Rihanna’s tough chick Raikes. Despite all that, this is still high on entertainment value and gives plenty of bang for the buck.

MovieWeb reaches a similar conclusion, even though they though the action compared unfavorably to Transformers: Dark of the Moon:

Hey, everything up on the screen is silly, but “Battleship” is guilty fun and the effects are awesome! Now, will you pass the popcorn, please?

Matt’s Movie Reviews liked the VFX-heavy action sequences, though they found the script “tiresome.” They also seemed to like its “unapologetic pro-military stance”:

An unapologetically patriotic, mammoth sized action spectacle, what Battleship lacks in smarts and innovation it makes up for in pure popcorn entertainment.

Urban Cinephile‘s Louise Keller was definitely on board…

With an onslaught of jaw-dropping visual effects, non-stop action and a narrative that delivers some surprises, Battleship booms onto the screen with style and scale. For the genre and its target young male audience, it’s got a bit of everything – an alien invasion, antihero who saves the world, personal conflicts, a splash of romance and sprays of humour to relieve the tension. There are good contrasts of tone and the characters are well established – or well enough – to give the story ballast.

… whereas her colleague Andrew L. Urban found some aspects of the film “underdeveloped,” but liked the “superbly written, choreographed and directed climactic sequence.”

Like so many of the others, SFX thought the whole thing rather silly but had some fun with it as well:

Impressive effects sequences, ingeniously entertaining nods to the game and solid performances (not that singer Rihanna is actually required to act at any point) fight against a plot that descends into setpieces and cliché.

Battleship drew comparisons to Bay’s Transformers in nearly every writeup I read, which suggests that how much pleasure you derive from Battleship may be predicted by your feelings on the Transformers franchise. (Independence Day and Top Gun also got name-checked a few times.) Overall, almost everyone agreed that Battleship wasn’t so smart, but those who enjoyed giant, expensive, explosive set pieces seemed to find the film’s action satisfying, whereas those who didn’t merely found the whole picture tedious. That divide is especially clear in the way some reviewers talked about the splashy climactic moment — either they found it audaciously over-the-top, or completely ridiculous.

Battleship opens May 18.

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