On the Monday of last week, when announcing the weekend box office results, newspaper style sections and entertainment websites all had the words “Avengers crushes Battleship” or some variant thereof splashed across their headlines. More specifically, despite having been in theaters for three weeks, Joss Whedon’s superhero phenomenon had outlasted Peter Berg’s Transformer-like action tentpole to retain its spot atop the box office, earning a whopping 30 million dollars more than the latter, which had to settle for second place. This news wasn’t exactly unexpected, considering the hysteria that has surrounded Avengers since its release (at this rate, it’s likely to surpass The Dark Knight in all-time domestic grosses), but I still couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief upon seeing it.
No, I haven’t seen Battleship, and frankly, I don’t plan on doing so unless I’m stranded at home one day with a hundred-degree fever. But this blog post/rant/tentative expression of hope has nothing to do with the film’s quality; for all I know, it could actually be the rousing, engaging, and emotionally complex action war picture that Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum claims it to be, though I somehow can’t bring myself to believe her (I like you, Lisa, and your reviews are exquisitely written, but there’s no way you can be “depressed” by The Avengers and have no problem whatsoever with Battleship). I don’t normally take pleasure in the misfortune of others (or maybe I do), and I’m sure tons of people worked their asses off on this movie and deserve their paychecks, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the failure of Battleship gives me a smidgeon of hope for the future of human civilization.
At the end of the day, the fact is that no matter how fun or surprisingly well-made Battleship is, it’s still a $200 million movie based on a fifty-year-old board game. Is Hollywood really so creatively drained that it needs to create movies out of board games? Or is it just so lazy that it no longer considers plot an essential element of storytelling? Transformers may be a hollow, cacophonous mess of a franchise, as insubstantial as the CGI explosions that seem to encompass its entirety, but at least you could argue that it’s based on a TV show with an actual narrative.
Not that you can’t still turn it into an incoherent jumble of giant robots beating the [metal] out of each other
In other words, Battleship is Transformers, minus even the pretense of wanting to be a legitimate movie. This isn’t art or entertainment: it’s a commodity. Why else would the trailer proudly declare, “From Hasbro, the company that brought you Transformers” instead of, “From the director of Hancock and Friday Night Lights” like most movie trailers? Regardless of whether Battleship happens to succeed as an escapist action spectacle (and, according to Rotten Tomatoes, 66% of critics say it doesn’t), it probably isn’t a stretch to say that few people behind the scenes give a damn about the actual quality of the film, as long as it vomits out a boatload of cash (pun intended) from unsuspecting international audiences – apparently, homicidal aliens and deafening explosions are universal, whereas genuine human emotion is not.