Does a heartfelt and kick ass third act make up for ninety minutes of meandering? Okay, it’s a little better than you were expecting, but not much.
Meet Hopper (Taylor “John Carter/Friday Night Lights” Kitsch), a troubled young man with a heart of gold. Smart, fit, but rudderless, his older brother (Alexander Skarsgård) makes him (?!) join the US Navy, which he pretty much does to get with a girl (Brooklyn Decker). The girl, of course, also happens to be the daughter of an admiral (Liam Neeson) who doesn’t like Hopper or the fact he keeps screwing up. On the eve of losing everything, a deep space communication project based in Hawaii finally yields results: an alien force crash lands into the Pacific ocean. Faster than you can say Pop-a-Matic bubble, a force field dome cuts off the bulk of the naval fleet from Hawaii, leaving only Hopper, a handful of surface ships, and crack teams of special effects wizards to save the world.
Considering this film was developed for Hasbro as a vehicle to push a board game, it’s the pro-military, all aliens are bad, big and loud and dumb special effects summer blockbuster left vacant this year by Michael “Eat Your Awesome” Bay and his Transformers films (except the ships don’t change into giant robots). What’s frustrating is that the third act and big finish is actually kinda cool if completely implausible, the kind of ending that makes guys enlist in the service to fly jet fighters and kill pirates instead of sweeping compartments and painting bulkheads. For the rest of the film, the narrative is simply all over the place, a pile of excuses to get the characters we want where we want them to be just in time to save the day.
Believability takes a back seat to adventure right from the start. Characters appear everywhere they need to be to keep the headlining stars in on the action instead of what their characters should probably be doing. Couple this with a few Shatner-worthy cowboy diplomacy moments (“Mahalo, motherf*****r!”) and the usual luck-into-intel plot points (“Good thing we just happened to be hiking up the same mountain that the aliens landed on, huh? It seemed kinda random at the time…!”) Finally, the last stand effort for the good guys comes down to something so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh, and at the exact same time, the movie finally exercises its self-awareness bone and has a little fun before the credits roll. This doesn’t make it a good movie, but it might make it worth sneaking into the ending after you see The Avengers again.
Taylor Kitsch spends most of the film looking frustrated before they finally let him step up and play hero. Liam Neeson does his serious-cool thing for the few moments of screen time afforded him. And Petty Officer Rihanna (seriously, why did they even bother making up a name for her character?) looks great whether she wet or firing a gun and amazingly never loses her cover (read: hat). There were other people in the film (mostly running or screaming into microphones or whatever), but a lot of the extras are reportedly the real deal, from new recruits to old salty dogs. They say if you can’t handle the big guns that you should stay below decks, but never underestimate a retired gunner’s mate who remembers how the trigger mechanism works.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)