The aliens of “Battleship”

The movie Battleship is bad. Very bad.

I could write a book on all the ways this movie is terrible, starting with the fact that it is essentially a Michael Bay movie without Michael Bay. Everything you hate about a Michael Bay movie is here – the destruction porn, the fetishization of the American military, the hot women that exist to be hot, the obnoxious lead character, the ludicrously dumb plot… it can go on forever.

I will be fair, however, and note that it is better than a Bay film in several ways. There is no racism on display, not much terrible comic relief, the obnoxious lead character is actually acknowledged as being an idiot and a perennial screwup, Rihanna is realistically de-glammed, and real military personnel are shown genuine respect rather than being treated as square-jawed macho dolls for Bay to make pew-pew noises with.

But in the many ways that this movie is bad, one thing really stuck out at me: the aliens.

Yes, instead of making some kind of period wartime story about depth charges or missiles, they decided to make it a science fiction story about a bizarre alien invasion. Again, I could write a sequence of essays about the many ways this is mishandled, but today I’m going to address the fact that the aliens are really bad.

A lot of this comes down to the design. If you’re going to have your aliens show up in scary-looking all-concealing armor and masks that hide them from sight, one of two things has to happen.

One, they have to remain armored and masked so that they seem more menacing.

Two, they have to be really well-designed. If you pull off that mask, people have to gasp in horror at what they are seeing, and marvel at just how alien and freaky the creature underneath looks.

Battleship… does neither.

The sad thing is that the alien armor is sufficiently menacing-looking that the aliens could have worked if they had just kept it on, maybe with some subtle glimpses of something weird peeking through the visor. The problem is, partway through the story, the Navy captures one of the aliens and pulls off its helmet.

And it looks… pretty bad. By “pretty bad,” I mean it’s wildly unimaginative – they basically took the overall look of a human, stuck some keratin spines on the chin, gave them catlike eyes, and tweaked the details just enough that they don’t look technically human. It’s a design that you’d expect to see in a subpar episode of Star Trek.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the sheer lack of imagination in their design really killed any sense of menace they had for me. All I could think was a sarcastic, “Oh no, the Earth is being invaded by goat people.” Even when we saw them striding around in their intimidating armor, I couldn’t stop seeing those terribly-designed goat people. There’s nothing about them that activates instincts of fear and revulsion.

And remember, this was a tentpole blockbuster. It had a budget of well over $200 million (which seems like way too much for a movie that doesn’t have a well-proven franchise or director behind it). I do not for a second believe that it didn’t have the money to spare to make something really bizarre and creative! I’m not talking about John Carpenter’s “Thing,” but throw on some nonhuman skin textures or a bunch of extra eyes or tentacles or something.

A rant about Transformers (Michael Bay edition)

I am presently watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the second of Michael Bay’s unspeakably bad Transformers movies. It has taken me a week and a half to drag myself through even part of its two and a half hours, and I haven’t even gotten to the wrecking balls scene. Yes, the infamous scene that is considered one of the worst scenes in the history of mainstream film.

And honestly, one thing that these movies should never be is boring. They have giant robot fights, explosions, constant talking and action… but it feels like it drags on forever. I have watched all the Peter Jackson Middle-Earth movies, and every single one of them felt shorter than both of the Transformers movies I have watched, even though I’m pretty sure they’re all substantially longer.

And I think the reason for this is simple: I hate all the characters.

Michael Bay seems to write three kinds of characters:

  1. Soldiers.
  2. Hot girls who are really smart so objectifying them isn’t creepy.
  3. Violently annoying idiots who do stupid stuff in order to be funny.

Those are the only kinds of characters in these movies, I swear. And that last category accounts for 95% of the characters, including almost all of the giant alien robots.

I think I realized this when the Autobots first revealed themselves to Sam Witwicky, and they started saying stupid things for the LOLZ. For instance, Ratchet just randomly announces that Sam wants to have sex with Mikaela. He has no reason to do this. It’s incredibly cringy and stupid. He simply says this stupid statement because… it’s meant to be funny.

And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Once Sam goes home to find his glasses, Optimus Prime and all the Autobots come over to his house while his parents are sleeping. Now, Optimus could have ordered the Autobots to remain in the street outside in their vehicle forms, waiting for Sam to uncover the glasses and bring them out to them. That would be the kind of intelligent decision that you would expect from the wise, calm leader of the Autobots.

But that wouldn’t have provided several minutes of irritating comic relief! So instead the Autobots remain in their giant-robot forms, bumbling around causing property damage, making noise, and Optimus jams his enormous face up against the windows just so he can nag Sam a little more effectively. This does not make Sam find the glasses any faster, by the way – it actually slows him down considerably, because he has to stop to tell Optimus to stop doing what he’s doing. Because it’s funny when Optimus acts like a doofus!

And of course, almost all the human characters are annoying comic relief – the biggest perpetrators, of course, being Sam’s parents. I wanted to shrivel up in the second movie when Sam’s mother eats pot brownies and, like all stoned people, becomes hyperactive and loud, and starts yammering about him losing his virginity to total strangers. Because haha funny.

And I swear, it feels like every character is like this.

I’d be okay with the characters doing funny things if it were like the comic relief in the Marvel movies. At least nine times out of ten – excluding the Fat Thor gags in Endgame – the jokes are in-character and do not involve the characters doing stupid things in order to produce the joke. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark was absolutely hilarious, and he didn’t need to constantly do stupid things that make no sense in order to entertain us.

But in Transformers, it isn’t like those. Most of the jokes require people to be stupid and act like morons. And if it doesn’t amuse you to watch people running around screaming…

… or stuffing their faces with doughnuts…

… or jabbering at each other…

… or making juvenile sex jokes…

… or farting…

… or humping…

… or leching on underage girls…

… you’re going to sit there like a stone, getting progressively more irritable as this seemingly endless parade of annoying idiots are flung in your face. Some of these characters literally have no personality aside from their stupidity – I can identify exactly one thing that Ratchet did in Transformers aside from make that stupid sex joke. And that’s not just because I have trouble identifying anybody aside from Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.

And apparently this type of writing is contagious if you want to copy Michael Bay. It is an integral part of his storytelling, it seems. Years ago, I saw the movie Battleship (and have been regretting it ever since), which followed the Michael Bay formula so closely that many people thought it should have been a Transformers movie. What stuck out at me was that except for the Japanese commander and the veterans (only two of whom speak), I loathed every person in the movie. They weren’t constantly doing idiotic things for comic relief, but they were so obnoxious. The main character could not have been less endearing if he had worn a necklace of baby heads and a dead puppy for a hat.

Anyway, the too-long-didn’t-read edition of this rant is simple: the Transformers characters are as likable as scabies, and as funny as a wildfire. If, as I do, you find them to not be amusing, then these movies will be absolute torture.