In 2005, planet G is labeled earth-like and potentially habitable, and a communications array is built by NASA in Oahu to attempt to communicate with any intelligent extraterrestrials there. When Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is arrested trying to impress Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), the daughter of Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson), his brother Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgaard) of the USS Sampson, forces him to join the Navy to sort him out.
In 2017, Alex and Sam are in a relationship. He is Tactical Actions Officer aboard USS John Paul Jones while Stone is the Commanding Officer of USS Sampson, but Alex is still a bit of a screw-up and might receive a disciplinary discharge. But five alien spacecraft turn up. Their communications ship is damaged colliding with a satellite and crashes in Hong Kong, and the others crash into the ocean off Hawaii.
Sampson, John Paul Jones, and the Japanese destroyer JDS Myoko are sent in to investigate and they find a structure floating on the ocean. When Alex touches it, it creates a force-field that covers the Hawaiian Islands, jamming all communications. Three alien warships surface. The Myoko is destroyed, Sampson is lost with all hands, and the Command Crew of John Paul Jones are killed. Alex has to assume command, recovering some of the crew of Myoko. The aliens attack Oahu, destroying roads and military installations in the mountains.
On Oahu, Sam is accompanying retired Lt. Colonel and double amputee Nick Canales (Gregory D. Gadson) on a hike in the mountains. They meet scientist Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater), who works at the communications array and informs them of the alien attack. Aboard John Paul Jones, the crew captures a semi-conscious alien who links telepathically with Alex, telling him of the aliens’ warlike history. Other aliens retrieve him and try to sabotage the ship, until they are destroyed by the five-inch gun. Examination of the alien helmet shows they are sensitive to light. On Oahu, Sam, Nick, and Zapata recover the latter’s spectrum analyzer and use it to radio John Paul Jones and inform them the aliens will be able to phone home for help in four hours.
That night, Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano) suggests using tsunami-warning buoys to track the alien ships. They destroy two of them, and the third is stopped when Alex and Nagata shoot out its bridge windows with sniper rifles, blinding its crew in the light. The destroyer sinks the John Paul Jones, but most of the crew escape in boats.
The survivors return to Pearl Harbor and commandeer the Missouri, a World War II Museum battleship, with the help of the retired veterans who take care of it. The floating structure is a huge alien mothership. Missouri manages to damage it severely and disable the force-field. Fighters from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan are summoned. Up in the hills, Sam, Mick, and Cal try to stall the aliens’ communications, which is destroyed by the last shell of the Missouri. The old battleship is attacked by drones, but the Royal Australian Airforce finishes off the mothership. The military personnel are honored, Alex is promoted, and Alex asks permission from the Admiral to marry Sam. Four people in Scotland discover a crashed alien pod with something inside.
At various times in the movie, battleships bombard other battleships which they can’t see, just to remind us of the game it’s all based on. It was produced and directed by Peter Berg, written by Jon and Erich Hoeber. It was not well reviewed and was considered a box-office bomb, but I was pleasantly surprised by its likable characters, great music, and breakneck pace. The US military, not surprisingly, offered all kinds of help. Popstar Rihanna’s role was a secondary one despite the publicity, but she acquitted herself well, having been hired because of her acting on Saturday Night Live and an interview with Diane Sawyer.
The music was scored by Steve Jablonsky, after his success with Transformers. The USS Missouri vets played themselves, and their being pressed into service to teach young crews how to operate the ship’s big guns actually happened. The American and Japanese crews watching the soccer game were just who they seemed to be. The alien ships were based on water bugs. ILM called them John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Elvis. There were 600 extras hired, including the Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.