A truly terrible Alexander Skarsgard movie is currently streaming on Netflix, and audiences can't seem to stop watching it.
Alexander Skarsgard should be proud of himself. As an actor, he has come a long way from his first role in an American film, as one of several cheerful but doomed model roommates in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. After an increasing number of film roles, he hit it big with True Blood, HBO’s successful attempt to fuse lurid romance novels with vampire lore in a cartoonish Louisiana setting. He then began to make movies with accomplished directors like Lars von Trier in Melancholia, and even managed the greatest feat of all: being a bad boyfriend in a Lady Gaga video. He is currently set to star in The Lighthouse director Robert Eggers’ upcoming epic Norse film The Northman, which already seems awesome enough to put him in a wolf’s head. But one thing that Skarsgard should have more mixed feelings about? Having one of the top five most viewed movies on Netflix USA right now.
That doesn’t sound like something an actor should be ashamed of, but you should know that the movie in question is…Battleship. Even saying the name of the movie feels like some kind of Mandela Effect, like wondering if there truly ever was a feature-length, big-budget adaptation of the classic Hasbro board game in which you instruct a friend you have begun to hate to place tiny missiles on a grid to destroy their fleet. But there was, and Alexander Skarsgard was one of the stars.
The funny thing is, Battleship actually has a staggeringly overqualified pedigree of both cast and production crew, all of whom really should have known better. Aside from Alexander Skarsgard, the film also stars Taylor Kitsch, who had been labeled one of the most promising young stars of his generation off Friday Night Lights and was transitioning to movies. Then 2012 came, bringing him both Battleship and John Carter (a movie that single-handedly put Disney Studios into the red for the quarter) in a single year. It also starred Rihanna in her first actual role (not counting appearing as herself in a direct-to-DVD Bring It On sequel) and did her so dirty that The Onion is still bringing it up a decade later.
And that’s just a few of the very talented people that somehow saw worth in a board game adaptation. Liam Neeson is there, phoning it in as an admiral. Fellow Friday Night Lights alum Jesse Plemons is somewhere there, as is future Academy Award winner Rami Malek and even Turtle himself, Entourage’s Jerry Ferrera. It is amazing that no one apparently had the foresight to warn these people away. And behind the camera, directing Alexander Skarsgard and the others into infamy was Peter Berg. The acclaimed director of Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, he presumably roped Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons into this.
One of the strange things about Battleship is how weirdly complicated the plot is. For a movie based on the real-life idea of naval bombardment, it seems natural that the movie would be a straightforward love letter to the military, Top Gun style. But no, the plot involves a brotherly rivalry between Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Kitsch serving in the US Navy. Then a potentially habitable planet is discovered, extraterrestrial ships invade Earth’s atmosphere, there is an entirely different family-related dynamic with Brooklyn Decker being Liam Neeson’s daughter, and in a pretty tasteless move, Pearl Harbor serves as the setting for a large part of a movie about aliens bombing the Navy. A lot of decisions were made during the course of this movie, and few of them were well thought out.
Unsurprisingly, the production of Battleship was fraught. It was originally given a large budget of $150 million, but it was quickly apparent it was going well over. The new chairman of Universal Picture was reluctant to take an estimated $30 million loss by canceling the film, so $50 million more was pumped in. It had the bad luck to open the same time as the MCU’s The Avengers and also being terrible, so it ended being a box office bomb, and sunk by critics (although 34% is a surprisingly high score). And as terrible as Battleship is, remarkably, no one’s career seems to have been destroyed. Peter Berg reliably pumps out a new Mark Wahlberg movie every 18 months. Alexander Skarsgard is working with one of the most acclaimed directors in the world. Rihanna is a billionaire. Liam Neeson is a living legend of cinema. And of course, Taylor Kitsch is still very good-looking. But as much as we can point out everything wrong with Battleship, the fact remains: people on Netflix are loving it.