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Elisabeth Rappe

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Elisabeth Rappe is a regular contributor to Film.com, CHUD, and The Spectator's arts blog. She spends her off-time with comic books, her pug, Elliot, video games, and Clint Eastwood movies.

The Helicarrier of ‘The Avengers’ vs. the Battleships of ‘Battleship’

Nothing lavishes love on the military quite like summer movies — in fact, during awards season, the industry usually flips on its head and damns it, or at least appraises it coolly. But summer is a great time for thundering guns, colossal fireballs, deafening explosions and more than its share of digital smoke.

May has really brought the hardware early, offering up two steel behemoths to admire between gulps of Coke: The S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier of “The Avengers,” and the Battleship (actually the USS Missouri) of “Battleship.” They will actually be doing battle at the box office this weekend – squishing “Dark Shadows” between them like so much brittle 17th century lace – but we thought it would be fun to smash them together on the page first.

I’m actually going to dispense with the usual list protocol, and just call and justify the winner – it’s the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier.

The Helicarrier is state-of-the-art military technology. Secret technology. Even Tony Stark (who was the go-to guy for this stuff for ages) doesn’t appear to know it even exists.

(I should add here that Tony’s ignorance is an invention of the Marvel Movie Universe.  In Marvel Comics, Tony designed the thing, as he tends to do. When he took over Nick Fury’s job, he built what he called The Helicarrier – as opposed to the poetic names they carried prior, like Hermes and Argus — and painted it red and gold. I sincerely hope we see him do this in a film. It’s such a deliciously egotistical move.)

The Helicarrier trumps any current naval vessel for one simple fact: It’s a flying aircraft carrier.  An aircraft carrier automatically trumps an ordinary battleship, and thus a flying aircraft carrier trumps both. It has sea and air capability! There’s nowhere it can’t go!

The Helicarrier also has cloaking capability to shield it from prying enemy eyes. It’s not true invisibility – it’s a camouflage employed by mirrors that photograph/reflect its surroundings.  But this feature makes it superior to any military ship or aircraft we’re openly employing (who knows what we’ve got cooking in the top secret labs), though the military is working on something very much like it.

As for stealth capability,  since our real world military currently has stealth technology that can reduce radar detection, I think it’s safe to say the Helicarrier employs it also, and may be able to vanish off radar altogether. (Hawkeye’s ability to board the ship suggests otherwise, but he was using a S.H.I.E.L.D plane. Perhaps it could detect it, but conventional aircraft couldn’t?)

No technical specs for the Helicarrier seem to exist online (there’s this one, but I’m not sure how accurate it is – surely it would have a larger crew complement than 450-1,000? Modern aircraft carriers boast 3,200, and another 2,480 in pilots/air wing) but I think they might be rather close to our upcoming Gerald R. Ford class of supercarriers. As for what weaponry it possesses, S.H.I.E.L.D is pretty coy, but it’s said to “bristle with advanced weaponry,” including ICBMs.

Anything you rattle off about it is superior to a battleship. It can carry the Hulk, for heaven’s sake. Its brig can contain demi-gods. Neither Loki nor Thor could get out of it!

A mere battleship can’t compete against the Helicarrier. It may surprise you to learn that we don’t even use battleships any longer.  The last battleships employed by the United States Navy were the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri, and both were decommissioned in the early ’90s.

If you’re saying “Well, how the heck is there a movie called “Battleship,” then?”, the answer is simple. Our capital ships (a spot the battleship once occupied) are now aircraft carriers, which are terribly vulnerable in combat. They require the support of a carrier strike group to protect them. The stalwart heroes of ”Battleship” are stationed on the USS John Paul Jones, which is a guided missile cruiser.

The USS Missouri is actually the titular battleship of the film (what she’s doing there, you’ll have to pay money to discover), and the one you see boom-boom-booming away in the trailer. In its heyday, it packed nine 16 inch/50 cal Mark 7 guns, which could fire a 2,700lb shell 20 miles away.  She also carried 20 5 inch/38 cal guns that had a range of 10 miles.

Later in life, those 20 guns were taken out, and was fitted with more accurate anti-aircraft guns, as well as Tomahawk and Harpoon missile capability. She still has her 16 inch guns, which are the ones firing so spectacularly in the trailer.

Sadly, as cool as they look and sound, they’re not nearly as powerful as what S.H.I.E.L.D is packing. The ICBMs alone could wipe the floor with a Tomahawk, and we have no idea what toys it’s been fitted with from Stark Industries (Tony may have unknowingly contributed arc reactor trickery), let alone what might be incorporated from alien worlds.

I know, I know. Battleships have a certain romanticism and history that Marvel’s toys will never possess. But the Helicarrier is, quite simply, more awesome and more deadly. But I will give the USS John Paul Jones and USS Missouri this much – both could probably take a ding or two out of it, particularly if the crew was distracted by the Avengers bickering, or bringing shawarma on board.

You know how people love their shawarma.


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Tags: Battleship, S.H.I.E.L.D., The avengers, Tony Stark