2019, PG-13, 138 mins.
Ed Skrein as Dick Best / Luke Kleintank as Lieutenant Clarence Earle Dickinson / Patrick Wilson as Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton / Luke Evans as Commander Wade McClusky / Aaron Eckhart as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle / Nick Jonas as Bruno / Woody Harrelson as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz / Mandy Moore as Anne Best / Dennis Quaid as Vice Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey / Tadanobu Asano as Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi / Darren Criss as Commander Eugene Lindsey
Directed by Roland Emmerich / Written by Wes Tooke
The new historical war drama MIDWAY is the second lavish budgeted silver screen account of one of the more instrumental battles and turning points for America's involvement in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Taking place roughly six months after Japan's sneak attack on the U.S. bases at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the Battle of Midway represented a major victory for the U.S. as they stopped an attacking and invading Japanese naval fleet. Of course, this story was first told in movie form in the 1976 Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda starring war epic of the same name, which then featured the then unheard of "Sensurround", or basically what we'd probably refer to now as ear piercing bass.
newest version of MIDWAY is from director Roman Emmerich, no stranger to
films (albeit fictional) of mass destruction (INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE
DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and 2012) and
represents his second fact based war drama after the underrated American
Revolution centric THE PATRIOT. A self
professed passion project for the German born filmmaker, MIDWAY had
difficulty securing the massive budget required from a major Hollywood
studio, which forced Emmerich to fundraise most of its $100 million cost
(making it one of the most expensive independently financed war films
ever). MIDWAY, to its
esteemed credit, contains some astonishingly credible visual effects used to
recreate its battle in question, not to mention a handful of rousing
action set pieces that wholly delivery on a level of visceral thrills.
That, and the screenplay here by Wes Tooke is sometimes
surprisingly democratic in its story focus on both the American and
Japanese side of the war. Beyond
that, though, MIDWAY really just amounts to a very polished and expensive
looking (and dramatically fluffy) TV movie of the week that just happens
to feature a lot of A-list actors that are seriously phoning in their
does feature a pretty impactful recreation of the Pearl Harbor attacks,
which serves as a quick prologue to the later Battle of Midway and the
introduction of the U.S. into WWII. After
this, MIDWAY takes on another event pre-Midway in the subsequent "Doolittle
Raid" of April of 1942, a counter attack led by Col. James Doolittle
(Aaron Eckhart), with a small chunk (maybe too small) of the film's
running time devoted to him relying on Chinese assistance to get back to his fleet alive after being downed by the Japanese (considering
that MIDWAY had a reasonable amount of its budget provided by Chinese
investors, it's no wonder why this is even in the film, despite the fact
that we really get a bare boned play-by-play recreation of the raids in
question). More compelling
rendered is the subplot involving Patrick Wilson's Edwin Layton, who's a
member of the Office of Naval Intelligence and is introduced in an opening
scene in 1937 Tokyo that eerily foreshadows Japan's involvement in the war
crucially, Layton's advocacy of meticulous code breaking was an
instrumental part of ensuring that Pearl Harbor would never happen again
as well as giving the U.S. the decided edge in the Battle of Midway
itself. Using his crackerjack
intelligence team, Layton is able to deduce with reasonable levels of
accuracy a potential Japanese invasion and offensive targeting in Midway,
which leads to a mass American mobilization of troops to delivery what he
hopes will be a massive knock out blow to their enemies in the Pacific.
It's at this point when we're introduced to the rest of the film's
long list of characters, some of whom include dive bomber commander Dick Best
(DEADPOOL's excellent Ed Skrein, in an
achingly bad and distracting New Jersey accent), as well as the horribly
and laughably wigged Woody Harrelson as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and
the mostly growling Dennis Quaid as Vice Admiral William "Bull"
Halsey (the most this film taught me about the man was that he
talked in a raspy, pirate-like voice and he had a bad case of shingles).
Then there's Luke Evans' as Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky, who has deep trust
issues with Best's worthiness to lead the bomb mission against the
Japanese, mostly because he sees him as a reckless cowboy.
Those obligatory arcs seem ripped from countless other war films,
making MIDWAY feel like it's on storytelling autopilot.
of these characters - with the exception of Wilson's leader of the code
breakers - is afforded much depth and nuance, which is not assisted by the
fact that nearly all of the actors here are stuck with pretty one-note
parts that require them to delivery an awful lot of clunky war prep
dialogue. The female
characters - the few that are present here - are treated even worse, which
is really reflected with Mandy Moore being given such a nothing role as
Best's loyal wife. Layton's
wife also figures in, with her most distinguishing characteristic being
that she supports her "man" so much that she'll steadfastly make
him a sandwich while he preps his crew for the battle to come.
I guess what's mostly depressing about MIDWAY on the performance
front is that the makers here have assembled some truly good talent to
take this film to a higher level, but the limp and prosaic writing
really betrays them. This is
why most of the actors here look like they're giving a dry and
half-hearted dress rehearsal
instead of committed screen performances.
does MIDWAY still manage to blow shit up well?
short answer is a resounding yes. I'll give full props to Emmerich as his ace VFX team for
filling the widescreen canvas with some truly breathtaking aerial and
naval warfare recreations that I consciously was aware was the product of
computer effects, but I nevertheless was pretty amazed by the scale and
impact here. The early
sequence showcasing the Pearl Harbor attack packs a sizeable gut punching
wallop, and the later scenes knee deep in the Battle of Midway highlighting
Best's men taking some extraordinarily dangerous dive bombing runs on
Japanese freighters is strikingly convincing.
As a piece of visual effects eye candy, MIDWAY is an unqualified
success, but the film could have been even that much more potent if it
wasn't severely neutered by its PG-13 rating, which presents the battle
carnage in an incredulously blood and gore free manner.
MIDWAY looks and sounds spectacular, but more in an escapist
adventure film kind of manner as opposed to being a frightening visual
reminder of the horrors of war.