THE STORY – US soldiers and pilots change the course of World War II during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The US and Imperial Japanese naval forces fought for four days.
THE CAST – Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid & Woody Harrelson
THE TEAM – Roland Emmerich (Director) & Wes Tooke (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 138 Minutes
By Daniel Howat
Director Roland Emmerich, best known for big disaster movies like “Independence Day” and “2012,” now jumps into a new genre: World War II epic. It’s potentially the most crowded genre in the history of film. Dozens of massive blockbusters, quiet independent successes, and plenty of Oscar contenders cover the second World War. Even as recently as Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” we’ve seen new approaches work really well. While “Midway” isn’t a complete failure, Emmerich fails to bring anything new to the table, making this a truly generic entry.
Set in the Pacific, “Midway” follows the impact of Pearl Harbor as the Navy tries to regroup and outmaneuver the Japanese forces. As the months pass and Japan’s Navy seems more and more unbeatable, the U.S. Navy turns its eyes to Midway, where they may be able to set a trap for Japan. This film spends a great deal of time showing the planning and decision-making process that led to the Battle of Midway, rather than focusing on non-stop action. It’s an admirable decision, though poor characterization doesn’t help keep the audience anchored enough.
The film has a large ensemble, and they’re mostly playing real individuals. For that reason, it’s somewhat insulting that they all come off as laughable stock-types. Ed Skrein leads the ensemble as Dick Best. He’s the hotshot, the risky one, the loose cannon. You can tell by the way he aggressively chews gum. His over-the-top performance was grating for so much of the film. Thankfully “Midway” takes a turn with his character as the Navy gets more and more beat down. Best becomes more nervous, more careful and caring for his squadron. Skrein’s performance captures that change well, taking his character from truly annoying to almost-likable. Elsewhere there’s Patrick Wilson as Edwin Layton, Luke Evans as Wade McClusky, Woody Harrelson as Admiral Chester Nimitz, Mandy Moore in a thankless role as Best’s wife, and so many more; but none really stand out, aside from a woefully miscast Nick Jonas as Bruno Gaido.
There are a lot of interesting ideas within “Midway,” though it’s all so rushed. The film is trying to give such a massively broad overview of the Pacific theater that we don’t get to settle into each area. There’s the dive bombers who get the biggest focus, but also code breakers, intelligence, submarines, Army pilots behind enemy lines, Navy leadership, and even John Ford making a movie at Midway. So many ideas are crammed into this one film, all worth focusing on, but we don’t get enough. Not to mention seeing things from Japan’s perspective as they plan their attack, hoping to destroy U.S. forces before they can rise up with greater strength.
All of this gives us a lot more non-action than one might expect from an Emmerich film. Still, there are plenty of explosions and dogfights. Sadly, most elements, action or not, feel obviously green-screened. While there’s some excitement in the battles, it’s all very glossy and bright, never tactile or believable. Thanks to some solid editing and sound mixing, there are still moments of genuine tension. Sights of a torpedo or bomb just barely missing its target kept the audience locked in during some of the more bombastic sequences. Outside of those moments, the action is mostly serviceable rather than anything truly interesting or exciting.
Despite all its flaws, there’s something genuinely rousing about seeing the U.S. in such a climactic battle. Seeing their plan come together, watching them narrowly pulling out a win, it’s pretty exciting. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is so bland that this excitement near the end can’t save it. Thankfully it’s not a disaster, merely a forgettable entry in an overcrowded field of war films.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – There’s something engrossing about watching the U.S. win in battle. For all its many flaws, it succeeds in rousing the audience in the end. Moments of good tension keep us invested, even in knowing the ending.
THE BAD – It’s a very generic World War II film in every respect. The film doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Full of stock characters and serviceable action, the movie works but doesn’t add much to the genre.
THE OSCARS – None