Midway (2019)
Midway (2019)

Genre: Action and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 18 min.

Release Date: November 8th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Roland Emmerich Actors: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Aaron Eckhart, Darren Criss, Nick Jonas, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura

 


 

“T

his is bloody ridiculous!” says an officer in the very first spoken line of “Midway,” which goes on to depict the most important naval battle in the War in the Pacific. Almost unnecessarily, the opening sequence introduces an assistant naval attache, Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), as he meets with Japanese Admiral Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) four years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Yamaguchi could be a target for assassination, as he’s deemed too moderate in his nationalism, while the sentiment toward Japan’s dependence on U.S. oil – at nearly 80% – is backing the nation into a corner. “Nobody wants a war,” assures Layton, but once Japan invades China and Hitler’s Blitzkrieg is in full swing in Britain, the United States’ official neutral status will be severely tested.

The first enormous action sequence kicks off with the attack on Pearl Harbor – a sudden, swift, forceful, immensely detonative bombardment of visual spectacle. With director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow”)  at the helm, it’s difficult not to imagine that extraterrestrial invaders are behind the onslaught. It’s certainly the most elaborate recreation of the infamous preemptive military strike ever put to film; the advancements in technology help this set piece to be thoroughly mesmerizing.

Of course, prior to that, main character Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) gets an opportunity to show off his reckless daredevilry – as well as a hint of an accent that isn’t entirely suppressed. He’s a hothead and he’s disrespectful, which is supposed to make him a lovable rogue; but instead, in the context of the military operations and the significance of December 7th, he comes off as disagreeable and impertinent. Fortunately, the focus rapidly shifts to the Navy ferreting out the Japanese fleet, as well as cutting back to the billowing-smoke aftermath in Honolulu, brimming with chaos and capsized carriers.

As if there wasn’t enough to cover with all the various historical events – ranging from the strategizing of Nagumo (Jun Kunimura) against Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), Marshall Islands maneuvers, the Battle of the Coral Sea, submarine warfare, the Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) air raid, and the involvement of codebreakers (utilized by Layton as an intelligence officer) – there are plenty of character subplots to fill up the running time. One of Dick’s pals from Annapolis goes missing when the USS Arizona sinks; legendary filmmaker John Ford (Geoffrey Blake) struggles to get the perfect footage; Willie West (Jake Manley) doubts himself and meets a dire end when Best attempts to take him under his wing; and Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) succeeds in every mission because he fears nothing. And, expectedly, plenty of scenes are devoted to faith, patriotism, fond remembrances, motivational speeches, and toasts – usually accompanied by rousing music. It would have been a light yet substantive history lesson were it not for the excess of personal dramas that meaninglessly pull attention away from the action-packed naval skirmishes – which themselves sometimes feel more like a “Star Wars” space battle than a genuine WWII dogfight.

Nevertheless, the war games are fascinating, particularly when they’re approached with sincerity. But Best is a curious protagonist, continually rebellious, impulsive, and insubordinate, yet rewarded with regular successes in the air, even as he puts his underlings in mortal danger with his borderline suicidal tendencies. Eventually, the culmination of smaller military undertakings pays off on the June 4th, 1942 Battle of Midway, a lengthy climax that maintains an undeniable tenseness and excitement. With torpedo squadrons, dive bombers, destroyers, heavy cruisers, and innumerable ammunition spraying from every direction, the colossal engagement is absolutely mind-boggling in its complexity and scope. The choreography is tremendous; it’s all incredibly exhilarating stuff.

Sadly, however, the visuals can’t compose the movie alone. Despite so many characters – including a wealth of Japanese officers – there’s no emotional connection to any of the cookie-cutter personas, many of whom merely spout loyalist rote, commend acts of courage just witnessed by the audience, or punctuate the action with eye-rolling bravado. Plus, the parting shots are a bit baffling as they attempt to exhibit a politically-correct viewpoint on the Battle of Midway by humanizing the enemy and suggesting that everyone who took part in the Pacific Theater’s WWII turning-point was a hero (which plays bizarrely in a known historical setting when Japan was an adversary and China was an ally). Surely no one aligned with the United States in 1941 viewed the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service as a collection of honorable soldiers when they initiated what was later deemed a war crime.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10