Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Starring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Etsushi Toyokawa, Keean Johnson, Luke Kleintank, Darren Criss, Russell Dennis Lewis, Peter Shinkoda, Nobuya Shimamoto, Jake Weber, Eric Davis, Alexander Ludwig, David Hewlett, Mark Rolston, Brennan Brown, James Carpinello, Geoffrey Blake, Greg Hovanessian, Jake Manley, Christie Brooke, Jacob Blair, Cameron Brodeur, Rachael Perrell Fosket, Brandon Sklenar, and Kenny Leu.
The story of the Battle of Midway, told by the leaders and the sailors who fought it.
For an action epic boasting approximately 15 different major historical figures, Midway (directed by the king of making things go boom for 2+ hours, Roland Emmerich – and I don’t mean that in a good way -) forgets to make actual characters out of any of them. During the factoids prefacing the ending credits (which threaten to go on forever like the key World War II naval battle itself) there is a footnote about Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) emphasizing that his reckless fighter piloting and disregard for his own safety were integral components for the Americans emerging victorious against the Japanese fleets, which would be fine if that was not the extent of his personality here. It’s about the only thing I can tell you about that character, likely because it’s the only thing Roland Emmerich and screenwriter Wes Tooke know as well.
This wouldn’t be as big of an issue as it is if Roland Emmerich was at least having fun with Midway. He’s not. The proceedings are taken seriously (with the occasional line of comedic dialogue from actors you would expect to crack a joke, such as Woody Harrelson’s Admiral) with prominent characters perishing left, right, and center throughout battle engagements. However, it doesn’t take long to realize it’s going to be impossible to give a damn when anyone dies; early on a character gives a eulogy to a fallen superior, and I shit you not, for as hard as I was focusing on the maddening chaos, for the life of me I couldn’t tell you who died actor or what actor played them. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence within the destruction.
The good that comes out of this is that Roland Emmerich sticks to what he knows best, which is blowing shit up, piling on dogfights, bombings, heavy artillery, torpedoes, thunderstorms, self-sacrifices, and more accompanied by impressive aerial tracking shots (sometimes capturing all of the above at once). Midway is such a visual and sonic sensory onslaught that every once in a while there’s the willingness to give in to the poorly executed narrative and enjoy the sights. The problem is that Midway is slightly over two hours (discounting closing credits) with every battle sequence feeling the same, making for diminishing returns. Two thirds through the experience, the only exciting aspect of the film also becomes an exercise in tedium.
For some reason, the script likes to explore the personal lives of some of these courageous fighters, going about as well as one would expect for a Roland Emmerich movie. Patrick Wilson plays naval intelligence officer Edwin Layton, who buries himself into research desperately hoping to predict where the next Japanese Pearl Harbor-level attack will come from. His wife Miriam starts to butt heads with his consuming dedication, only to back off and word for word say “I will fix you a sandwich”. Granted, that’s normal considering the values stemming from American culture in the 1940s, but that still doesn’t save it from being inexcusably pointless and the most unnecessarily regressive line heard in a movie all year. The rest of the ladies don’t fare any better, basically existing to listen to their men, serving as mild exposition dumps and all-around wasted screen time for everyone.
Oddly enough the strongest element of Midway isn’t actually the action, but rather the urgent investigation that goes into cracking Japanese code language in order to figure out the location of the next battle. It probably helps that there is veteran talent involved in this arc ranging from Patrick Wilson to Dennis Quaid to Woody Harrelson and more, all of which imbue a little of themselves into their characters. It’s also something sorely missing from the younger portion of the ensemble, who are fairly generic and all have basic one-dimensional character growth. The worst part is that it’s not until over an hour into the movie where one can get a sense for who is who and the simplest of character traits.
That said, Midway is not the worst thing out there for anyone that really wants to watch some good old-fashioned American patriotism and naval action. There’s an attempt to humanize the enemy, although like just about everything else it’s not necessarily done well, also turning out to be meaningless. It’s nowhere near as worthless as a short sequence where a small group of Americans led by Aaron Eckhart uses China as a friendly sanctuary following an attack on the Japanese, only existing to appease Chinese backers and audiences.
For anyone looking to expand their knowledge on the Battle of Midway, look elsewhere. It’s so concerned with bombastic spectacle and assaulting viewers with endless noise that it’s a wonder why Roland Emmerich even bothered to use historical figures. Nonetheless, it certainly does have a handful of breathtaking shots, whether it be fighter planes sweeping overhead across the sea with distant cinematography or first-person perspectives in the line of fire. Midway is intermittently dazzling but more boring and numbing than anything.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com