“Midway” Movie Review


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     Over the years, there have been several notable films and television series which deftly and honorably chronicled the events surrounding World War II, giving a well deserved tribute to the men and women who put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.  Classic film titles like “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Letters from Iwo Jima” (2006), and “Dunkirk” (2017), as well as the television series’ “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010) have brought forth a gritty realism accompanied by the depiction of the intense emotional stakes involved in virtually every aspect of the many battles and conflicts within the war’s history.  Unfortunately, director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway” will not be joining this list, but rather will likely be remembered alongside films like “Pearl Harbor” (2001) where the character drama doesn’t come close to measuring up with the CGI heavy action set pieces.

     For the majority of its 138 minute running time, “Midway” is a jumbled mess of mismatched scenes that feel as though they were mixed in a blender.  There is no pacing to be heard of, as plot threads are organized in chronological order, channeling that boring high school history teacher who forced you to thumb through the pages of a text book in order to prepare for a test on key dates.  The battle in question, known as the Battle of Midway, took place between June 4-7, 1942, and saw a monumentally important air and sea battle between the United States and Japan, pitting a weakened United States Navy against what was thought to be a superior Imperial Japanese Navy.  After the failed intelligence which led to the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, the United States was clearly in need of a victory or face the potential dominance of the Pacific by Japan.

     Emmerich and his screenwriter, Wes Tooke, trot out many of the famous players from both sides of the conflict, putting each through the motions of their respective roles within the iconic battle.  Leading the pack is a cocksure fighter pilot named Dick Best (Ed Skrein), a throw back of Tom Cruise’s Maverick character from “Top Gun” who constantly pushes the limits of his air craft and his superiors.  Armed with an odd New Jersey accent, Best functions as the character the entire story remains framed around as the rest of the cast fills in when it becomes necessary to indicate what aspect of the operation is coming next.  

     The opening features Best purposely cutting the power to his plane’s engine during a landing run to the horror of his crew mate.  Of course he’s doing this because one, he wants to ensure his men are prepared for the worst case scenario, and two, because you can bet the house the exact same thing is going to happen during the film’s climactic battle.  I guess they were going for a bit of clever foreshadowing, but the result is predictable as always. 

     Other real life players pop up throughout, including Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), Wade McClusky (Luke Evans), William Halsey (Dennis Quaid), and Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart), but none of them are given the kind of scenery chewing dialogue each of these actors is accustomed to, resulting in choppy uneven performances that often don’t resemble acting at all.  Few scenes last more than twenty or thirty seconds, as the much needed emotion is stripped away in favor of cliched phrases and imagery that is abruptly cut to another unrelated scene and often times never revisited.  

     In one sequence, Eckhart’s Doolittle leads his famous Tokyo bombing run where the plane runs out of fuel, forcing the pilots and crew to parachute into China occupied land.  When the Chinese find Doolittle, we are shown an instance where Japanese planes attack the people on the ground as Doolittle hunkers down in a building for cover.  We never see or hear anything from him again until an actual photo of him is shown in the film’s closing credits.

     Perhaps one of the bigger missteps is the lack of story for the female characters.  We briefly meet Ann Best (Mandy Moore), Dick Best’s wife, but aside from a couple scenes scattered throughout this mess of a narrative, all we get is a short sequence near the end where a group of wives find out through rumor that many of the U.S. planes involved in the battle were shot down.  Ann contains her emotion in front of the group and excuses herself to the bathroom where we see her begin to cry, leading to another abrupt cut to an unrelated scene, thus stripping away all of the emotion she must be feeling with the potential loss of her husband.  And speaking of emotionless, that goes double for the depiction of the Japanese leaders and military who speak in a series of bland stock phrases designed to indicate how staunchly disciplined they are in the face of battle.  There isn’t a personality among them.

     All of this is surrounded by what seems like an endless array of diving runs by U.S. fighter plans directly into the teeth of well armed Japanese carriers with the intention of releasing a single bomb with enough precision to sink the ship.  These exact shots are commonplace enough that we are forced to sit through them at least a dozen times, most of which feature a cut away shot of Best’s face as he fires off motivational one liners to his other pilots even though the cockpit is open, they are flying at full speed, and don’t appear to have any communication systems, and yet they somehow can still hear him.  Maybe they were telepathic.  But sitting through all of this will only make you think about the potential wasted here with a solid cast and a talented filmmaker behind the camera.  Essentially, “Midway” plays like a first person shooter video game, complete with robotic cardboard characters inserted between action scenes in order to ensure we know where we’re going next.  This instead of creating something where we actually feel and understand the sacrifices, loss, and grief so many endured, allowing us to enjoy the lives we have today.  GRADE: C-