The Battle of Midway was the turning point for the United States Pacific campaign in World War II. Each Veteran’s Day we celebrate the courage, bravery, and sacrifice of our armed forces. Roland Emmerich’s adaptation of Midway is timed specifically for theatrical release this Veteran’s Day weekend. The film honors the legendary warriors that fought in the pivotal engagement; but ultimately fails on several fronts. Cardboard acting, a Wikipedia-esque script, and sluggish pacing torpedo, for lack of a better word, the narrative. Blockbuster visual effects, particularly the aerial dogfights, save Midway from being a total clunker.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This “Day of Infamy” catapulted America into World War II. Several years earlier while assigned as an intelligence attache in Tokyo, Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) was warned by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) of such a possibility. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, Layton blamed himself for not being more vociferous to his superiors. Meanwhile in Washington DC, Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) was given command of the US Pacific Fleet. He demanded a retaliatory strike to show the Japanese our resolve.
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, led by Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid), returned to Pearl Harbor primed for vengeance. Ace fighter pilot Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) is happy his family survived, but mourns the loss of his best friend. As Layton and his intelligence group scour Japanese radio transmissions, a fearless Army pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Ackart), bombs Tokyo in a daring raid. Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy want a decisive end to the remaining American carriers. They are unaware that Layton has decoded their strategy. The Enterprise and the carrier USS Yorktown carry out a must win mission against a formidable and merciless enemy.
Midway, much like the 1976 film, shows the engagements from the American and Japanese point of view. The film rolls out like a Wikipedia history lesson with dates, times, and ships presented before the battles. This is meant to keep the audience apprised of the war’s progress. It ends up becoming a crutch for poor storytelling. The segmented approach highlights the dismal dialogue and acting. The film becomes rote and less cinematic. I felt like I was watching a History channel dramatization of Midway.
Midway is an ensemble piece, but Lieutenant Dick Best is the primary character. He serves as the emotional trigger for the men lost, and an embodiment of the skill needed to persevere. I had major issues with Ed Skrein’s performance. The British actor looks forced in his delivery. His New Jersey accent and vernacular is absolutely terrible. To be clear, the dialogue across the board is hammy, but veteran actors like Aaron Eckhart, Patrick Wilson, and Woody Harrelson force through. Skrein doesn’t have their skill to better poorly written material. It’s glaringly evident and a critical flaw in the film.
Roland Emmerich (Stargate, The Day After Tomorrow) knows how to stage epic action scenes. He can’t direct actors worth a lick, but sure can blow stuff up beautifully. The dogfights that made Independence Day entertaining are upgraded for World War II combat. The fighter battles are impressively done. You’ll experience vertigo as the planes soar, and then plummet with guns blazing. Midway works as a popcorn action flick in this regard. The fighters whizzing by with bullets and flack exploding was incredible. Highly recommended in a theater with a state of the art sound system.
Midway rouses patriotic fervor, but purely on subject matter. The characters are one dimensional in a story made for middle school students. There’s little more than lip service to the soldiers wives and no mention whatsoever to people of color. Midway is in the same league as Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Watch Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, or Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge for better Pacific theater films. Midway is produced by Centropolis Entertainment with distribution from Lionsgate.
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