Review: Midway

Does the name Roland Emmerich ring a bell? No? He’s the brain behind bombastic films such as The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and White House Down. Three films that have many elements in common such as impressive CGI effects, a story about survival and A-list stars. That’s exactly what he uses in his latest Midway. However, this time it doesn’t do the trick for 100%

The battle of Midway is near

This film is retelling the events from the first months of the War in the Pacific beginning with Pearl Harbor in 1937 to the Battle of Midway in 1942. After their defeat during the Pearl Harbor attack, America wants to take revenge on Japan. In Midway, we see these events unravelling from both Japanese and American positions. On the Japanese side, there are Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa), Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) and Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (Jun Kunimura). The American story is being told mostly by bomber pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and intelligence officer Lt. Comm. Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson).

The Pearl Harbor defeat is still lingering in the head of Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) who was recently appointed as Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. America might be able to get their retribution for that dark day sooner than they think. After intercepting a Japanese radio message, Layton is convinced that Midway is Japan’s next target. America starts gathering all the troops. From bomber pilot Lt. Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) to aviation mechanic Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) and from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid) to Air Group Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans). They’re all gearing up to protect their country. The aircraft carriers are lined up, the destroyers are strategically placed and the bombers are ready to fire. The battle of Midway is upon us…

Both hits and misses

The story of Midway probably sounds familiar. Not only because it’s based on real-life but also because it was already told in Jack Smight’s Midway. Just like Smight, Emmerich can count on a fascinating story and an all-star cast. His Midway might not be the biggest hit he ever made but it’s still an enjoyable film.

Ok, yes the CGI effects are completely over the top and sometimes too excessive but that doesn’t mean they don’t do the trick. They give Midway that extravagant and ‘made for the big screen’ effect. The most impressive special effects scenes are during which we are in Best’s pilot seat seeing the events through his eyes.

Secondly, this movie stays incredibly true to the actual events. It showed us what sacrifices people had to make during that difficult time and while some details might have been incorrect, the majority is spot on. The great thing about Midway is that both the American and Japanese points of view are represented and not just one of them.

Woody Harrelson playing Chester Nimitz in Midway (credit: Lionsgate Movies)

Strong performances but too many characters

When it comes to the characters, there are certainly resemblances between the people who had to go to the battles and the actors portraying them. Sadly, none of the actors get the chance to shine due to the incredibly fast (too fast sometimes) pace and the introduction of too many characters. Skrein (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Deadpool) is leading the cast to the apotheosis as the rebellious but also heroic Best in a charismatic and cocky way. Adding some smartness to this movie is the excellent Wilson (In the Tall Grass, Annabelle Comes Home) as the intelligence officer whose warnings were previously ignored.

They’re joined by the engaging Harrelson (Zombieland: Double Tap, Venom) and also by young and fine acting talent such as Keean Johnson (Alita: Battle Angel, Low Tide) Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Luke Kleintank (The Goldfinch, Crown Vic) and Daren Criss (All You Ever Wished For, Girl Most Likely) who all give it their best shot. To balance out that testosterone, there’s Mandy Moore (Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Darkest Minds) as Best’s wife. Her role could have been a little bit more explored and present in the film but nevertheless, Moore delivers an emotional performance. 

Of course, there’s also the Japanese side that’s being represented by Toyokawa (Paradise Next, Samurai Marathon 1855), Asano (Thor: Ragnarok, The Outsider) and Kunimura (The Witness, The Great War of Archimedes) who create without a doubt one of the most emotional scenes of this film. Shame, it’s right at the end.

No victory but no defeat either

It might seem that a 138 minutes film about the war between America and Japan would be a dragging one and yes, sometimes that’s certainly the case. That prolonged feeling and the too many characters (with too little potential to grow) are present in Midway but the CGI effects and performances make from this film worth the watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Also Read: The Aeronauts (Review)

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