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MIDWAY (2019) review

November 13, 2019

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written by: Wes Tooke
produced by: Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser
directed by: Roland Emmerich
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking)
runtime: 138 min.
U.S. release date: November 8, 2019

 

Big budget war films have gone the way of the dodo bird. Much the same way the western genre has all but vanished when it comes to major studio releases, war movies are few and far between these days. So when I found out a World War II film about one of the most important battles in the Pacific was hitting theaters? Color me psyched. When I found out Roland Emmerich was directing it? Color me nervous. What if a history-changing battle became Independence Day? Oh, the horror. My worries were unfounded. I loved 2019’s Midway.

It’s spring 1942, and World War II is still very much up in the air, especially in the Pacific theatre as outnumbered U.S. forces fight back against the Japanese. Trying to hold ground since the Pearl Harbor attacks December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy is readying for the next battle with some of U.S. Intelligence believing the overpowering Japanese navy will attack next at Midway Island, a key island outpost/airfield only a thousand miles from Hawaii. If Japanese forces took the island, an invasion of Hawaii and then the west coast of the United States would be next. Amassing what force they can, the U.S. Navy prepares for a battle that could change the tide of the war.

 

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The director of Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and White House Down (among others), Emmerich isn’t exactly synonymous with subtle. That’s just fine! His movies are almost always entertaining. He was meant for BIG and LOUD blockbuster movies. That was my concern with him at the helm of Midway. The joke was on me. Yes, the action scenes are big and loud, but it’s never too cartoonish. There’s a heart – albeit a clichéd heart – and interesting characters, most of them based off real-life historical figures, some known and some not so known. The moral of the story though is simple; it’s a fun, exciting and at times moving war story.

Why does it work? ‘Midway’ doesn’t pick sides. It’s a story and depiction of the men in the battle. The Americans and Japanese are both treated fairly, both presented in a (mostly) positive light. We do see a fair share of Japanese in-fighting and finger-pointing as the battle and strategy unravels. Emmerich and screenwriter Wes Tooke present a movie with an old-fashioned feel, a throwback flick to the all-star war flicks of the 1960’s. There’s more of a polish too than the 1976 version, also called Midway. It’s patriotic, it’s cheesy, it’s clichéd, but it’s always interesting.

My biggest relative complaint is that ‘Midway’ tries to accomplish a whole lot in just 138 minutes. The first hour features the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid (starring Aaron Eckhart as Doolittle), the Coral Sea, and all while introducing waves of characters. Then the last 80 minutes or so dive in with the actual battle. It feels rushed at times. Like so many historical movies, a miniseries would probably work best with the subject matter. As for the historical accuracy, well, it’s…um, oh, look, explosions!

 

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The cast has some fun with the source material. The movie is at its strongest with the pilots, led by Ed Skrein (using a 1940s accent), Luke Evans, Luke Kleintank, Keean Johnson, Nick Jonas and Darren Cross. Patrick Wilson is solid as an Intelligence officer trying to convince the higher-ups that Midway is Japan’s target. Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid star as Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Bull Halsey. The Japanese officers include Etsushi Toyokawa, Tadanobu Asano and Jun Kunimura. Skrein gets the most screentime (with Mandy Moore as his wife) and for the most part is good. That accent is bad though. B-A-D.

The high point of Emmerich’s war epic are the battle sequences. You feel like you’re there in the cockpit with the American pilots flying through walls of flak as they attack the Japanese carriers. The dive-bombing sequences are particularly memorable, these planes flying almost straight down at their targets from thousands of feet. Even if you know the history/battle, these sequences are incredibly visceral. It’s obviously CGI, but the special effects are handled so well, so smoothly, that you’re able to just go along for the ride.

One other historical tidbit to mention. Director John Ford was actually on Midway during the battle in 1942 and was filming away. His ‘Battle of Midway’ documentary film short runs about 18 minutes and airs from time-to-time on Turner Classic Movies. The 2019 Midway gives a bit part to Ford as the Japanese attack begins on the atoll and then as the battle develops. A nice touch for history buffs.

A classic it isn’t, but this was a solid, highly enjoyable war flick. It’s rated PG-13 and isn’t particularly graphic, although some of the battle sequences can be tough to watch. Definitely worth a watch for war movie fans and history buffs (as long as you’re not a stickler for spot-on accuracy).

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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