I had a pretty good idea what to expect going into Midway with two of my nephews (ages 13 and 16, and cool dudes too) this morning…and I was not let down. Given that the WW2 flick detailing the tense and desperate build up to the battle of Midway in the South Pacific was led by ‘popcorn’ movie master Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), I knew that, if nothing else, the visuals would be fun to take in. And for the most part, they were. It was just too bad that the script and editing weren’t as streamlined as they could’ve been. When it comes to Emmerich, it’s my opinion that he’s a mere step or two away from being a ‘Michael Bay’, with his deft embrace of visuals but a less-than-perfect grasp on fully fleshed out characters (and luckily, a little less blatant misogyny). This movie was no different from others in his filmography that fit that template (Stargate, ID4, The Patriot, 2012 etc) . But since all I and the two teenagers I was with wanted to see was some shit blow up real good in a WW2 setting, the bar was set appropriately low, which did work to the flick’s advantage.
Midway opens almost immediately (after a brief, character set-up prologue in 1937) with the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, coming out of nowhere (handled pretty well here), just like the real horrifying event did (which Michael Bay covered in that PoS Pearl Harbor, with WAY too much ‘Michael Bay’ slathered on). As the US military reels from the attack, we are introduced to a series of true-life sailors, aviators, and code-breakers who get caught up in the planning and execution of retaliatory strikes and the escalating action that led to the titular open-sea battle that opened the path for the island-hopping campaign that turned the tide of war with Japan in the Allies favor.
I did have a good time watching Midway, most likely due to having set my expectations at Level: Emmerich before we even entered the auditorium. For an independently financed ‘passion project’, Emmerich managed to pull together one helluva an impressive cast. We get Ed Skrein (Deadpool), Dennis Quaid (Innerspace), Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Mandy Moore (48 Meters Down), Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Luke Evans (High-Rise), among others. The main downfall to having so many talented people turning up is that several of them get short-changed in the ‘characterization’ department, which, as mentioned, is a common occurrence in a Roland Emmerich flick, even though the vast majority of characters are based on real people who were there. That being said, it was still impressive to see how many of these talented people opted to throw their weight behind this story in order to get it made. Cast aside, the main reason that I wanted to see Midway was simply the opportunity the story gave to unleash some potentially slick aerial / sea battle scenes, which I’m always down to see (I have a boner for WW2 shit, especially military aviation…just sayin). Having said that, I have to admit that the effects were a bit of a mixed bag…which was disappointing. At times, especially during wide establishing shots or sequences detailing the movement of aircraft traveling from one battleground to another, the CG was very good, at times surprising. But once the action popped off, the limits of the mere $100 million showed around the edges, with some effects coming in as only slightly better than many video game cut-scenes on the market these days (especially shots of planes crashing into the sea, for some reason). More shots from static positions, for instance, would’ve kept the movie feeling more grounded and epic, something like what Dunkirk (2017) pulled off with its superb aerial action scenes. Once the camera starts ducking and weaving through the action in ways that a real aircraft-mounted camera wouldn’t be capable of, my mind pulls away, recognizing instantly that what I’m being shown simply couldn’t be real and reducing the effect to that of a bystander over-the-shouldering a video game cut scene. Having said that, SOME of the action was genuinely exciting and tense, and gave me and the boys a dose of what we had hoped for. I get the difficulties in pulling off much of the WW2 action, but some alternate choices for compositions, and more time and $ being devoted to fully rendering the visuals, would’ve gone a long way, in my opinion. Same would also apply to some of the choices in the script / editing. Some subplots (the Doolittle Raid, for example) felt shoe-horned in and, despite the historical accuracy, could’ve easily been removed in order to clean up the pace, which often came off as choppy and episodic, and also led to the 2 hr, 18 min movie feeling about 10-15 min too long. This applied to some characters too, like the one tail-gunner who we are very pointedly introduced to, only to have him get unceremoniously taken out with very little preamble or drama. Same went with the uncertain aviator who steps up to do his part after a heavy inspirational speech is laid on him…only to perish unseen in a stupid accident. I found moments like this frustrating (even though they may be based on history), but luckily, once the action gets going, I was able to forgive these less-than-perfect elements.
All in all, I, and the two young fellas I saw this with, got enough of a kick out of Midway, while acknowledging that it wasn’t written or edited well enough to stand out as a monumental cinematic achievement, to say we had a good time checking it out on The Big Screen. Emmerich and Co. MOSTLY delivered the goods, where the high-flying and kinetic action scenes were concerned, but I just didn’t give a shit about the characters we were supposed to give a shit about, and the pacing felt off for a noticeable chunk of the run-time. The cast is solid but not given enough to work with while the production design was decent, though some more grit would’ve been welcome. This also applies to the rating, as this is one of the most bloodless WW2 movies I’ve ever seen! Now I know not every flick can be Saving Private Ryan (1998) or Black Hawk Down (2001), classic war films that proudly and deservedly wear a hard ‘R’ rating, but a little more spilled crimson would’ve helped this one out. There’s a scene where a main character is walking through a warehouse filled with the sheeted remains of US Navy personnel killed at Pearl Harbor…and they are the most pristine white bundles ever, all laid out on the floor! Not one drop of blood, despite dialogue about “pieces” recovered. Obviously, the filmmakers were playing it safe…but just a little too much, IMO. Emmerich has capably handled gore before…he (or the producers, more likely) opted not too push that line, which was a bit of a bummer. I can recommend Midway to war film or history buffs on the merits of some of the historical accuracy (as long as they can handle the Emmerich schmaltz) and the fact that it looks pretty, sounds great and is mostly an entertaining ‘popcorn’ action-movie version of a true story. Midway is a GOOD flick…but certainly not a GREAT one. Should you opt to hold off till this one streams or hits Blu ray…it’d be a good time-waster on a rainy Sunday afternoon.