Synopsis – The story of the Battle of Midway, told by the leaders and the sailors who fought it.
My Take – The Battle of Midway holds a special position in world history, after all it is termed as the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare. Nevertheless, Hollywood somehow hasn’t captured that event much in comparison to others, with filmmaker Richard Fleischer’s 1970 film, Tora! Tora! Tora!, the 1976 Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda starring film titled Midway and John Ford’s Oscar-winning 1942 documentary, The Battle of Midway, being some of the few notable examples.
Keeping that in mind, director Ronald Emmerich, best known for his both hit and miss explosive action films like Independence Day, Universal Soldier, Stargate, Godzilla, The Patriot, 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down, and Independence Day: Resurgence, and writer Wes Tooke pay tribute to those in the military by depicting the service-members who fought, specifically those who fought in the Pacific Ocean from December 1941 to June 1942, which were the first months of the United States entering WWII.
Released last Friday before Veterans Day in the U.S., this film about World War II, clearly meant to capitalize on the holiday, arguably honors a half-dozen or more American sailors and leaders who were crucial during that time period. Final product wise, the film is far from perfect but its narrative from certain perspectives reveals a story that needs to be told.
The problem is that director Roland Emmerich isn’t one to settle for subtlety, and obviously most comfortable with explosions, albeit with a lighter tone than director Michael Bay. However a lot of stuff is happens here, in the sense, several battles and incidents took place between the Americans and the Japanese in those six months and director Emmerich wants to depict every single one, which unfortunately becomes too much to cram into 138 minutes.
While he’s able to provide a good deal of spectacle, making bullets fly and bombs explode, ships sink and planes crash, but what he gains in war violence, he loses in character development and character engagement, lacking the emotional pull you might expect from such kind of a film.
Beginning five years before the said battle, at a time when America, England and Japan were having discussions on how to keep the peace on the seas. But socio-economic policies involving American oil being kept from Japan continued to cause tensions. A few years later when war eventually breaks out, America remains neutral, that is at until when Japan leads a brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, killing dozens.
Following this attack, the story follows a number of people who find themselves thrust into battle mode when most of them least expected it. Lieutenant Richard Best (Ed Skrein) is fueled by his quest for revenge after the loss of his old friend Lieutenant Roy Pearce (Alexander Ludwig), and is ably supported by his wife Anne (Mandy Moore), despite finding himself at odds with his superior, Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans).
While the two want the same thing, their difference of perspectives and methods often lead to cold exchanges. Elsewhere, Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) an intelligence officer battles with the guilt that he could have predicted and done more to prepare the US navy against the attack. While Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) finds himself suddenly burdened in preparing a counter attack which is now labelled as the most difficult job in the world after Pearl Harbor.
All leading up to the Battle of Midway, an ambush caused mainly by the U.S. dive bombers on the Japanese battle ships, which turned the tide of the war. We are also provided a insight into the Japanese Imperial Army and their unique military culture, with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Jun Kunimura) and Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) and their controversial battle decisions given center stage.
As one would expect the film is a straightforward retelling of the events in the first months of the War in the Pacific beginning with Pearl Harbor and culminating in the Battle of Midway (June 1942). In between, it also touched on Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo (April 1942) and the Battle of Coral Sea (May 1942).
For film goers, the execution of the critical battle scenes are the main draws to watch this film, and true to form, director Emmerich overwhelms the screen with infinitely-busy special effects, and this begins straightaway with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
As countless planes dive, dart and ram through the unsuspecting aircraft carriers, their gunfire and bombs trigger massive explosions and mountains of black smoke, as twisted metal remnants of these proud ships sink into shallow waters. The massive scenes showing fiery exploding sea craft and aircraft were rendered with crisp cinematography and meticulous visual effects to create impressive screen spectacles.
The aviation scenes, particularly the dive bomber runs by Dick Best, are excellently staged, shot and edited to elicit an exhilarating rush. The final battle, which runs 45 minutes, is especially an action-packed showcase for director Emmerich’s handle on such sequences. While the film’s action is commendable, it is Thomas Wander‘s score that adds to the excitement.
Adding to its positives, this Chinese-American production also does its best to show both sides of the struggle. While one side we have code breaker Edwin Layton as the most intriguing character, who with his team frequently decipher Japanese communications. On the other side we have Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who gets plenty of screen time. We also see Japanese officials complimenting the American pilots as brave and while Japanese captains go down with their ships with honor. At one point, even John Ford (Geoffrey Blake) appears to records the action for his 1942 documentary film.
Unfortunately, this film is juggling so much and so many other characters that a character arc and a thematic development just gets lost in the overabundance here. As accomplished as the actors involved are, they’re given one-dimensional roles to play, speaking cliché dialogue without much character development. We never really get to know any of them because there are so many parts with equal screen time.
The important men are remanded to being background characters in favor of characters like the close-to-reckless dive bomber Lieutenant Dick Best. We understand that they’re brave members of the Greatest Generation, but we don’t know much about their personal lives. The closest we get is Lt. Best’s wife Ann, but she is only given a few brief scenes waiting helplessly on the home front.
Among the whole cast, Patrick Wilson‘s performance as the guilt ridden intelligence officer is the highlight. Followed closely by Woody Harrelson, Luke Evans, Dennis Quaid and Ed Skrein. Among the supporting cast, Nick Jonas makes a brief yet impacting appearance in the film, while the rest, Aaron Eckhart, Darren Criss, Keean Johnson, Jake Weber, Brennan Brown, Tadanobu Asano, Etsushi Toyokawa, Jun Kunimura, Peter Shinkoda, Luke Kleintank, and Alexander Ludwig, do well. Mandy Moore is very likable as Skrein‘s on-screen wife. On the whole, ‘Midway’ is a watchable popcorn war flick which required more character development in comparison to its explosions.
Directed – Roland Emmerich
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 138 minutes