by Hans A. Carpenter
Release Date: November 8
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, and Woody Harrelson
Mister Marquee Says: B4. You sank my aircraft carrier.
Midway covers the Pacific theater in World War II from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the momentous titular carrier battle. This is one of those moments in history full of details that may seem Hollywood fantasy, but the battle itself is one of the most inherently cinematic battles ever on the seas, full of hot shot pilots, traps and counter traps, coincidences and twists of fortune, and massive stakes for both sides.
Hark, Roland Emmerich made a movie about history that isn’t complete baloney! Yes, the man responsible for The Patriot, one of the worst assassinations of real history in recent cinema, actually made a good history movie. The Patriot may have been a frustrating pile of historical poppycock, but it was entertaining poppycock, I’ll give Emmerich that. He could use that faint praise too, as it’s the lone watchable movie he’s made between Independence Day in 1996 and Midway in 2019.
Midway treats history with respect and a fairly balanced outlook, showing a realistic portrayal of the thinking and situations of both the Japanese and American navies in the vein of Tora! Tora! Tora! Admittedly, it’s hard for me not to nerd out at the history on display here. I’m a World War II nerd and Midway to me is one of the most fascinating moments in the war. There are plenty of Emmerich’s signature “dumb blockbuster” stuff on display though. You’ll recognize some rah rah moments that feel straight out of Independence Day or The Patriot. I can’t fault Emmerich for leaning CG heavy considering most of the vehicles needed for this movie are extinct. Merely rounding up a couple planes and a French destroyer like Christopher Nolan did for Dunkirk wouldn’t cut the mustard for a massive fleet battle. That being said, the CG isn’t great and that layer of fakeness hurts.
Perhaps Midway’s biggest failing is being overly ambitious. Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Doolittle Raid, and that’s all before we get to the battle which the movie is about! That’s a ton of history to cram into one movie, even one that’s over two hours long. It was a bizarre choice to market the film as being about Patrick Wilson’s Edward Layton, the intelligence officer who helped predict the Japanese attack at Midway. Wilson is barely in the movie, Ed Skrein’s Dick Best and Luke Evan’s Wade McCluskey are the main focus. Shifting the focus from the war room to the cockpit wouldn’t have been my choice until the climactic battle and that tug-of-war between focusing on the soldiers or the admirals is a bit of a detriment. Neither that clash nor Ed Skrein’s horrendous accent are enough to sink this carrier, though, as there’s just too much good history here to fail.