Midway (2019) Review
A SOLID (YET OVERSTUFFED)
WWII ACTION FILM
The epic and war-torn era of WWII has been at the forefront of cinematic storytelling. There’s been plenty of productions (both made for the big and small screen) that have showcased the grittiness, heroic, and somber tones of reality of this particular time period of which swept many of the great countries of the world into war. From Hitler’s Nazi regime sweeping across Europe to the island-hopping maneuvers against the Empire of Japan, WWII saw plenty of defining moments that has captured the interest of Hollywood and various film / TV makers in bringing these tales to a new dramatic light. Such memorable endeavors like 1987’s Empire of the Sun, 1993’s Schindler’s List, 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, 2001’s Pearl Harbor, 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima, 2017’s Dunkirk, and many more. Now, Lionsgate Entertainment and director Roland Emmerich present the latest WWII project to this realm of production with the movie Midway. Does this WWII action drama soar high or does sink into the depths of the Pacific Ocean?
On December 7th, 1941, sovereign nation of Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, sending the naval shipyard and base into a chaos frenzy and as death and destruction lay in the aftermath of the attack. With the US reeling from the tragedy and now actively engaged in World War II, America’s navy forces diligently try to hold their position in the Pacific and prepare to strike back against their enemies. In amidst this turmoil have strategy and maneuvers, Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) and his intelligence team have deduced that the Japanese are planning another offensive in the near future; one that plans to outwit America’s forces and diminish their already dwindling navy forces. Basin their strategy off this information (and the continuing communication of decoding the enemy’s messages), the U.S. Navy looks to try to outmaneuver Japan, sending of their best men, including Lt. Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) and other navy seamen and rogue pilot squadrons to partake in the upcoming battle at Midway that could determine America’s fate in the war.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I think I’ve said it before in one of my other reviews, but I’ll mention it again…. I do love war / military movies. So, it goes without saying that I do enjoy all the various WWII productions that have come out. Like I said above, the times of war, the battles to be waged, and the effects that it holds on people (those who are caught in the middle of everything) have always been a fascinated point of interest for me as there’s many stories to tell and examine of this second world war. From the harsh conditions of the holocaust, to the many battles of Europe and in the Pacific, to the famous figures of state that charted a course to change the world, to the sheer destructive power of the Atom bomb, and all the complexes in-between, WWII has indeed become deep revisor for drama / heartfelt storytelling. This is probably why Hollywood has taken quite an interest in this time period era for cinematic tales as some utilized the war as the main focal point of their stories, while others will see WWII as a backdrop setting in key sequences. Personally, some of my favorite WWII movies would have to be Schindler’s List, Unbroken, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, Saving Private Ryan, and Hacksaw Ridge to name a few.
This brings me back to talking (and reviewing) the film Midway, a 2019 war action drama feature that seeks to shed a dramatic camera lens on the Pacific theater in WWII. As I said above, majority of WWII dramas tend to be more focused on the Europe side of the war, so (much like I was with Hacksaw Ridge), I was quite intrigued about this movie as I remember hearing a lot “buzz” about this movie…from its initially announcement and to who was gonna be attached to this project. Even the film’s movie trailers gave me “goosebumps” as I was quite keen on seeing this during its opening weekend, especially (like I said above) I do enjoy a good war / military drama. Of course, I did see during that time (my local theater showed the film with D-Box seats, which I highly recommend for a movie like this), but I pushed back doing the review for a few weeks as I tried to play “catch up” with other reviews as well as my “busy” schedule with work. So, now I finally have the time to share my thoughts on 2019’s Midway. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it, but it could’ve been better. Despite a strong action-based premise and engaging plot that honors those who fought during this time, Midway comes up slightly short in its storytelling; feeling more disjointed in many layered narrative threads than a tightly-woven presentation. There’s plenty to like about the movie as it’s still quite entertaining and theatrically made, but if you’re looking for the next memorable WWII film like Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge, you’ll be disappointed.
Midway is directed by Roland Emmerich, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Stargate, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow. Given his background of large-scale blockbusters (some have called him the “disaster” feature director), Emmerich seems like an ideal choice for creating an expansive / almost blockbuster-like endeavor for helming a project like this. Thus, the movie (as one could expect) is geared more towards the military WWII action of events and not so much on the drama character pieces that some WWII endeavors have done in the past. While that might be a good or bad thing (see more below on that), it certainly makes Midway a tad different than most and it will surely delight both war / action enthusiast out there with cinematic glee as Emmerich stages the feature with plenty of action sequences, including the attacks on Pearl Harbor as the film’s opening salvo and the Battle of Midway as the feature’s climatic third act piece. In truth, Emmerich does a good job in leading up to the Midway battle; showcasing all the battle maneuvers and intelligences reports that both sides get and how the stage actually gets set for the big battle. Heck, even I’m a history buff and love WWII, but I really never knew of how it all happened. Plus, Emmerich deliver on an even balanced tone throughout the film. There’s moments comedic levity that’s peppered throughout, but Midway never loses sight of the overall gravitas that lies ahead during this time period. Thus, Emmerich makes the film feel like a good old-fashioned war endeavor; relying on its action and battle plans for the staging of the feature’s events.
One of the interesting (and kind admirable) aspects of Midway is that Emmerich makes each respective side of the conflict equal and important. It definitely goes without saying the US American soldiers are portrayed as the somewhat “heroes” in the movie (obviously), but their Japanese counterparts are never reduced to such spineless caricatures or one-dimensional villains in the story. In truth, Emmerich devotes time in Midway’s story to shed some like on the tactically maneuvers and inner military politics of the Japanese forces, which is quite refreshing and a somewhat of a departure from how war / military endeavors project their enemies. Thus, it’s quite clear that Emmerich wants to “honor” all of the brave individuals who took part at Midway, making the film’s narrative more compelling than some might initial think. It certainly did for me, which is probably why I liked the movie a bit more than some.
In terms of cinematics and presentation, Emmerich certainly delivers on a grandiose level by making Midway feel like a polished WWII action drama that certainly thrills within its look and feel. Much like what the film’s movie trailers showcased, there’s a certain blockbuster quality and it’s easy to see that a lot of money went into the feature’s production. Thus, even if you don’t particular care for the movie as much I did, one can simply not deny how polished and well-made the feature looks. Thus, I do have to mention all the various “behind the scenes” team members of Midway, including Kirk M. Petruccelli (production design), Carolyn ‘Cal’ Loucks (set decorations), and Mario Davignon (costume designs), as all give well-mannered and appropriate context and visual flair to the feature’s background, various set-pieces, and clothing attire. Additionally, the film’s visual effects definitely lend a hand on elevating the feature’s large dramatic scale moments quite well (so thanks to visual wizardry team on this project) as well as cinematography work by Robby Baumgartner, which delivers on some slick and creative camera angle of scenes throughout. Lastly, the film’s score, which was done by Harold Kloser and Thomas Wanker, present solid composition that feels quite bombastic and tension filled of which something like an action WWII feature would need. Excellent work!
There are a few glaring problems that the movie can’t overcome; making Midway not as cinematically stellar as I’m sure Emmerich wanted it to be. The most glaring of them is the simply fact the film is quite overstuffed (plain and simple). That’s not to say the material given for this WWII feature is not exciting, thrilling, or compelling by any means, but what’s presented is in a jumble of sorts in an otherwise elongated and stuffed narrative that doesn’t quite work as well as intended. Why? Well, there’s a lot of moving pieces throughout Midway and it seems like Emmerich more than the actual film chew. Despite even the film having a lengthy runtime of 138 minutes (two hours and eighteen minutes), a lot of the storyline threads of all the various characters and storylines kind of get lost along the way. This also comes by the way of the film’s script, which was penned by Wes Tooke, that has plethora of players (both major and minor) on both sides of battle lines that the film tries to invest time into the feature. The end result is something left to be desired and possibly wanting more. Yes, Emmerich stages everything quite well (cinematically-speaking) and Tooke’s script certainly has his heart in the right place with all the narrative threads that are intertwining in Midway’s story, but it all feels thinly sketched and just way crammed into a feature length endeavor. Certain characters (some famous historical ones to boot) are quickly introduced and have moment or two before being quickly dismissed altogether. There are also way too many perspectives in the story and, while that generates difference of opinions on the major conflict presented, it sometimes muddles everything. Perhaps what Emmerich could’ve done with project is to have turn Midway into a mini-series of which the narrative could’ve been allowed to “breathe” and elaborate a lot more on the various characters and significant moments of which the tale calls upon. Thus, despite the likeability of an old school WWII flick, Midway’s narrative is overstuffed and bloated; thinly sketching certain pieces and glossing over others.
Coinciding with this, Midway’s script is not quite as sharp; heavily relying on commonly used tropes found in war / military endeavors. Again, Tooke’s shaping of Midway’s main narrative (plot threads and characters) are indeed well-meant, but its execution of everything feels a bit haphazard and its dialogue seems quite conventional to say the least. This allows makes the movie overarching narrative a bit unbalanced as Midway seems more story driven in the first act, a bloated setting up of events in the second act, and a very lengthy final battle sequences during the third act. Lastly, the film does seem a bit long than what was intended for as the feature’s finale piece seems to goes unnecessary long, with some might thinking the Midway overstays its welcome. Of this portion, I liked it, but it definitely edited and trimmed down for a tighter conclusion.
One of the things that Midway certainly boasts is in the vast acting talents that are in the featured and the characters that they represent in this WWII story. Unfortunately, this goes back to movie being overstuffed, with many of the characters (and there’s quite a lot) not getting enough time to fully develop and their storylines getting pushed aside; making their involvement (nor matter how big or small) less impactful a direct result. As to who Midway’s true main character…. I would say that is the character of Lt. Richard “Dick” Best, who is played by actor Ed Skrein. Known for his roles in Deadpool, Game of Thrones, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Skrein certainly has the potential to be a leading man in a motion picture with Emmerich focusing heavily on his character throughout most of Midway’s presentation. Thus, Dick is the true protagonist of the feature, with Skrein delivering the confident military swagger to the character and all the nuances that come with skilled yet scrappy flying ace.. Of course, it’s a bit of cliché of sorts, but it works and that’s all that matters. As a side-note, actress Mandy Moore (Tangled and A Walk to Remember) plays Dick’s dutiful wife Anne Best and, while her acting talents are fine the role, her character isn’t even much to do than to be the commonplace “concerned wife” of military dramas.
The other main that the movie focuses on is on the character of Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton and who is played by actor Patrick Wilson. While Skrein’s Dick Best is perhaps the action hero of the movie, the character of Layton is perhaps the more “mastermind”; gathering intelligence and trying to stay one move ahead against the enemy. Of course, Wilson, known for his roles in Watchmen, Aquaman, and The Phantom of the Opera, is a perfect fit for the role and certainly knows how to portray Layton in the movie. So, of the two main leads, I actually think that Wilson is better represented character in Midway. He stays more in the backroom “war offices” throughout the feature, but Wilson’s voice and mannerism certainly contributes to his performance as Layton.
The rest of the cast is stacked with plenty of recognizable faces / names from their personal past projects, but are underutilized and thinly presented. This includes actor Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) as air commander Lt. Wade McClusky, actor Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight and Sully) as USAAF Lt. Colonel Jimmy Dolittle, actor / singer Nick Jonas (Camp Rock and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as aviation mechanic Bruno Gaido, actor Woody Harrelson (Cheers and True Detective) as Commander in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, actor Dennis Quaid (I Can Only Imagine and Far From Heaven) as Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, actor Darren Criss (Glee and American Crime Story) as Torpedo Squadron Commander Lt. Eugene Lindsey, actor Jake Weber (13 Reasons Why and Medium) as Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, actor Alexander Ludwig (Vikings and The Hunger Games) as USS Arizona Watch Officer Lt. Roy Pearce, actor Luke Kleintank (The Man in the High Castle and Pretty Little Liars) as scouting pilot Lt. Clarence Earle Dickinson, actor Tadanobu Asano (Thor and Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan) as Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, actor Etsushi Toyokawa (Love Letter and Angel Dust) as Commander in-chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, actor Jun Kunimura (Ichi the Killer and Kill Bill Vol. 1) as Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, and actor Hiroaki Shintani (making his theatrical debut) as Japanese Emperor Hirohito. All of these acting talents are really good and their portrays are solid, but neither Tooke’s script nor Emmerich’s direction never fully allows these supporting players to grow beyond their limited screen-time that’s allotted to them. Thus, these characters are thin and sometimes play up the clichés tropes military motion pictures, despite that some are actually famous figure heads during this time period.
War has come and the battle lines have been drawn as the forces of United States and Japan square off in the Pacific in the movie Midway. Director Roland Emmerich latest project takes to the Pacific theater of WWII and seeing how all the events (and players) transpired between the attacks on Pearl Harbor to the decisive Battle of Midway. While the movie is quite crammed within the feature film restrictions (under developing the multitude of storylines and characters throughout) as well as too many perspective narrative positions, Emmerich succeeds in staging the feature’s events on a grandiose theatrical measure that feels quite like an old school war drama; honoring the individuals that played a role in the grand scheme of this time period. Plus, Emmerich delivers on its action scenes, a solid musical score, and a star-studded cast (helping elevate their characters beyond being stock-like and / or common tropes). Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it could’ve been better as mini-series (somewhat similar to HBO’s Band of Brothers and Pacific) as the feature is way overstuffed with its many characters, but the action was great, the story was interesting, and the cinematography was well-represented. Thus, my recommendation for this is solid “recommend” as I’m sure that war / military aficionados (veterans and moviegoers) will surely enjoy the movie. That being said, what movie proves to be the better between this and Michael Bay’s 2001 Pearl Harbor. Both are quite similar, but I feel Midway had more military action bombast approach, while Pearl Harbor has more of a wholesome drama story within its main characters. So, it depends on what you want of a WWII feature. Regardless of that point, while the film isn’t exactly the best war / military motion picture of late, Midway (albeit crammed and sometimes thinly sketched) still provides a thrilling theatrical endeavor that seeks to shed cinematic light on this particular WWII battle and honoring those who fought during this time.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: November 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 7th, 2019
Midway is 138 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language, and smoking
Thanks for such an awesome review. I was hoping this would score a little higher (meaning be better) but you still recommend it so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I’m glad to hear there’s more military action in it than Pearl Harbor, as that’s more of my interest, especially on the big screen. It comes at a good time too as I’ve been on a roll watching WW2 movies lately, like Bridge on the River Kwai, T-34 (a Russian movie I recommend) and even Band of Brothers, which somehow I’ve never seen until this last week when my wife and I binge watched all ten episodes.