It first must be said that when I heard that Roland Emmerich was directing “Midway” I definitely had a sense that he was going to go “full-blown CGI” on the audience, much like he did with his sci-fi flick “Independence Day”. Or that he would play with the facts like he did in the Revolutionary War film “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson. Thankfully, neither was the case in “Midway.”
Being a fan of the 1976 movie of the same name and having seen it with the “Surround Sound” feature that shook the floor of the movie theater, I knew that I’d be comparing the two. But my verdict is that the 2019 version of the film stands quite nicely on its own, thank you very much.
Emerich tempered his over-the-top CGI grandiose tendencies and tried to stick to the facts. Was there a little bit of fudging here and there? Sure, but not to the point of ruining the film. Now to those who do love CGI, the flying scenes where the torpedo planes and dive bombers are attacking the opposing fleets are tremendously done.
This film’s CGI flying sequences are expertly done and the audience will feel the suspenseful tension as they’re transported into the pilot’s seat. In fact, the film begins with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and one has the feeling that Emerich was trying to outdo the Michael Bay film, where the Japanese caught the Americans asleep at the wheel on December 7, 1941.
The film then shows the first American answer, the Jimmy Doolittle raid with the famous “30 seconds over Tokyo” with B-25 Mitchell bombers that, just four months after Pearl Harbor, hit the Japanese homeland. Doolittle, played by Aaron Eckhart, is shown landing in Japanese-occupied China and nearly being killed by Chinese guerrillas that were fighting for Chiang Kai-shek.
Written by Wes Tooke, the script sticks to the facts pretty well in telling the story. Besides the aforementioned Pearl Harbor and Doolittle raid, the film also mixes in mentions of the Philippines, the Solomons and the just-completed Battle of the Coral Sea as the film begins. (It should be noted that the Coral Sea battle was the first naval engagement in history where the two opposing fleets never saw one another: Airpower won the day as it would in Midway.)
But Tooke also wove in some of the most overused cliches that we’ve all seen in every war film that has been produced since the 40s:
Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones, Deadpool) plays the cocky, hot-shot maverick pilot Dick Best and he easily has the best and juiciest role. Mandy Moore, this time with dark hair, plays Best’s wife Anne, who while protective of her husband and his career is mainly there just for show.
Patrick Wilson plays Edwin Layton the intelligence officer, who correctly predicted where the Japanese attack would strike. In the movie he is also shown in a snippet from 1937 pre-war Tokyo during a meeting that he had with the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
Emerich tries to show the Japanese side of things in an even-handed manner, much like the classic “Tora, Tora, Tora” or the more recent Clint Eastwood flick “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Luke Harris plays Lt Cdr Wade McClusky who sports a pencil-thin mustache much like the Clark Gable/Errol Flynn film stars of an older generation.
While two torpedo squadrons are ripped apart by the Japanese Zero fighters without doing any damage to the Japanese carriers, and the Zeros were waving hopping on the deck, gleefully taking the easy prey, the battle was about to change in seconds. McClusky’s dive bombers from the Enterprise and Lt. Cmdr Max Leslie’s group from the Yorktown appeared overhead. With no fighter cover and their decks full of aircraft in the process of being re-armed and re-fueled, the Japanese were sitting ducks. In less than five minutes, the pride of the Japanese fleet, three of their top line carriers, the Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu were flaming wrecks.
The movie also shows legendary film director John Ford, who filmed a documentary of the battle for the War Department. Ford, who made some iconic John Wayne westerns, is seen on the island of Midway urging his cameraman during the battle to “keep shooting!”
Dennis Quaid has a cameo (doesn’t Quaid have to appear in every Emerich film?) as Admiral Bull Halsey, who misses out on the battle because of a bad case of the shingles.
Woody Harrelson also appears as the white-haired Admiral Chester Nimitz. His scenes are interesting as you can’t stop staring at his white hair.
The cast is mainly B-list actors who work to portray the characters as best as they can. On the contrary, the 1976 cast was a who’s who of the film industry of the time and included Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum et. al.
Emerich’s tale is one of respect. Respect for the veterans of our Greatest Generation who fought in the battle. And respect for the Japanese who fought in it as well. Emerich dedicated it to “those brave American and Japanese soldiers (sailors?) who gave their lives during the Battle of Midway.”
The film’s release, right at the start of Veterans Day weekend, was no coincidence. A nice touch at the end of the film before the credits rolled was the showing of the actual participants and a brief bio of each.
If you leave the theater thinking that it seemed almost like watching one of those classic war films with the cheesy clichéd lines that we all grew up with, you’d be correct. But the film does a very good job at showing how the war in the Pacific changed course in a matter of minutes.
“Midway” was well done and is definitely worth seeing.