Happy Veteran’s Day everyone and a huge thank you to anyone who has served our country. I have several members of my own family who have served and I’m proud that we as a country have a day to honor them for their service.
World War II continues to be one of the most popular conflicts in world history for cinematic treatments. Just in time for Veterans Day we get 2019’s addition to the World War II subgenre in the form of the infamously average director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway”. Showcasing the attack on Pearl Harbor and the conflicts that followed all the way through the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the battle for supremacy in the Pacific, “Midway” attempts to mix cinematic storytelling with effects laden depictions of war while also serving as a tribute to the real life veterans who served in one of the most notable naval victories in modern history. When the film’s trailer debuted I had shades of Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” in my head which wasn’t a very promising premonition for this film, and seeing as both Bay and Emmerich have often been interchagable among cinefiles as members of the “all style no substance” club of directors you can imagine I didn’t really have high expectations for “Midway”, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while right? Is “Midway” one of Emmerich’s better films or just another pandering war epic based on a real life story? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Midway”.
As I said, going into “Midway” I had very low expectations. The attack on Pearl Harbor and related events were previously horribly depicted in Michael Bay’s infamous flick and Roland Emmerich isn’t exactly a step up. Even one of Emmerich’s best films, “The Patriot”, was a famously inaccurate depiction of America’s fight for freedom. So, I’ll admit I was concerned what “Midway” would bring to the table. While it’s not exactly a work of art “Midway” is a satisfactory enough war picture well above Emmerich’s expected mediocrity. This was reportedly a big passion project for Emmerich and it shows with the depiction of mostly real-life heroes and a story that explores many different angles to war while avoiding many major mistakes past films like “Pearl Harbor” tended to make. There’s no bull crap fictional love story, the American pride element is downplayed but still very present so it’s not overly pandering, and the pacing of the story allows us to experience several different battles over the course of its over 2 hour run time in a nice tight package that’s both exhilarating and inspiring in its own special way. However, that doesn’t mean the film is anything special, it just makes it watchable.
“Midway” competently presents details of a historic battle and the events that led up to it in a very cinematic fashion with a screenplay and script that does the film no favors. It’s hard to ignore the generic feel of the film as a typical war drama with little substance beyond typical genre clichés and it’s dedication to its historic story. While it’s a fun and engaging viewing, there’s always this sense that you’ve seen this all before as “Midway” doesn’t exactly do anything to reinvent the wheel. The script is basic and despite several capable actors like Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid and others doing what they can with what they have to work with the dialogue never rises above the highest quality reenactment feature you’d see on The History Channel. It’s neat to see different angles to the conflict but the screenplay provides an all too predictable result by leaning more heavily on expected clichés than trying to add any unique personality to its depiction of true events. To put it simply, we’ve seen many movies like “Midway” before and that familiarity results in a pretty forgettable by-the-books final product. Frankly the simplistic writing makes it feel a bit behind the times when compared to more modern war stories like “Dunkirk” and “Hacksaw Ridge” which will be remembered and respected long after “Midway” fades into its destined obscurity.
But, in spite of it’s missteps, I would actually recommend “Midway”. It’s pretty forgettable and bland but the updated effects are convincing and while the writing might be simple it is neat to see a war movie that doesn’t just focus on the fighting. We see all different angles of the conflict including the intricacies of behind the scenes strategizing from both sides of the battle, Japan and America, as they set their sights on Midway. The battle scenes are exhilarating whether it’s the bombings of war ships or the dogfights between planes of opposing forces. There were several moments where, even though I knew the outcomes because this is a history movie after all, I was still fully invested in the scene hoping, waiting in anticipation to see who would come out on top and how. “Midway” might not be anything new or unique, but what it offers is sufficiently exciting and fun while also providing that sense of national pride that comes from these kinds of films. It’s not very pandering or over the top, but it’s also not as polished or subtle as much better films. It’s a middle of the road, safe and acceptably average war drama that does what it needs to do and not a whole lot more.
In the case of “Midway” you get what you should expect and, for some, that might be more than enough. Honestly for me it made for a decent time at the movies even if I’ll forget this experience the next time I walk in to the theater. There are going to be people who think “Midway” is great just because it’s a tribute to some real life individuals who played a huge part in one of America’s most notable naval victories of World War II, and I can’t argue with the fact that this is an appropriate dedication to their accomplishments. From a cinematic standpoint though, “Midway” is a pretty basic war movie at best. I commend Roland Emmerich for at least putting some passion into this work because you can definitely see that he cared about honoring the people presented and even takes time to acknowledge the enemy by giving the Japanese some moments to shine. It’s tasteful and inspiring in several different ways and keeps you pretty well engaged in spite of its bland writing. In a world where Michael Bay’s travesty “Pearl Harbor” is the most notable cinematic representation of the tragic events of December 7, 1941 and the battles that waged as a result “Midway” serves as a thankfully more grounded and appropriate, if forgettable, examination of that infamous period in time.