Brandon Richardson | 01/02/2019
With strong entries in recent times, this renaissance of war stories sees another entry with Midway, Roland Emmerich's blockbuster take on the naval battle of the same name.
Opening with a rare moment of nuanced dialogue, US intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) and Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) contemplate the impact of worsening sanctions on a proud Japanese people and lament to toll of war several years before the start of World War II. This hint of subtlety is quickly forgotten, and Emmerich returns to his comfort zone with a CGI-heavy flash-forward to the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Such an extravagant depiction of one of the most well known moments in WW2 history serves to give context to the lesser known, but equally important, Battle of Midway six months later.
Feebly attempting to jam entertainment into a history lesson, Midway unfurls its narrative through several key players, the most important being Dick Best (Ed Skrien): a rebellious pilot whose sense unflappable sense of duty frequently puts himself and others at risk. While key to the success of the US at Midway, his daring acts draw both praise and criticism from his seniors Wade McCluskey (Luke Evans) and William "Bull" Hallsy (Dennis Quaid). Despite questionable casting that sees Skrien throw away corny, uninspired lines in an almost comical New Jersey accent and Quaid lazily grumble complaints about an insatiable, shingles-based itch, the most egregious error here is ham-fisted and fruitless character development for Best. His unwilling progression to leadership feels self-serving and the loyalty of his men feels unearned. In a film this long, the visual spectacle is often lost to these flat efforts at humanisation.
That's not to say that this spectacle that established Emmerich as a heavy hitter in years gone by is absent. Indeed, we are reminded of his penchant for vision and scope through glorious and thrilling bombing scenes with impressive attention to detail in costuming and design, only for our immersion to be sullied by graphics that can and should be better. Combined with the subpar drama, what results is something that feels more at home on the small screen. Indeed, a miniseries may have been the optimal way to relay a tale that relies on knowing the positions and activities of multiple parties at multiple times. The sheer volume of the cast evidences this, as minor roles to Nick Jonas as ragtag pilot Brudo Gaido, Aaron Eckhart as Jimmy Doolittle and Woody Harrelson as Chester W. Nimitz are all worthy of further exploration. Alas, they're inclusion here feels as though the actors simply wanted to pay tribute to these military heroes.
Using mainstream film as a tribute to militaristic conquest has been used to good effect in the past. But as time has passed, so too has the tastes of the modern audience. Enthusiasm for the opportunity of bravery that war presents has been replaced by a harrowing appreciation of its damage to humanity. This much is clear from the success of recent war films with a focus on intensely personal stories, those like 1917 and Dunkirk. As a result, Roland Emmerich’s Midway feels like a bloated elegy to a bygone military era, with a sentimental appeal to American Patriotism that falls flat on international audiences.
Midway is a misfire.