MIDWAY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Roland Emmerich

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid, Luke Evans, Ed Skrein, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Brennan Brown, Tadanobu Asani, Luke Kleintank, Mandy Moore, Keean Johnson, Etsushi Toyokawa, Darren Criss.

MIDWAY

In December 1941 the Japanese air force bombed the US naval fleet at their Pearl Harbour base in Hawaii in a surprise attack regarded as one of the greatest failings of American intelligence in history. Six months later, the depleted US navy took on the might of the Japanese navy fleet off the Pacific islands of Midway in a decisive battle that turned the tide of the war. The battle of Midway has been told on the screen before, in Jack Smight’s 1976 film Midway that featured an all-star cast that included Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum amongst others.

In the first half hour or so, this retelling of the story of the battle that was heralded as the turning point of the war in the Pacific covers the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the bombing raid over Tokyo led by General James Dolittle, that actually did little for victory but did restore some confidence to the military. These events have also been covered in films like 1970’s Tora, Tora, Tora and Michael Bay’s epic but risible 2001 drama Pearl Harbor. This film is the first feature written by Wes Tooke, who hails from a background in television, but it is more historically accurate and sticks closer to the facts than Bay’s big budget fiasco. Some of the dialogue though is a bit wooden and cliched.

This is a stirring tale of heroism, courage under fire, sacrifice. Tooke’s script also largely negates the fears of a jingoistic approach as it tells some events from the Japanese perspective.

Tooke’s story largely unfolds in three narrative strands. One follows the efforts of Admiral Nimitz (played by Woody Harrelson) in Pearl Harbour to plan strategy for the upcoming battle. He works closely with Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson, from The Conjuring, etc), an intelligence officer who had warned against the Japanese threat a decade earlier but whose opinion was ignored. Layton and code breaker Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown) work to discern the Japanese intentions, and their efforts were pivotal in the US victory. Another narrative strand follows the efforts of the heroic fighter pilots and crew of the US aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise, under the command of Vice Admiral William Halsey (Dennis Quaid), as they take on the Japanese fleet. And a third strand follows the Japanese officers as they plan strategy during the battle. The film also gives some of the Japanese officers a touch of humanity, especially when Admiral Nagumo (Jun Kunimura) elects to go down with his crippled aircraft carrier.

The director is German born Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, etc) who is a dab hand at these big budget, special effects heavy action films, and he uses some state-of-the-art visual effects and CGI to recreate the battle sequences and aerial combat scenes. He certainly knows how to stage large set pieces, and his handling of these scenes is muscular and visceral. The CGI recreated effects are seamlessly incorporated into the action.

The film has been nicely shot by Robby Baumgartner (a former second unit cinematographer on films like Argo, etc), and edited by Adam Wolfe (White House Down, etc) who capture the frenetic and chaotic scenes of battle. Unfortunately, Tooke and Emmerich try to cram too much into the film. There are a lot of characters, the action moves along at a fast pace, and it is a little hard to keep up with what is unfolding on the screen.  

Emmerich remains respectful of the heroism of the men involved in the battle, and has assembled a solid cast to bring to life some of these real-life characters. Harrelson is unusually understated as Nimitz; Aaron Eckhart plays Doolittle, whose airborne assault on Tokyo ended with him parachuting into Chinese-held territory; Ed Skrein (from Deadpool, etc) plays heroic but reckless ace pilot Dick Best; Luke Evans (Furious 7, etc) plays his superior Wade McClusky, who tries to rein in the overly cocky Best; Nick Jonas (Jumanji, etc) plays ill-fated fellow flyboy Bruno Gaido and Luke Kleintank (tv series The Man In The High Castle, etc) is Clarence Dickson. We get to learn more about these characters and their achievements at the end of the film with some brief biographical information displayed on the screen next to images of the real-life counterparts.

Oscar winning filmmaker John Ford was shooting a documentary on Midway at the time to shoot a film about an isolated US outpost, but he was able to capture some dramatic footage of the battle. His subsequent short film The Battle Of Midway (1942) won an Oscar for Best Documentary and has obviously been helpful in shaping this film. This incident itself is briefly captured in Midway.

Midway may not be the best WWII movie ever made, but it is entertaining, engaging, and most importantly it is reasonably accurate historically.

★★★

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