In Midway, director Roland Emmerich quenches his aviation fetish with a World War II blockbuster. While places and people might not be at their most accurate position in this retelling of the battle that practically changes the course of the war, the movie is confident enough to flaunt the jingoism with some cheesy dialogues (which you might not believe coming from the mouth of an actual person). Imagine this as a more action-packed Pearl Harbor with the absurdity of Independence Day—set to open on Veterans Day period. We know what to expect.
Instead of focusing entirely on the Midway tenure, this pseudo war epic opts to focus on several pivotal real-life characters at once. Most of the time, the story will revolve around the cocky, devil-may-care pilot, Richard “Dick” Best (British actor, Ed Skrein, Deadpool), leading the showy action sequences. Patrick Wilson’s intelligent leader, Edwin Layton, becomes the “brain” of the story—bringing balance to the force commanded by Woody Harrelson’s Chester W. Nimitz. Luke Evans’s (another British actor) pilot, Wade McClusky, fights alongside Best in USS Enterprise under William Halsey (Dennis Quaid). As if the story isn’t cramped enough, Midway makes ways for Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) for a one-shot moment and attaches the story of an aviation machinist mate, Bruno Gaido (Joe Jonas), to the canon.
The problem is: the story is a bit to American-minded. Ergo, Wes Tooke’s script feels the urge to give the Japs some kind of perspective. The story gives an internal conflict between Japanese officers. Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) and Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) are portrayed in a more positive light; meanwhile, Chuichi Nagumo (Jun Kunimura, The Wailing) is portrayed in a darker shade. Nevertheless, the characters are best described as one-dimensional as if the traumatic experience of war does not really get into their nerves.
Midway is undoubtedly taking itself to seriously. Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker’s patriotic musical score unravels it all. Given the tongue-to-cheek execution, Emmerich should’ve made it a more playful take of the series of events. I can imagine the whole aviation battles flaunt the CGI-laden spectacles with some anachronistic rock n’ roll music blaring at the background. Yet, that’s not the case with Midway.
Given the exposition-heavy and over-stuffed story, Midway is positively cramped. The story-line feels ill-paced and jumbled, which is only made worse with choppy editing incorporating title cards as many as the characters to indicate the place and the time. I sometimes wonder if there is a plot to glue all series of events altogether. The whole venture seems like a collection of loose threads. At one point, Harrelson’s Nimitz will force Wilson’s Layton to convince Washington of their mutual decision. “You will find out,” said Nimitz instructing Layton. We’ll never see the hows, but we’ll immediately know that whatever Wilson’s character did works. If you’ve accustomed with such abrupt moments, you will not be surprised when you learn that Eckhart’s Doolittle’s arc never gets retreaded during the movie’s 145-minute duration; nor that you will be distracted by the view of a documentary director capturing real footage of the war for no apparent exposition.
The action sequences might be Midway‘s biggest ammo. While some of them work perfectly even after some repetitions, you cannot expect the grandiosity of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor moments or the impending thrills Christopher Nolan triggers with Dunkirk. Emmerich’s take is more tongue-to-cheek and blockbuster-ridden. It’s sad to acknowledge that Midway almost makes an all-out fun WWll blockbuster if only it doesn’t take itself too seriously.