Courtesy of Lionsgate
“Midway” is unapologetically bad.
In Roland Emmerich’s bland retelling of World War II’s most decisive naval battle, the human characters are all cartoons, the dialogue is painstakingly corny, and there’s about several different subplots sprawling throughout the films nearly two and a half hour runtime. It’s a shame, because the movie sometimes reveals genuine respect for those on both sides of the fight, and their willingness to die for a country and avenge their fallen brethren.
All the American’s cast in the film (which, surprisingly, features a good chunk of early Disney Channel movie stars) all talk and speak with the year’s worst accents (poor Nick Jonas) and the women (Mandy Moore) are given thankless roles as the army wives who wait with bated breath for their husbands to return from war. They never feel like “real” people, but caricatures who only share the name and nothing else. All these people deserved a far better tribute than what Emmerich has hastily put together.
Navigating the treacherous tides of war, the screenplay by Wes Tooke, spans between December 7th 1941 and June 7th 1942 as “Midway” plots it way through the history books. Though Emmerich is usually known for his big explosions and disaster level sequences, here he tries to appease a different audience. Too bad he uses modern digital tools and clunky looking CGI to help fill his frames. At least Micheal Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” had some sass and confidence and say what you will about the overall quality of that film, Bay knows how to stage exceptional off-the-wall action sequences, a touch that Emmerich has seem to forgotten.
“Midway” is about the cheapest looking $100 million project to hit the screen (thanks, in large part, to Emmerich, ironically I might add, raising much of the films budget from Chinese investors). But there are those (like myself) who will fork over money to see just about any war movie, yet there’s little to enjoy. It’s kind of confusing with how many characters “Midway” decides to throw on screen, resulting in a hodgepodge of solid actors - including Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson, Ed Skerin, Dennis Quaid, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, and Darrin Criss - all fighting for screen time.
The film, however, predominantly follows one real-life fighter pilot who might be able to give Maverick from “Top Gun” a run for his money. He’s the cliche rule-breaking “cowboy” who flies as if he doesn’t care if he’ll make it home alive. That’s Dick Best (Skrein), the kind of daredevil who enjoys disabling his plane just so he can prove he can land if his plane is ever flanked by the enemy (you can bet all the practice will come into play near the climax). “Midway” is structured around those heroics and these heroes: In a much smaller role, there’s Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) whose act of bravery during a Japanese attack earned him a promotion on the spot, but the scene is hardly effective, coming across like a dramatization you’d see in a History Channel documentary. In other words, there’s no real weight and Jonas’ horrid Brooklyn accent will definitely live on in infamy.
Another key player - and likely the most crucial to winning the war - is Edwin T Layton (Wilson - perfectly casted) a gifted intelligence officer who projects a wonderful earnestness that almost brings the film to life (Layton had warned superiors that something like the Pearl Harbor attack might happen). At least Wilson tries to make some sense of his character, whereas Harrelson cashes an easy check as Admiral Chester Nimitz and Eckhart has a blink and you’ll miss it cameo as Jimmy Doolittle whose raid on enemy forces was left on the cutting room floor.
Which brings us the Pearl Harbor attack itself in the film, and it’s oddly silly and doesn’t leave a lasting impact. Given the resources Emmerich utilized in his earlier disaster pics, you scratch your head wondering why you don’t care about anything that’s happening on screen. It’s probably a cross between we have no real connection to these characters being introduced and how cheap the effects are.
The film’s second act is slightly more engaging, as we move into Japan, where the pic finds Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) caught in the political struggles about the direction of the war. The one thing Emmerich does exceptionally in “Midway” is that he doesn’t completely dehumanize the Japanese characters. In fact, the film follows Yamamoto and other naval leaders in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, as they try to disable U.S. Pacific forces.
Obviously, “Midway” wants to offer justice to the brave men who fought for our country, but the film hardly brings these real people to life. There are moments where the pilots and the soldiers are pumped about bombing the enemy, and are ready to lead their men into battle with the “Sound off!” attitude of yesteryear. Many times, I waited for “Midway” to excite me about their accomplishments, but the characters lazily directed amazement did little to motivate me. I never thought I’d tell people they should stay home and watch the aforementioned 2001 “Pearl Harbor” instead, and alas here we are.