Midway Movie Review
Not all war movies were made to win awards. Roland Emmerich’s Midway, released during award season and boasting a $100 million budget, has questionable dialogue, midrange casting and so-so visual effects. And yet there’s no denying its earnestness, its willingness to deliver exactly what was intended: war spectacle, American heroism, and entertainment value.
Emmerich, he of Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, and the destruction movie to end all destruction movies, 2012, is not known for his subtle touch, and there’s nothing subtle about Midway, which begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and quickly shifts to the machinations leading up to the Battle of Midway six months later, a decisive battle that helped turn the war against Japan. Working from Wes Tooke’s first theatrical screenplay, the characters say their emotions, demonstrate consistently how unafraid of death they are, and do other things you’d expect from a war movie made 50 years ago.
While the dialogue is a little cringe-inducing, at least at first, it is obvious Midway was never designed to win over critics or achieve acclaim. If you go in accepting that, and with the willingness to simply watch and enjoy an old-school war movie, Midway delivers on its promise.
In that regard, Emmerich is actually a good fit to helm such a film. A director best suited for another age—his best movies are from decades earlier—Emmerich has always had an eye for in-your-face action and bold visual effects. The effects here aren’t exactly award-winning, but they are detailed and plentiful. More importantly, the action and effects do their job, to portray the intensity and chaos of war.
Midway is by no means Emmerich’s best work; even from an action perspective, he sometimes rushes things—for example, he plunges the audience into the Pearl Harbor attack with no build-up or suspense—when a little more restraint would have gone a long way. Even still, when in the fight, Midway maintains a certain degree of excitement.
Where Midway falters the most is in its character development. While Ed Skrein, Luke Evans and others do their best, the material they’re working with simply isn’t up to par. The movie introduces too many interchangeable characters—even Skrein and Evans look a tad similar—and never really places its bets on a core cast. When the fighting gets real, the stakes never feel as great as they could have had you really cared for the various characters just a bit more.
Interestingly, the movie dedicates itself to both the Americans and Japanese soldiers who fought in the battle, an honorable mention given we’re now 80 years removed. As much as Midway casts a traditional American perspective, it does give a fair amount of screen time to the Japanese, even if, as usually is the case, the Japanese are shown as emotionless, honor-oriented individuals who don’t operate like real people. Again, better writing probably could have still cast them as the bad guys while giving them a bit more humanity.
Midway isn’t a great movie, but with lots of war action and a respectable depiction of one of the greatest naval battles ever recorded, it serves as an enjoyable and entertainment piece of throwback fare.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.