Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Etsushi Toyokawa, Tadanobu Asano, Luke Kleintank, Jun Kunimura, Darren Criss, Keean Johnson, Alexander Ludwig, with Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson
Runtime: 2 hrs 18 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 7 November 2019
Synopsis: MIDWAY centers on the Battle of Midway, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The film, based on the real-life events of this heroic feat, tells the story of the leaders and soldiers who used their instincts, fortitude and bravery to overcome the odds.
For four days in June 1942, American and Japanese Naval forces engaged in a fierce cat-and-mouse game out at sea, the outcome of which would turn the tide of World War II’s Pacific Theatre. It is not hard to guess why Roland Emmerich had signed on to this historical epic – not only would it give him the chance to apply his gift for big-screen spectacle, it would bestow upon him a certain legitimacy as a serious filmmaker which had otherwise evaded him till this day. And indeed, ‘Midway’ is exactly how you would imagine Emmerich taking the helm of large-scale combat action, every bit as breathtaking, loud and even jaw-dropping as the likes of ‘Independence Day’ and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ would have set you up for.
It isn’t just the titular battle itself which Emmerich recreates here; in fact, his opening act is a reconstruction of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, told largely from the perspective of an officer and a sailor who were on board the USS Arizona (which eventually sank) when the Japanese struck. Right from the beginning, Emmerich demonstrates his keen eye for visuals, alternating deftly between close-ups and long shots to convey both breadth and intimacy to the bombings. It is though just a prelude to the main act, but important to establish that momentous turn in WWII when the previously neutral Americans were drawn into the conflict, while exposing just how vulnerable they were relative to the naval superiority of their enemies.
The piece de resistance unfolds through a number of points-of-view which the rest of the first hour sets up: back at Pearl Harbour, where the fleet admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and his intelligence chief Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) had to make a strategic choice just where the Japanese fleet were; on board the USS Enterprise, where dive bomber Richard ‘Dick’ Best (Ed Skrein) and fellow pilot Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) are forced to exercise strategic patience while awaiting orders from Pacific command; and last but not least, within the Japanese fleet, where Rear Admiral Tamon Yamuguchi (Tadanobu Asano) is in strategic tension with the Army over how, where and what to attack the Americans on.
Besides the aforementioned, there are also plenty of supporting parts – these include the USS Enterprise sailor Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas) whose spontaneous heroism earned him an on-the-spot promotion; Best’s flying partner James Murray (Keean Johnson) who will overcome his fear of dying to prove a reliable wingman; the USS Enterprise comamnder Vice-Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey (Dennis Quaid) who had to be relieved just before the Midway battle because of a bad case of shingles; and Lieutanant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) who led a surprise retaliatory raid on Tokyo. It’s a very crowded ensemble all right, and probably little surprise that few get much character development in newcomer Wes Tooke’s functional script.
To Emmerich, as well as to Tooke, these characters matter only insofar as the weight of their decisions and actions on the course of events leading up to and during the Battle of Midway itself. Except therefore for some token screen time given to Best’s wife (Mandy Moore), there is little else known about the other characters beyond their professional capacity, and it doesn’t help that Tooke’s sometimes clunky dialogue renders most of them no better than standard-issue archetypes. Notwithstanding, there are plenty of opportunities to ensure that their spirit of courage, determination and self-sacrifice are on full display, so you’ll most certainly be filled with respect for each and every one of them featured in the title cards just before the end credits.
As you may expect, the best bits within the two-and-a-half hour long film place us within the seat of daredevil pilot Dick Best, especially as he fearlessly dives at a nearly vertical angle at the Japanese aircraft carriers in order to ensure that he drop his lethal payload with pinpoint accuracy. Even though Emmerich repeats the same perspective several times during the movie, the thrill of each of these dive-bombing sequences is just as exhilarating every time. Just as exciting are the multiple aerial combat scenes, which show with utmost clarity the American and Japanese planes engaged in fierce and intense dogfights against sunlit skies, and it is to Emmerich’s credit that you feel a sheer adrenaline rush each time you are in the air with these aviators.
So even though it could do with better writing, ‘Midway’ still holds up as a rousing WWII movie that re-stages the legendary naval battle beautifully. Some liberties with the characters aside, Emmerich makes the effort to get the historical detail right, and it is no coincidence that the film is opening during the Veterans’ Day weekend in the United States. Than go the character-driven way which recent WWII movies (like ‘Dunkirk’) has done, Emmerich aims and accomplishes an old-fashioned war blockbuster with spectacular aerial sequences which places us right in the heartstopping seat of the pilots. In this regard, it is epic, stirring and poignant all right, and we dare say everything you’ll probably be expecting of Emmerich at the helm of a WWII extravaganza.
(Every bit as breathtaking, loud and even jaw-dropping as you would expect a Roland Emmerich movie to be, this faithful recreation of the pivotal Battle of Midway overcomes its functional storytelling with crackerjack aerial action)
Review by Gabriel Chong