Film Review: ‘Midway,’ a Great War Film

An old-school, heroic, and supremely well-made war movie
November 16, 2019 Updated: November 18, 2019

PG-13 | 2h 18min | Action, Drama, History | 8 November 2019

As a military veteran, I was looking forward to a good war movie this Veterans Day weekend. A few of the trailers for director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway” sported some of the most impressive visuals I’ve seen in quite some time, but that wasn’t much of surprise. After all, this is the same man who brought us spectacle-laden films like “Independence Day” (1996) and “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004). However, I was cautiously optimistic. I hoped that it wouldn’t be a cornball fest like Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” (2001) or the original “Midway” effort from 1976. It wasn’t.

The film retells the three primary events that led up to the now epic clash between the United States and Japanese naval fleets at Midway Island: the Japanese ambush at Pearl Harbor (December 1941), the Doolittle bombing raid over Japan (April 1942), and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942). These three primers culminated in the eventual, decisive Battle of Midway (June 1942), when the U.S. Navy used guile and guts to turn back Japan’s aggressive bid for the Pacific theater (and eventually the entire West Coast of North America).

During the film’s 2-hour-and-18-minute runtime, we get to meet various U.S. naval heroes, including Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid), who is the commander of the USS Enterprise. Whereas the 1957 version of the film had an equally impressive cast, it focused more on these senior officers.

Here, the story is told primarily from the point of view of the lower ranks: namely, the cocky, gum-chewing pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein), and intelligence operative Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson). This approach makes the film much more immersive, as you get a more intimate look into the lives of the men who had their feet closer to the ground (or deck, as the case may be).

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Luke Evans (L) and Ed Skrein as U.S. flyboys in “Midway.” (Lionsgate)

Fortunately, the perspective on the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy and their legendary military culture is given a fair and balanced portrayal. Although the film touches on the outrageous atrocities carried out by the Japanese, particularly against the Chinese, it does allow for more historical complexity than painting the former with one broad brushstroke.

Emmerich’s (along with writer Wes Tooke) retelling of the Pacific War is candid, without any of the sappy romances or convoluted subplots featured in the 1957 version. Their no-frills approach unabashedly celebrates honor, duty, patriotism, selflessness, and masculinity—straight up.

Thankfully, there is no trace of the hyper-political correctness that plagues modern films these days. Even the slower moments are terse and serve to describe the tremendous training of these brave naval pilots and the crucial intelligence gathering and strategic planning that their superiors engaged in.

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Ed Skrein (R) in “Midway.” (Lionsgate)

Of course, one of the main draws of the film is the battle scenes themselves. Instead of the overblown, cheesy silliness (but admitted fun) of “Independence Day,” the CGI effects featured here look much more realistic and give a definite sense of gravitas to the life-and-death struggles unfolding on the silver screen.

Not only are the effects impressive, but the cinematography is outstanding and engenders a sense of both exhilaration and jaw-dropping wonderment. Few war films really give me a sense of being there, but this one did. Especially during the final balls-to-the-walls scenes where Lt. Best and his cohorts go all out in their dive-bombing attempts on Japanese ships.

While Harrelson and Quaid are at their usual best, the rest of the supporting cast is also superb. As mentioned, Wilson is a naval intelligence officer (and code-cracker), who is trying to convince his superiors that a major Japanese attack will happen at Midway Island, and soon.

Other standouts include Mandy Moore as Best’s dutiful wife, Ann, who supports him in his effort to transmute his brashness into focused fury. Also impressive is Nick Jonas as naval machinist Bruno Gaido and Luke Evans as naval flyboy Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky.

Nick Jonas in Midway
Nick Jonas in “Midway.” (Lionsgate)

“Midway” is even more impressive than expected. It effectively honors the real-life military heroes who served our great country in one of its crucial hours of need—and then some. It is well-paced and avoids much of the unnecessary melodrama that bloats lesser war films. It also isn’t needlessly gory, yet it has enough action to fill out its PG-13 rating. As it stands, this newest “Midway,” decades from now, could be considered a classic war film.

‘Midway
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 8, 2019
Rated: 5 stars out of 5

Ian Kane is a filmmaker and author based out of Los Angeles. To see more, visit DreamFlightEnt.com or contact him at Twitter.com/ImIanKane

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