Review: Midway

Year: 2019

Runtime: 138 Minutes

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Wes Tooke

Stars: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Luke Evans, Mandy Moore

By Caelyn O’Reilly

Roland Emmerich makes two kinds of movies; films that are utterly stupid but buckets of fun (“Independence Day” and “White House Down”), and films that are just as stupid but also painfully dull (pretty much all of his other movies). Neither is a good description of a WWII movie, particularly one that – in its opening text – claims to be a “true account”. But worse is “Midway” very much fits into the latter category of Roland’s filmography.

The primary concern of most audiences intending to see a war film made by the director of “Independence Day” is the action, and Roland is plenty capable of making an exciting and memorable action sequence. Unfortunately, the plentiful spectacle in this film is hampered by CGI that looks lifted from an Xbox 360 game (an alarmingly common problem with Chinese-American co-productions such as this) and the sheer difficulty of depicting naval and air battles on film seemingly being too much for the filmmakers.

“The performances are stiff across the board. Patrick Wilson and Woody Harrelson are near robotic as military leaders largely absent from the action.”

The recent wild success of “Dunkirk” in regards to filming aerial dogfights leaves Emmerich’s approach of filming actors shouting in cockpits with CGI planes doing the heavy lifting feeling remarkably outdated and underwhelming. Combined with the low-quality special effects, this results in much of the action being weightless and unengaging. This would be bad enough for a standard action-fantasy smash-em-up, but for a war movie attempting to bring to life real battles and tragedies, this sinks the film right out of the gate.

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Luke Kleintank and Ed Skrein in Midway (2019) (IMDB)

But the flaws only begin there. The performances are stiff across the board. Patrick Wilson and Woody Harrelson are near robotic as military leaders largely absent from the action. British leads Ed Skrein and Luke Evans are smothered by broad American accents. And none of them is aided by the stilted dialogue of Wes Tooke’s film-debut screenplay. Though Tooke has slotted into the director’s style as the usual Roland Emmerich tropes are present and accounted for.

These include the overwhelming number of action setpieces and the cast of thousands spread out over the globe, as well as smaller elements like the Emmerich standard tech nerd, in the form of real-life codebreaker Joseph Rochefort. This real man and American hero is reduced to a stereotype in the vein of Brent Spiner in “Independence Day” or Woody Harrelson in “2012”. This scene also dodges the opportunity to show the audience the fascinating mechanics of codebreaking in favour of a dumbed-down metaphor that displays the film’s disinterest in the mechanisms of war, being far more interested in rushing to the next PS3 cutscene of an action sequence.

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Woody Harrelson in Midway (2019) (IMDB)

Though all of these flaws fall into irrelevancy when compared to the film’s biggest problem, it is fatally overstuffed. The film attempts to cover the lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the attack itself, The Doolittle Raid and its aftermath for the pilots who land in China, an American raid on the Marshall Islands, and finally the Battle of Midway itself; all in about two hours and ten minutes. War films need a deft touch to portray the real-life horrors of combat with the respect they need, but “Midway” has no time for that as it’s constantly barging through history to get to its underwhelming climax.

“Midway” is constantly trying to backfill emotional value into its “G.I. Joe” imaginings of WWII battles and these disparate approaches never mesh…through its framing and choice of which events to show and focus on, it creates the worst thing a Roland Emmerich film can be; a dumb, boring mess.”

Nothing epitomises this more than the disastrously misjudged Pearl Harbor sequence. Neither the location nor any of the characters directly involved in the attack are introduced before it begins, except for two sailors that are given barely ten seconds of screen time before the bullets begin flying. They are a pair of hurriedly established archetypes – the stern commander and the frightened recruit – with the film desperately attempting to use them as the emotional anchor for the sequence and it fails miserably. These comically underdeveloped stereotypes combined with the film’s lacklustre CGI and mediocre cinematography result in a rendition of one of the most infamous military tragedies of all time that had me laughing from embarrassment.

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Mandy Moore and Ed Skrein in Midway (2019) (IMDB)

“Midway” is constantly trying to backfill emotional value into its “G.I. Joe” imaginings of WWII battles and these disparate approaches never mesh. Attempts at sympathetic portrayals of the Japanese sailors are juxtaposed with a final blow to their fleet that’s creepily reminiscent of the “Star Wars” trench run on steroids, with Ed Skrein dropping a bomb perfectly into the centre of a big, red bullseye. Whether or not the events depicted in the film are accurate to real-life is not something I can say, but through its framing and choice of which events to show and focus on, it creates the worst thing a Roland Emmerich film can be; a dumb, boring mess.

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