Midway, directed by Roland Emmerich, 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 covers an approximate 6-month span, from the attack at Pearl Harbor, to the decisive battle at Midway Atoll.
Native Londoner Ed Skrein stars as pilot Lieutenant Dick Best. Skrein delivers his lines with a slightly over-the-top New Jersey accent but capably serves as the film’s reluctant hero. Skrein is supported by veteran actors including Patrick Wilson (Edwin Layton), Woody Harrelson (Admiral Nimitz), and Dennis Quaid (Vice Admiral “Bull” Halsey) whose performance bordered on comedic.
The action begins almost immediately, and rarely abates throughout. Facts take center stage as the action jumps between locations, but fortunately, on-screen captions help orient viewers with dates and locations.
It’s ambitious to cram 6 months of history into a 140-minute film, and it seems filmmakers were thankfully more concerned with providing tactical history than attempting to weave in the intricacies of personal drama (unlike the grievously inaccurate and saccharine-laden Pearl Harbor film from 2001).
Emmerich presents a very “pretty” film, avoiding the gritty realism found in bloodier war movies such as Hacksaw Ridge and Saving Private Ryan. He avoids intimacy of violence even while portraying close-ups of life loss and injury. Gruesome realities of gunshot wounds and explosions are kept at a palatable minimum. Of course, this could be an intent to keep the film at a PG-13 rating to reach a broader audience.
There are several war movie clichés peppered throughout the film, and where sophisticated dialogue is lacking, action scenes saturated with effects dominate the screen and become overwhelming.
The visual effects are a major player in the production. In some shots it is obvious that many of the mid- to close-up scenes utilized a green screen. One particularly awful instance is a scene with Woody Harrelson showing Washington D.C. in the distance.
Midway presents what appears to be a factually accurate portrayal of the events surrounding what is sometimes called the most important American-involved battle of WWII. It takes dry historical facts and presents them in an interesting drama. Ignore some of the amateur effects and dismiss the campy dialogue. See it on a big screen so you can appreciate the thousands of explosions. It might make for a pleasant evening.
A word of caution is urged for anyone living with PTSD. The action (dogfights, gunfire, explosions, etc.) is unrelenting.