MIDWAY: Pacific naval battle
Second World War story told by the leaders and sailors who fought it
BASED on the decisive Second World War naval battle of the same name, Midway is an ambitious wartime epic that aims to tell the story of the conflict and the months leading up to it from both US and Japanese viewpoints. A supposed passion project for director Roland Emmerich, known for films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, the film doesn’t part from Emmerich’s usual American patriotism and blockbuster action.
The film features an ensemble cast whose characters are almost all based on real-life soldiers involved in the battle. Midway’s main focus is Lieutenant Richard ‘Dick’ Best (Ed Skrein), a typical gung-ho, plays-by- his-own-rules pilot who becomes integral to the US victory. We also see how codebreakers were key to the American strategy through the other main character of Lieutenant Commander Edwin T Layton (Patrick Wilson).
Other characters include many of the leaders within the fight, such as Admiral Chester W Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and Vice Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey (Dennis Quaid). From the marketing material and my own expectations, I was surprised to find how much of the Japanese viewpoint was shown in the film. Seeing commanders such as Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (Tadanobu Asano) and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) strive for victory, but ultimately fail, does reinforce the American patriotism of the film, but it is nice to see that players from both sides have been acknowledged for their bravery and sacrifice.
The cast all do well in their roles, fulfilling a lot of the typical soldier-type characters you expect to see in a Second World War film. The film does suffer from quite a poor script though, unashamedly incorporating many US war film clichés. The film is awash with macho-masculinity, unbreakable bonds of brotherhood and suicidal courage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just feels like a historical film that focuses on positive war propaganda rather than the horrific complexities of human conflict.
The film’s biggest problem is most certainly its effects. It almost felt as if the filmmakers were forbidden from shooting on location or on any significant constructed set. Practically any scene that takes place outside is obviously – and annoyingly – shot in front of a green screen. This wouldn’t be too bad if the CGI used wasn’t so subpar in comparison to other contemporary blockbusters.
The poor effects really did suck me out of the story at times. I understand Emmerich’s ambition to put such a massive naval battle on film required such effects, but the lack of tangible physicality to any of the planes or ships does lessen the film’s overall impact. Despite this though, the battles (especially the aerial dogfights) are pretty visually exciting and tense, preventing the film from being a total dud. I’d be surprised to find someone in the cinema that wasn’t silently joyous at the American victory. Midway will certainly please Second World War enthusiasts with its historical accuracy and hopeful story, but I doubt it will ever be remembered as fondly as other more gritty and complex war epics such as Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk.