I hate to say this but one thing that always keeps my expectations in check is seeing Roland Emmerich’s name attached to a project. For me he is the epitome of a hit-or-miss filmmaker. When he misses the results can be pretty dreadful (see 1998’s “Godzilla”, “White House Down”, and “Independence Day: Resurgence”). But he’s also the guy who gave us the rip-roaring original “Independence Day” and I still have plenty of love for “The Patriot”.
But what of his latest, the historical war picture “Midway”? Within minutes of watching I couldn’t help but pick up on the old-school movie vibes that informs us on the kind of film Emmerich is going for. It’s a movie that celebrates the valor, grit and patriotism of those who fought and sacrificed for their country. It may be a by-the-books tribute, but I still have room for entertaining old-fashioned war pictures even if others (unfortunately) dismiss them as out-of-date.
The film attempts to cover a lot of ground starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor then onto the eventual Battle of Midway. Along the way we meet fighter pilots, admirals, specialists, and codebreakers who with others planned and carried out what is still considered one of the most pivotal naval battles in United States military history. There are plenty of action sequences, almost all of it being air and sea combat. But there are just as many (if not more) scenes of tense military strategizing.
“Midway” follows numerous characters but the main is a hotshot pilot and squadron commander Dick Best (Ed Skrein). He loses a close friend at Pearl Harbor which makes him eager to take the fight to Japan despite having a concerned wife (Mandy Moore) and toddler daughter at home. Woody Harrelson plays Admiral Chester Nimitz, the unlucky soul put in charge of the Pacific fleet and tasked with putting together the US response. And the always reliable Patrick Wilson plays Edwin Layton, the chief intelligence officer who tried to warn Washington about the Pearl Harbor attack.
Several other familiar faces pop in and out of the story including Luke Evans, Dennis Quaid, Aaron Eckhart and Nick Jonas. With such a list of reliable talent naturally the performances are solid throughout. Yet there is so much bouncing back-and-forth between war rooms and aerial engagements we rarely get the character depth that would have made this film really stand out. As a strict military procedural it works well, but it’s the human element that sometimes falls through the cracks.
Again, Emmerich gives as much attention to the buildup as he does the warfare. It makes sense considering the actual Battle of Midway was just as much about the tactics and maneuvering as the fighting. “Midway” strikes a good balance and keeps a steady pacing right through to the inevitable combat-heavy finale. Speaking of the combat, the action scenes are surprisingly thrilling despite a heavy dependence on CGI. A little repetitive but still exciting.
Yes, “Midway” gives us the occasional line of dialogue that seems pulled from the John Wayne era, but it’s still a fitting and fun way to remember those who fought and sacrificed in a signature battle in American military history. And sure, the film’s unabashed patriotism is out of fashion today and certain to face cries of jingoism. But I’m glad movies like this occasionally come down the pipeline and “Midway” is a nice surprise from “Emmerich”.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS