Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Premise: A dramatization of the naval conflicts between the United States and Japan in the first six months of World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States’ military and intelligence services angle for the upper hand in the Pacific, leading to the Battle of Midway.
What Works: Midway combines old fashioned filmmaking with contemporary cinematic techniques. It is intended as a feel-good patriotic piece that reaffirms American reverence for the professionalism and sacrifice of those who serve in the armed forces and the movie does that satisfactorily. This is a combat film and Midway contains plenty of air battles between American aircraft and Japanese warships. The production values are impressive. The digital effects are quite convincing and everything is well rendered with a vivid visual feel. Midway also successfully reconciles its need to depict warfare with the commercial necessity of putting on a show. The filmmakers maintain an appropriate reverence for the reality of these events; the movie doesn’t come across as through it is exploiting real life deaths for the sake of a spectacle.
What Doesn’t: Midway provides a balanced portrait of the American and Japanese forces, going out of its way to avoid the racist caricatures that were so often found in films made after the war. (Notably, 1976’s Midway also humanized the Japanese characters and did a better job.) But 2019’s Midway equivocates so much that it downplays any moral distinction between the Allied and Axis forces and tears the dramatic heart out of the material. The Battle of Midway was such a dramatic event because it was a showdown between democratic and fascistic forces. By passing over that distinction, Midway reduces the battle to a bunch of maneuvers. No one is fighting for anything and so the outcome doesn’t matter or have any larger implications. And that is the fatal flaw of this movie. Midway is emotionally flat. The battle scenes are a lot of furious action that signifies nothing. The film’s dramatic lifelessness is also a result of its failure to adequately characterize anyone. With the exception of a fighter pilot played by Ed Skrein, no one in Midway is interesting or characterized with any depth. The characters lack the desires, flaws, and personal quirks that would distinguish them as people with unique backgrounds. There are a lot of characters in this film and most of them are generic war movie types who speak and behave interchangeably. The story jerks the audience around with the action jumping from the United States’ naval command to the various ships on both sides of the conflict and the movie is overstuffed. Because everyone and the conflict they are enmeshed in are so bland there’s nothing prompting the viewer to care if these men live through the battle or not.
Bottom Line: Midway is an empty exercise in special effects. It’s not a badly intentioned film but 2019’s Midway is so morally timid that the filmmakers forget what these men were fighting for. The end result not only fails as a historical drama and an action film but also as a tribute to the armed forces.
Episode: #776 (November 17, 2019)