The story of the Battle of Midway, told by the leaders and the sailors who fought it. (from IMDb)
Historical events are sensitive subjects to make movies out of. But the battle of Midway is an extraordinary story that seems destined to be told on the big screen -- and it has been. But the 2019 telling of Midway isn't a remake of the 1976 film of the same name; it gives the story a different vantage point through the eyes of real sailors who fought in the battle. This film follows fighter pilot Dick Best, played by Ed Skrein, a cocky soldier who was good at his job and played an essential role in this battle. Director Roland Emmerich, whose bread and butter has always been big budget disaster films like Independence Day (and its abysmal sequel), the goofy 1998 U.S. version of Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, helms this story, and he definitely has the might to handle the vastness of the battle imagery and scale of the film, but his weaknesses as a director also affect the film's overall outcome.
First off, hinging the emotional weight of Midway on Skrein's arrogant and conceited Dick Best is a risky one. Right off the bat, Skrein feels like he's overacting, and his character is anything but likeable. Ironically, pretty much anybody else who shares the screen with Skrein is, and it makes it more frustrating to be following his character through the story. Thankfully, he does ease up and grow as the battle progresses, but it takes a good portion of the movie to get to that point (and I still didn't feel very attached to him by film's end). Emmerich employs the latest in digital technology to recreate Pearl Harbor in the 1940's, as well as most of the vehicles we seen in the movie. It's often impressive, but it's also pretty obvious these actors aren't really on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean. Everything from the way they look against the backdrop of the sea, to the way the sunlight hits them feels a bit off (which is made clear when we find out in the movie's special features that a portion of the USS Enterprise's deck was recreated on a soundstage, surrounded by blue screen). This, alongside all of the digital recreations of the dogfights, ship wreckage, and destruction, lends a synthetic feel to the film. It doesn't completely sink Midway, but to those sensitive to the abundance of CG in instances like this, it can really harm the authenticity they're chasing after. (Christopher Nolan's 2017 war film Dunkirk felt especially intimate due to the way he chased after detail and tangible sets to base his scenes in, and it feels so much more impactful because of it.)
With that said, what makes Midway work when it does is its players and their performances. 2001's Pearl Harbor, which was directed by Michael Bay, used a love triangle at the center of the story (and a pretty-faced central cast) to draw in the summer blockbuster audience, emotionally and visually. Sure, it was an entertaining action epic, but it also checked all the boxes for a Michael Bay action film. Midway focuses a lot more on the men themselves and the drama of trying to prevent another Pearl Harbor attack, and far less on the kind of drama that made Titanic a hit with teens (Hey, I'll admit I was one of those teens!), making this a more mature telling of the story. The only romantic drama in the entirety of Midway is, in fact, hardly very dramatic at all. Mandy Moore plays Dick's wife, Ann, and she exists to add some emotional depth and further value to Best's life as a soldier. (And she's wonderful here, too.) So since the story mostly hones in on what went on behind the scenes, involving the Japanese leaders at times, as well as the various U.S. officials and even the codebreakers, we get a story very focused on the sailors and who fought in the war and how it played out. Highlights include Patrick Wilson as intelligence expert Edwin Layton, Woody Harrelson as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Luke Evans as Wade McClusky, and Aaron Eckhart as Jimmy Doolittle.
Especially with disaster movie mogul Roland Emmerich in the director's chair, it's easy to feel like some of the things that happen in Midway are too fantastical to believe. And perhaps they are, but apparently a lot, if not most, of what happens during the film is based on events that actually occurred--to the point where screenwriter Wes Tooke (TV's Colony) insists that the events are true even if they seem exaggerated. Emmerich does a good job playing up some events for dramatic purposes and entertainment value, but without knowing exactly how things played out, or Tooke's disclaimer, it can really feel like Emmerich does a lot of his usual grand embellishment here (and again, the excessive use of CGI does not help this).
The content for Midway is surprisingly mild for a war epic. There is plenty of language (including a use of the "F" word from none other than Nick Jonas) and blasphemy, but the most obvious concern would be the amount of violence in the movie. It's seldom very graphic, although there are certainly bloody moments--with the grossest moment being two quick glimpses of a charred dead body under a sheet after the battle of Pearl Harbor--but these moments are never focused on in detail. Even when major characters take a bullet, there's no close-up shot or focus on it (if anything, it's kind of matter-of-fact). Most of the film's bloody moments are fleeting and subtle, making Midway one of the lighter war movies, in that department--especially by today's standards. (However, Dunkirk may win the award for having the least amount of blood shown in a war film in recent years.)
Midway is a flawed war epic, but it does enough right to get its point across in recreating one of the most important battles of all time. It sets out to honor the bravery and sacrifice of these men and I think it does just that. It's violent and intense at times, but it isn't as gratuitous as many modern war dramas. Director Roland Emmerich's track record is a bumpy one, but Midway is one of the brighter spots on his filmography, even if it might have been a stronger film in a different director's hands.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/23/20)
The 4K UHD combo pack of Midway includes the feature film in stunning 4K UHD, the standard Blu-Ray disc and a digital copy, along with the following Extras:
Midway in 4K UHD - Midway is vibrant and colorful in 4K UHD with HDR (High Dynamic Range). It's possible that the boost in color made the synthetic feel of all of the blue screen all that more obvious, but it's unmistakable that this movie looks really great in the crisp 4K presentation. I wouldn't say this movie is a must to see in this format, but it certainly is a good one. I was surprised to find that all of the movie's special features appeared on the 4K disc, as well as the digital version (with the exception of a Trailer on the 4K disc, but not in the digital Extras... while the digital Extras did offer a feature-length director's Commentary, which I didn't spot on the 4K disc.).
Getting It Right: The Making of Midway (14:16) - To make this film, both the writer and director set out to make the movie as true and authentic as possible. While they decided it was impossible to shoot the movie on the water, they built the deck of the USS Enterprise, complete with some key rooms, on a full sound stage. They also built a couple of their own planes from scratch (even getting plans from the Smithsonian Museum), paying attention to the closest of details. They wanted to honor these men and tell both sides of the war. (1 "S" word)
The Men of Midway (12:24) goes through the film's characters and the actors who played them, focusing on the brotherhood of these sailors--and the actors on set. (Most of these were from scenes taken from the movie: 1 "F" word, 2 "S" words, 2 "*ssh*le," 1 "bad*ss," 1 "G*dd*mn")
Roland Emmerich: Man in a Mission (4:57) - The cast and crew talk about working with Roland, while he talks about trying to get this movie made for the past 20 years and how it finally came together.
Turning Point: The Legacy of Midway (15:01) is more so a documentary about Midway with experts talking about the battle, giving a summary of what happened (and showing clips from the movie). (1 "G*dd*mn, 1 "S.O.B." in scenes, 1 "h*ll")
Joe Rochefort: Breaking the Japanese Code (6:14) is dedicated to code breaking during the war and Rochefort's brilliance in cracking the secret Japanese code.
We Met at Midway: Two Survivors Remember (9:29) - Aviation Radioman Charles Monroe, who is 96 years old, and Chief Aviation Ordinanceman Ervin Wendt, who is 103, talk about their experiences at Pearl Harbor and Midway and how the two meet each year on the USS Midway to recall and honor their time in the war together.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/23/20)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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