Midway is a World War 2 action movie directed by Roland Emmerich based on the fallout of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Battle of Midway. It sells itself as being a war epic from yesteryear and by that measure it succeeds.
The story mostly follows the exploits of American ace pilot Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) and the cautious, yet cunning, intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Watson). The comparisons between this movie and Michael Bay’s 2001 blockbuster are inevitable, both because of the setting as well as the tone they strike. Midway tries to distance itself initially by portraying a very contained and more intimate version of the events of Pearl Harbor. In that respect, it fails, because it feels like it shows us a small story that wasn’t covered in Bay’s film; it never quite escapes its’ forefather’s gravity. Nonetheless, it does well in setting the stakes and establishing the resolve of the Americans for the titular battle.
The film does well portraying the grandiosity of aviatic warfare over the pacific. The greatest strength of this movie is that it does more with less. Granted, a lot of computer generated naval crafts often fill the screen, an opening panning shot of a carrier deck with virtual sailors make it clear that if you’re on a budget you should expect visuals reminiscent of 1998’s Titanic. This makes the movie better, because instead of wasting frames on impossible air maneuvers and spectacle, it builds tension around hair-raising bombing-dives and character vignettes. The movie looks to be shot on film. The look of the grain, paired with the slightly washed-out color grading, gives it a very striking look that I found very enjoyable and countered much of what would be bothersome in the cheaper CG-employed.
It is difficult to say if the restraint displayed for its’ action scenes is entirely intentional or a result of the budget. Good performances are delivered overall and Nick Jonas does give Harry Styles’s turn in Dunkirk a run for its’ money. However, restraint is definitely its’ greatest failure in modernising the war film formula. Roland Emerich’s movie is at least more generous in its portrayal of the Japanese forces. It shows them as stern and honor-bound, yet gives no background to their motivations.
The movie doesn’t try to stir any controversy by demonising or even humanising the enemy. The Americans are portrayed as pure blue collar underdogs with no flaws, except for the occasional bout of doubt caused by the fear of dying in battle. The movie does not address the Americans neutral position prior to Pearl Harbor either. Interestingly, the movie does indirectly portray the massacre of Chinese civilians with through scenes featuring Aaron Eckhart.
Ultimately, that’s what you should expect from Midway: a picture with good action that omits a lot to keep from getting its hands dirty. In 2019, that’s fine but also what keeps it from being an important piece of cinema.
Check out the trailer for Midway below!
Elevation Pictures releases Midway in theatres on Friday, November 9, 2019
[Review by Nico Blier]