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Saturday, 1 February 2020

Midway (2020)

(M) ★★½

Director: Roland Emmerich.

Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Keann Johnson, Woody Harrelson, Etsushi Toyokawa, Dennis Quaid, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, Brennan Brown, Aaron Eckhart.

A version of The Village People's In The Navy was imminent.
The bar for modern-era movies about Pearl Harbour is pretty low thanks to Michael Bay. Fellow fan of blowing shit up, Roland Emmerich, gets over that bar, but only just, with his take on Pearl Harbour and its aftermath in WWII movie Midway.

The film, which is reportedly the biggest budget independent film of all time, is a weird mix of the historically accurate and the unforgivably fake. It features some surprisingly bad special effects and dire dialogue, weighing down this often compelling war film. It tells its potted history pretty well, and even gives a bit of time over to telling the Japanese side of things, but doesn't do it well enough to overlook its faults.

After a brief 1937 prologue in Tokyo, introducing intelligence officer Edwin T. Layton (Wilson) and Japanese commander-in-chief Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa), the film starts proper at the attack on Pearl Harbour, where Japanese planes decimated the then-neutral American forces stationed at Honolulu.

As the American intelligence team, led by Layton and Admiral Chester Nimitz (Harrelson), scramble to strike back and figure out what the Japanese will do next, fighter pilots such as Dick Best (Skrein) and Wade McClusky (Evans) are itching to get revenge.


For those of us who aren't war historians, Midway tells its potentially convoluted tale of battles, tactics, admirals, pilots and boats with a simple ease. A bit more characterisation wouldn't have gone astray - it's introductions for characters and their relationships is perfunctory at best and eye-rollingly bad at worst - but it does a reasonable job of keeping things moving while often bringing in a lot of new information or new faces.

A miscast Skrein (and his hilariously bad accent) gets good support from some good actors, with Quaid, Wilson, Harrelson, a low-key Evans, and even Nick Jonas performing well and elevating proceedings. Also of interest is Eckhart as Lt Col Doolittle, who led the retaliatory Tokyo Raid. His role, and indeed the whole Tokyo Raid subplot is frustratingly brief - frustrating because it proves to be one of the most affecting and interesting parts of the film. Midway's Japanese scenes are also fascinating, and more of those would have been appreciated.

Equally frustrating are the special effects. The dogfights and battle scenes are great, but in between there is some truly awful green screen stuff that looks like it came out of a film from the '90s. The attack on Pearl Harbour is particularly stodgy. This wouldn't be so bad if it didn't pull you out of the reality and horror of the moment and remind you you're watching a bunch of actors in front of a green screen surrounded by some bad fire animations.

But this kind of sums up Midway. For every affecting moment, nice performance, cool sequence and interesting subplot, there is an awkward or just plain bad element to balance it out. These highs and lows help the film feel bloated, and undeserving of its two-hours-plus runtime.

There are far worse war films out there, and Midway could have been a lot worse. As a potted history of pivotal moments of WWII, it's interesting and intermittently entertaining.

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