Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Coming off acclaimed modern war films like Hacksaw Ridge and Dunkirk, the remainder 2019 is set to release a slew of productions that hope to recapture the spirits (and awards) that its predecessors had achieved, and it’s being headlined by director Roland Emmerich’s Midway, based off the critical World War II event. In conception, it’s another derivative, clunky drama, masked as a spirited piece of American Air Force propaganda. However, in execution, Roland Emmerich has added a unique flavor of scale into screenwriter Wes Tooke’s otherwise messy mix. Emmerich couples fantastic World War II spectacle with just the right amount of grandeur to elevate Midway to a consistently enjoyable joyride. It soars at its best moments of thrilling dogfights and Star Wars-inspired dive bombs but falters at its weak lines, useless plot details, and overly grand ambition. However, for fans of the genre who can’t stand the wait for Sam Mendes’ World War I epic 1917 this December, these faults might just be worth stomaching for Midway’s jaw-dropping filmmaking. Midway is a broad, sweeping war saga that dares to reach for the Sun but clumsily stumbles at the skies.
Chronicling the 1942 Battle of Midway, Midway takes historical cues and builds a solidly crafted piece of cinema on top of it. Hearing the bombers and fighters roar with their mechanical screams proves as exciting an event as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and in ways, it even surpasses it. While nothing can match the sheer immersion Nolan’s scrutinizing attention to realism, Emmerich’s over-reliance on CGI for its aerial dogfights admittedly has its advantages. The curvature of the shots juxtaposed to the daunting fear of gun rounds passing dangerously near the camera allows for a transcendent sensation. As much as I am an advocate for the conservative use of CGI, Midway makes such a strong presentation for how CGI can create unprecedented cinematic experiences that it becomes difficult to fault it for it. But on the other hand, Wes Tooke’s screenplay certainly leaves areas to criticize and even berate.
Muddled by poorly contextualized and developed events and somehow even worse characters, Tooke’s screenplay disappoints in almost all of the key regards. The screenplay often fails to identify the main focus of the film and even worse, fails to put the remaining focus on that element, particularly in the first hour of the film. Characters performed by well-known names are introduced at a moment’s notice and then abandoned in the explosive third act. Nick Jonas as Bruno Gaido truly is handed the short end of the stick here, regulated to a hollow role of minimal screen time.
Aaron Eckhart as the Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle is positioned for potentially one of the most momentous plot threads only to be shoved as a strange red herring of sorts, a role that is not resolved until the end credits. This blundering combination of expectation versus reality could be hypothesized as Tooke’s attempt to create memorable scenes of surprise, but it’s all the worse for it by the time the 138 minutes audiences will spend with Midway passes.
Emmerich’s latest film represents quite possibly one of the most confusing cinematic experiences I’ve seen all year and not due to its plot or writing. No, Midway works far better than one might expect simply because of Emmerich’s audacious touch as a filmmaker. Sustaining just so many massive set pieces with CGI shots could have proven to be a disaster, and perhaps it should have. But credit where credit is due, Emmerich and company use the asset as one hundred percent a benefit to the film. Midway may stumble over its ridiculously cartoonish and insensitive Japanese villains and play more like propaganda than anything, but it’s still a fine slab of World War II filmmaking.
MIDWAY centers on the Battle of Midway, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The film, based on the real-life events of this heroic feat, tells the story of the leaders and soldiers who used their instincts, fortitude and bravery to overcome the odds.
MIDWAY Hits Theaters on November 8th, 2019.