Currently making streaming rounds or available for rental at minimal cost is 2019’s MIDWAY. Directed by Roland Emmerich this movie is a not so mixed bag of mostly good. While it doesn’t really deliver on the personal aspect of the story, the action and code breaking parts of the movie both work well.
The movie has more than a few intense and enjoyable high energy combat sequences spread evenly across the runtime. At 2 hours and 18 minutes it still doesn’t drag. The movie is just long enough to cover all of the many story points and characters it throws out there as it achieves an enjoyable and relatively comprehensive overview of the initial months of World War II beginning with a quick vignette set a decade before Pearl Harbor then moving quickly to an action scene.
Roland Emmerich is an unabashed fan of America and this movie is all but a love story to the dedication of the American forces in the Pacific. This is very unusual for a modern war film and it works. From the opening production credits voiced over with the real audio of FDR’s declaration of war on Japan the immersion is pretty full.
This movie was absolutely made to have some of the ‘stand up and cheer’ feeling the movies made during the war had while still maintaining a serious enough tone. This war movie is never really that morbid despite a lot of heavy and serious events. The tone and feel often mirrors older, black and white era war movies. It’s sort of like Red Tails that way- it’s not really approached like a modern movie.
No, they didn’t really nail the casting and no, Mandy Moore’s good performance doesn’t save the pilot’s wives personal sequences- but these moments are brief and the movie never bottoms out. It’s on a grander scale then a movie like FURY- which is about as intense but far darker.
FURY makes an interesting comparison to Midway. It’s probably about as good, but a strong performance from Brad Pitt and the movies pace save it from mediocrity on first view. It loses something every view thereafter. Midway was so fun I watched it again the next day. Not so with FURY (which i own). Briefly looking at FURY’s shortcomings are actually a strong case to watch Midway.
What’s strange is on Rotten Tomatoes shows fans have a notable if slight preference for Midway over FURY; 92% for Midway vs 84 for FURY in Audience scores, but the few critics to review Midway hated it. For FURY though, the many critic reviews mostly dug deep to overlook the bleak story of what amounts to a suicide mission. The callous soldiers in FURY have a Vietnam outlook even though they’re weeks from winning World War II. In Midway we have equally flat, one note characters, but they are optimistic they can win and are fired up to fight. This just made it a more pleasant view. I’ll take the boring but brief conversation about military careers in a nightclub in Hawaii over the overly long and cringe-y almost rape scene FURY gives us between battles.
At least in Midway when the shooting stops there’s an amazingly complete very early 1940s aesthetic to enjoy rather than just another bombed out town. In action the movies are equals. The movies are both mixed bags, but FURY is perceived much better, unjustly in my opinion.
It’s notable that while this movie is set in the Pacific it has very few suicides compared to FURY. When we do see suicidal moves usually it’s a little heroic. It’s shown as doomed men’s final defiant acts in the two Kamikaze style attacks we see (one by each side). This isn’t a light hearted movie, it’s grim at times, but it doesn’t dwell on the ugliness of war. The Honor Related suicides by the Japanese commanders are historically accurate and serve to show the deep differences between the philosophies of the two sides. Appropriately, Midway doesn’t ruminate long on these failed commanders – who may have been competent and formidable, but had still essentially fallen to being evil when they attacked Pearl Harbor.
Midway has a larger, pretty accurate historical point to make and is a true enough account of a real battle. The historical aspect more than justifies Midway’s darkest moments. FURY gets lost in a series of dark vignettes when the shooting stops. Some may find this more arresting on first view, but the enemy is frequently child soldiers. Midway’s enemy faction is equally evil, but far more formidable and motivated.
The amazing visualizations show us the Pacific War in a way no one has aspired to before and when the shooting starts this movie works fine. The final attack on the Japanese Fleet is an amazing CGI spectacle. There are no real planes, so scale isn’t a problem. The skies are filled with real looking planes attacking with everything they’ve got. The movies visual storytelling is far better than the dialogue at moving the story along.
Like all Roland Emmerich movies there’s text on screen, which a lot of people hate. In this movie, which has a sort of Tom Clancy feel at times, it’s fine. People would need to blurt out so much exposition without it the movie would be ten minutes longer; so the text on screen is done well and helps.
While there’s aspects of MIDWAY I could single out for criticism it’s an overall good view. The pacing is good and the movie doesn’t botch Moral Ambiguity. The Japanese and American Navy’s both had a measure of honor, but when the Imperial Japanese opt to attack they start arcing darker and darker. By the middle of the movie they’re beyond misguided and arrogant- they’re brutal and extreme. The Imperial Navy is on a dark path in this movie and it culminates with killing and mistreating prisoners. When the events of the battle play out more or less the way historians agree, its fulfilling when the American attacks finally start gaining some headway.
The movie is good hearted and attempts to stay faithful to actual events. Some compromises made to improve the story and point of view didn’t happen, but they don’t make these events momentous. The US Aircraft carriers still play no part in the battle at Pearl Harbor, but some advanced recon planes arrive in time to get jumped and shot down, playing no real role in the battle- which is pretty spectacular and a gets us a lot of action just minutes into the movie.
While the Doolittle Raid might seem welded onto this movie, it was well worth it and helps establish stakes and maintain pace in an organic enough way . The movie brings us through most of the major events of the Pacific War’s first six months while developing characters economically and making stakes evident. The dialogue isn’t great, but it’s also not horrible and the movie is far more visual than verbal in it’s approach.
The viewer makes it to the moment of the Battle of Midway well up to speed on the war to that point. The movie agrees with history- Midway was the last shot Japan had to deal the Americans a blow so crippling that negotiations would likely have resulted and the war could have ended far differently.
The overall plot isn’t too different from Star Wars A New Hope. There’s some technical information that can destroy the enemies super weapon if used correctly. In this case a carrier strike force subs in for the Death Star and a lot more is made of cracking the technical aspect of the purloined information; but in the end it comes down to a desperate all out attack where each side plays every card they have as the engagement intensifies.
This movie is about the same events but is otherwise completely unrelated to the 1976 movie of the same name. It’s not a remake in my opinion. The 2019 movie is also a much better movie. The 1976 movie uses a lot original combat film and mostly centers on the commanders and codebreaking like a Police Procedural with some combat- which is about as good as 70s blue screen got. Maybe some of the acting is better, the action just can’t compare to modern CGI though, which gives the 2019 movie the clear upper hand.
The fact is there just really is no comparison between the combat sequences in the two movies. Midway 2019 really delivers exciting attack scenes and a feel good payoff when the unambiguously good Americans score some points against the evil Imperial Japanese fascist forces. This movie does not seem insensitive though, probably because these are the actual fates of the real commanders and their men.
Refreshingly, it’s absolutely ok to feel good about the bad guys losing in this movie. We’ve seen them do a lot of really bad things. By the point of the movie’s titular battle even the most honorable of the Imperial Japanese had degenerated into fascists who really were simply bad. History backs this up.
We see enough ‘normal’ Japanese people dealing rationally with their situation when there’s still a good chance they will win. When the war isn’t going the way they had hoped they get mean fast. We see the hardening of their resolve and methods on screen. Their failure flows from established traits. We fully understand how they miscalculated and it makes sense. Their plan wasn’t awful, but it was arrogantly executed and the American attacks are relentless.
When all is lost they do what the Imperial Japanese did, went down with their ships. The enormous human toll of the battle, especially on the Japanese, can’t really be illustrated in any movie, but this one does pay the nobility and sacrifice of both sides due attention, even if it does clearly show the Imperial Japanese as the Bad Guys.
Just a side note here- but the Japanese sequences, including personal life and command decisions, were of a somewhat higher quality than the ones with the Americans. Maybe because it’s in Japanese and subtitled. They also used more visual storytelling.
There’s some moments of really good visual storytelling in the direction. For instance, when we see the Emperor being informed of the Doolittle Raid he doesn’t speak, he simply rises and exits. As he leaves we see the raid out the window as he heads for safety. He is immediately established as a callous, unworthy leader. Wordlessly. This was one of the nicest directing moments of the movie. Then we see the raid from the air and its amazing.
The attack on Tokyo is shown for what it was, a mostly propaganda attack as well as a psych-op against the enemy in just a few words by Aaron Eckhart. The takeoff sequence is a triumph. Seeing it so well visualized was amazing. When the first bomber lumbers off the bow and crashes through a wave in near typhoon the visual impact is inspiring. You feel like the people doing it are heroes.
Midway uses the real heroes and participants in the battle when it can and is aspiring to be GETTYSBURG. This attempt elevates the movie, but it doesn’t ever really get there. Midway’s one fault is it just isn’t quite as good as it presents itself to be and sometimes that feels momentarily hollow. When it comes to non combat sequences the command decisions and the codebreaker scenes are the best parts of Midway.
While he can sometimes deliver, we know what we’re getting with Roland Emmerich. My expectations as far as characters were low and ended up being somewhat exceeded. At this point I never get too excited for Roland Emmerich movies, I just let them happen and think about it later. He is great at keeping things moving along as a director and it saves this movie. One more minute of the personal lives of the pilots really might have killed this story.
Roland Emmerich is a lot like his hero George Lucas and draws some of the same praises and criticisms. On their worst days spotty dialogue and their sometimes minimalist character writing mars their work. At the same time on their best days they give us a story that mostly makes sense, has stakes we buy into with great action and an amazing payoff at the end.
This movie is one of Roland Emmerich’s best. It’s a B movie with a really high budget. This time Emmerich has a great, true story to keep away MOONFALL type problems with the concept. He also avoids getting caught up in a boring rabbit hole with the codebreaking like Midway 1976 does. The movie is paced very well.
So here’s some random final thoughts; The movie has just enough Woody Harrelson without crossing over into “Just TOO much” like in Planet of Apes or SOLO- where he simply has too much to do. In this movie he pulls off a World War II admiral well enough. He really isn’t in many long scenes. The movie covers the two opposing sides like a sportscast follows a football game and for a movie this unambiguous it’s fine.
I felt the two hours of the movie flew by and I thought it had a great ending. Like many Roland Emmerich movies the US president has a presence. Roosevelt is not seen but his real voice is heard and it’s clear he’s calling the shots for the US – and in this movie he’s got some incorrect ideas about what’s going on the Codebreakers need to overcome to have any chance of winning the battle they’ve deduced will be at Midway. The movie ends with a fun video for a swing song I guess Emmerich just wanted to do for the credit sequence. He seems to have had real love for this project. Points for enthusiasm, Roland!
While the movie is imperfect and sometimes has terrible dialogue, the pacing and action save it. The final act is pure action and really gives us more of the Japanese point of view in a more tactile way than the 1976 movie does. Knowledge of the battle is helpful but in no way critical to enjoying this movie. Go ahead and check out MIDWAY, if you like war movies you won’t be let down!
Well thanks for indulging my perspective, go ahead and follow this blog if you like what you’ve read and feel free to give this post a Like!