Midway (2019) – Film Review

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Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid
Certificate: 12A

by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow

I’ve been a fan of Roland Emmerich’s work since he made Stargate in 1994. However, it was Independence Day two years later that really made me a hardcore fan. That over-the-top sci-fi spectacular featuring breathtaking effects at times felt like Top Gun, Star Wars and War of the Worlds. Which was of course the point.

The fusion of great ideas somehow worked, and though Godzilla was savaged by the critics in 1998, I enjoyed his take on the well-worn giant lizard saga.

During the 1990s, Emmerich had wanted to make a drama based on the Battle of Midway, but couldn’t get the funding, so he pressed on with assorted other projects. Eventually Midway did see the light of day, and it turns out to be an often thrilling, old fashioned adventure which feels a lot more balanced than the good looking mess that was Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

It follows the US Navy sailors and aviators who persevered through the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the Pacific chapter of World War Two.

One of the storylines centres on naval aviator Ensign Dick Best (think Maverick in Top Gun) and the Air Group of the carrier Enterprise. The other involves intelligence officer Edwin T Layton (think Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and you get the idea).

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“Change things for dramatic purposes”

While the screenplay may get a little muddled at times, Emmerich comes up trumps with the stunning effects scenes. I’m no wartime history expert, so I asked someone who is what they thought of it: Alan Allport, Associate Professor of History at Syracuse University. “I couldn’t follow it, and I know the history pretty well,” he explains.

Unlike Alan I haven’t seen the 1976 version which tells the same story. “It’s not a great film but you can at least follow it and understand what’s happening. With this one, I was just lost.

“I also don’t like the ridiculous CGI where the planes do things that defy physics”.

Alan adds: “With history films I don’t really care that much if they tweak the details a bit, I get that they have to change things for dramatic purposes. But if the drama is just crap, it’s crap.

“I wonder how many who saw the 2019 Midway who didn’t know anything about the battle understood what had happened at the end. That’s the test of a good history film, and I don’t think Midway managed it at all.”

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“Mixed bag”

There’s so much content in Midway, including those jaw-dropping action scenes, that viewers may need to give it a second look.

“They tried to pack too much in, which is why I felt it was hard to follow the history,” explains Alan. “I don’t think writers trust the audience any more to be able to sit still without a heart-pumping scene every 10 minutes. It’s a mistake.”

Whether you have trouble following the story or, like me, are more involved in the visuals and tales of derring do, Midway is a mixed bag. It does feel like a film made by committee to keep everyone happy.

I may watch it again to get past those visual fireworks (as well as Woody Harrelson’s impressive wig and Ed Skrein’s cheekbones), and focus more on the characters; all the key players get that pre-credits explanation of what happened to them. Which is nice because I thought many had been made up for the sake of the movie.

So yes, it’s flawed, but if you like wartime epics, this, like many of the featured torpedoes, almost hits the target.

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Midway is currently streaming on Prime

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