First Time Watch: Midway (2019)

By Christian DiMartino

Something never smelled right to me about Midway.

It was probably the fact that Roland Emmerich was at the helm. Here is a guy who has specialized at blowing s*%t up onscreen for the entirety of his career, from Independence Day to 2012 to… sigh, Independence Day 2. He is a filmmaker who craves destruction in his work. I have found some of his movies enjoyable over the years, but he isn’t exactly what you would call a “good” filmmaker. Especially not one that I would trust in the hands of a historical story. Emmerich has dabbled in history before, in films like Anonymous and Stonewall. Did I see them? Um, no, but I heard they were uh, not good. So of course hearing that he was making Midway, it brought Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor to mind. Which, as you know, sucks, and Bay, like Emmerich, likes movies that go boom-boom.

With all of this in mind, let’s discuss Midway as an experience. I will say, some movies are better suited for the big screen. Sure, with movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, it’s too late for that, unless you have a time machine (or unless you have a local theatre playing these things). Midway obviously isn’t in the same league as those films, but one can imagine that Emmerich intended for us to see this on the big screen. I imagine it would’ve been a nice, loud, explosive experience… but in a good way.

Watching it on HBO Max, I kept getting distracted by the visuals. They’re not… bad, but they’re also not the best, considering how cutting edge technology is now. It pains me to say it, but in terms of the explosions department, Bay did a better job with Pearl HarborMake no mistake, that movie is awful, but when it finally put its romance on hold, Bay delivered some goods. Where Emmerich’s film is an improvement though is that this is a much more respectful film. Pearl Harbor was essentially a Titanic knockoff that centered around three people you didn’t particularly like. Midway honors those who provided their service. Too bad they’re not in service of a better screenplay, though.

I am not one for history, necessarily, but the story here is a pretty good one. The film is a remake of a movie I haven’t seen, and, of course, about the Battle of Midway, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which was essentially a clash between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the American fleet. Said battle marked a turning point during WWII, and the film is, understandably, told through the eyes of the Americans. The cast here is pretty impressive, even if some performances are a little much.

Ed Skrein of Deadpool plays Dick Best, a name that made me laugh until I remembered it was a real person. Skrein does a good job of making us root for this guy, but seeing as I know how Skrein actually talks, I kept hearing his accent break through. Dennis Quaid growls his lines. Woody Harrelson’s hair is hilarious, and Nick Jonas looks like Mario and Luigi’s long lost cousin. The rest of the cast includes Mandy Moore, Patrick Wilson, Darren Criss, Luke Evans, and Aaron Eckart, all doing mostly fine work. Here, though, is a case in which there’s only so much an actor can do, considering the material they’re given.

Wes Tooke’s screenplay is ultimately what drags this movie down. It’s not that the story isn’t well told, but what these actors are told to say and do is often hard to listen to. Picture any war movie you’ve ever seen. Picture any cliche you can imagine- Tooke takes all the stops. When it isn’t cliche, it’s corny, and just a little too vanilla/ “aw shucks there, old sport.” Often times it took me out of the movie.

Yet just as I was going to write the movie off as… pretty… not good, it did win me over, mildly, by its final act. It turned out that I cared more than I led on, and I liked the way in which they honored these men at the end of the movie. It isn’t your usual, “Dick Best died five months later.” Rather, it focuses on their achievements during and after the event, and I liked the way in which Emmerich presented them. So… whether you choose to see Midway is your call. Some will see it regardless because of their affection for history, some will avoid it for said flaws. All in all, yeah, it’s still better than Pearl Harbor.

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