New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Midway

There’s no question that Director Roland Emmerich knows how to create massive action and blow things up. Yes, but this film is an inspiring epic recreating exciting aerial battles by the dive bomber pilots who changed the course of World War II. Emmerich (White House Down, Independence Day, Stargate) has amassed an ensemble of good actors to play the dedicated heroes who enacted the important Battle of Midway. 

Emmerich shot the film in Hawaii, building massive carrier ship mock-ups and vintage planes like the ones flown in the war. He was able to shoot scenes in an Air Force Base using housing where families lived that still exists. It simply looks better on location than on a soundstage. The director tried to make the film in the 1990’s but couldn’t scare up the big budget.  The film cost $100 million to make because of the all of the CGI special effects needed to make the bomber sequences and explosions of battle.

Writer Wes Tooke (Colony), does a pretty good job in his first feature film, flushing out the personalities of the pilots interacting with each other and their officers, but it’s a little clinical at times. There isn’t enough emotion.

The huge cast includes Ed Skrein, Luke Evans, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, Alexander Ludwig, and Luke Kleintank who play the men who took off from a carrier in the Pacific in one of the most monumentally heroic battles in American History. Emmerich had a carrier built in Hawaii, not far from where the USS Arizona was sunk in the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. He recreated the vintage planes with minimal controls that achieved incredible aerobatics.

The wives of the men are pretty much only represented by the wife of Lt. Richard “Dick” Best (Skrein –Game of Thrones, Deadpool), the reckless, dive bomber pilot who took big risks going so low to make sure he decimated the Japanese ships he targeted. He was almost suicidal going for broke. British actor/rapper Skrein is the most convincing as the cocky American (good accent) who doesn’t seem to care what happens as long as he gets the job done, even though he always has a photo of his wife and daughter in the cockpit. Best as a passionate hero is really at the heart of this film, but the relationship between he and wife, Anne, (Mandy Moore) is not convincing. They’re more like best friends, even though the dialogue is supposed to indicate more. Moore looks great in the clothes and makeup of the 40’s but is a little stiff and underplays the concerned spouse. 

Nick Jonas gets to act instead of sing in this epic. He has a good scene being gutsy and heroic as Bruno Guido who suddenly sees a plane about to attack the ship and runs across the carrier to get to a gun to shoot it down. It is an act cheered by his compatriots that shows comeraderie instead of competition between the flyers. It’s a good rah-rah scene. 

Getting to know so many of the men involved in the Battle Of Midway is confusing but interesting. The film gets disjointed trying to cover all of them and their personalities. Woody Harrelson plays way against character as Admiral Chester Nimitz with white hair and a rather calm demeanor on the heels of his being in the Zombieland sequel. Dennis Quaid is somewhat amusing with his brusk attitude and gruff voice as Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, constantly scratching because he has Shingles. Aaron Eckhart, as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, is another key player but he doesn’t get enough space in the film. He invented IFR, Instrument Flight Rules, able to fly at night, through clouds and different weather conditions using instruments rather than VFR, Visual Flight Rules, only flying in clear skies.

But one of the most interesting parts of the film is the strategy the Navy used to identify their hunch that the Japanese ships would be heading to Midway. Patrick Wilson plays cool, calm officer, Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton, who delivers intel being intercepted. The film shows a room full of decoders he explains are Naval Band members whose role changed with the war. Their numerical skills came in handy and were effective decoding intercepted messages of movement in the Pacific by the Japanese. 

Intercutting the Japanese ship commanders, Etsushi Toyokawa as Isoroku Yamamoto and Tadanobu as Tamon Yamaguchi, with subtitles in between the commanders on the American ships during battle adds perspective to what both sides were up against. It was a fight for their lives that changed the outcome of the war. Interesting that the wreckage of the Akagi and Kaga ships were discovered just one month before the ships premiere. 

The music by Harald Kloser  and Thomas Wanker (Independence Day: Resurgence, White House Down) builds excitement, especially during the battle scenes. And Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner, and Editor Adam Wolfe (Seal Team, Independence Day: Resurgence, White House Down ) certainly had their hands full and did a great job creating heart pounding flying scenes. 

Stay for what happened post war with each of the principles who had roles in the Battle of Midway. That may be the most emotional part of this movie. The storytelling isn’t that great, but Emmerich reenacts the battles that put you right in the middle of explosive action with the flyers who changed history. Buckle up.

Lionsgate           2 hours 18 minutes       PG-13

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