Midway tells the story of the Battle of Midway, one of the most important battles of World War II and a turning point in the war for the United States following the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the story of the battle is an interesting one and one the deserved to be told. However, this is not the way it should have been told. Director Roland Emmerich completely botches the film, giving us a cheap, boring, melodramatic film that had me wishing I was watching Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.
When I think about big-budget, explosive, action-focused directors, Bay and Emmerich immediately come to mind. Both directors established themselves in the 90’s, with Bay making a name for himself with films like Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon, and Emmerich making Universal Soldier, Godzilla, and Independence Day, a film that redefined the summer blockbuster and became go-to directors for action films that focus more on the explosions, gun, and action than plot, character, and story, though the two of them are different contrary to popular belief.
Michael Bay is a spectacle director and he knows it. He knows that people go to him movies for the action and thrills and he makes sure to give the audience what they want no matter how dumb or mindless his movies may be. Emmerich, however has always seemed to think that he’s more than just a spectacle director. With films like The Patriot, Anonymous, and Stonewall, Emmerich has tried to show that he is more than just action and explosions and maybe a director who could garner awards attention. The thing is, Emmerich isn’t that kind of director, and it is when he tries to be that cause his biggest failures as a director, Midway being a prime example.
Midway is an utter mess. A movie trying to honor those who fought at the Battle of Midway, yet fails to do so in anyway. There are over a dozen characters crammed into this nearly two-and-a-half-hour slog, none of which get developed and all of which are achingly cliché. On the carrier ships we got Dick Best (Ed Skrein), the hot-shot pilot who chews gum like cow and seems to be the only pilot who has any answer to any question a superior officer asks. Skrien’s performance felt like he was doing his best impression of Jude Law from 2018’s Vox Lox. There’s Dick’s commanding officer, Wade McClusky (Luke Evans), who doesn’t do much on the ship except tell Dick how big of a son-of-a-bitch he is. There’s also Admiral William Halsey (Denis Quaid), a gruff leader who is slowly developing Shingles. We also have about about minor pilots and people on the carrier who have a couple lines here and there, one of which is Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas), a kid living by the seat of his pants who feels like he was pulled straight from the back of a Brooklyn pizzeria. Jonas gives an absolutely cringe-worthy performance that caused me to chuckle on more than one occasion.
On land we have Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) an intelligence officer who predicted Pearl Harbor and is now determined to do anything to not let an attack like that happen again. He’s reporting to Chester W. Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), who, much like McClusky, doesn’t do a whole lot. Dick’s wife (Mandy Moore) also shows up occasionally for no real reason other than to try and make us feel for Dick every time he flies, which doesn’t work one bit. There’s also a lot of scenes of the Japanese army planning their attack, as well as a couple scenes about Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) a portion of the movie that made no sense in the film and is all but forgotten about ten minutes after it occurs. All the characters and are shoved into this movie amongst a number of stories which makes it impossible to feel anything for anyone. A number of characters die during the film, yet I couldn’t tell you one of their names because there is no focus on anyone for them to matter. All they are there for is to read exposition-heavy dialog that gets us from scene to scene.
In Pearl Harbor, a movie that faced similar issues with its characters and story has one truly great thing about it: the attack on Pearl Harbor. Michael Bay delivered a three-and-a-half-minute barrage of bombs, bullets, planes, and more heart and emotion than anything else in the movie. It is one of Bay’s finest achievements as a director. Because Emmerich attempted to balance all these characters and stories, the action got pushed to the back seat, which is disappointing and makes the film even more dull. The visual effects are dreadful, with some of the worst CGI I’ve seen this year, and the battle scenes are bland and entirely too quick. There is nothing remotely exciting about these battle scenes or Midway in general.
If there is one thing we can learn from Midway and even Pearl Harbor is that action-focused directors are a bad choice to tell these stories. These movies should be directed by directors who have a sense of character and story while also being able to give us top-notch action (a la Steven Spielberg). One day, I hope we get a proper telling of both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, one that shows the intensity of the war while also honoring those who fought in it.
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