Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Keean Johnson, Luke Kleintank, Dennis Quaid, Tadanobu Asano
Running time: 138 minutes
In an era of gender fluidity and heightened awareness around issues of toxic masculinity, it seems strange that we have Midway — a film where boys are told to man up, gear up and blow things up for the best part of two and a half hours.
Then again, Roland Emmerich, the man behind such over the top disaster movies as 2012 and White House Down, has never been one for nuance. His latest offering, a retelling of a WWII battle involving American and Japanese forces shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbour, hits with both barrels of familiar genre tropes and contains about as much subtlety as a Navy Destroyer wading down the River Avon.
Following a team of US Naval pilots led by courageous, maverick aviator (and almost too aptly named) Dick Best (Skrein), the film features an ensemble cast of mostly men with mostly moustaches yelling “yee-haw” in a story consisting mostly of bombs being dropped on boats.
In what little plot remains, Woody Harrelson’s Admiral Nimitz assumes command of the decimated US Pacific fleet in the wake of Pearl Harbour; Intelligence Officer Edwin T. Layton (Wilson) is assigned to predict the next movements of the (significantly larger) Japanese forces; while Aaron Eckhart’s Flight Commander Jimmy Doolittle orchestrates an aerial raid on Tokyo.
All roads ultimately lead to Midway, however: the eponymous island in the North Pacific, home to an all-important US Naval facility. There, a pivotal battle is on the horizon, one where the outcome has implications that could turn the tides of the entire global conflict. It’s these weighty stakes that Emmerich’s film almost exclusively deals in. Everything else appears disposable — from character to narrative to dialogue — so much so that if it fails to supplement the action unfolding in the skies or the chaos raging on the sea, it’s very swiftly and unapologetically thrown overboard. Even during the film’s few, fleeting quiet moments, in which characters aren’t sinking bullets into the side of planes and ships, you can be sure as hell they’re standing around talking about it.
Visually, the film delivers a varying mix of impressively engineered battle scenes and raucous, schlocky CGI that, at times, leans towards a video game, shooter-style sensibility. In a post-Private Ryan, post-Dunkirk world, however, Midway feels distinctively less immersive, and altogether less impactful, than the powerful, affecting offerings War cinema has given us over the last two decades.
“Welcome to the most difficult job in the world” a character stoically states early on in Emmerich’s film. A more challenging job might just be finding something more meaningful Midway brings to the table beyond troubling American jingoism and a regressive equating of machismo with heroism. By the end, you’ll be longing for Michael Bay.