Is “Midway” a great choice for your date night this weekend? Yes, but . . .
This World War II epic from the director of classic blockbusters “Independence Day” and “2012” has incredible battle scenes thanks to the latest in visual effects and an impressive cast packed with both veteran stars (Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid) and new (Nick Jonas, Ed Skrein and Mandy Moore).
A stirring reminder of bravery and patriotism with no morally questionable elements, it nonetheless sometimes is hard to follow all the characters and battle plans, so if you’re not a history or war buff, you might not love it as much as those who are.
When you think about World War II, most people instantly remember Adolf Hitler and his evil armies of Nazis who stormed across Europe and murdered millions of Jews and Christians in concentration camps. It’s easy to forget we were fighting three enemies at once, with Japan and Italy also ruthlessly destroying lives in other parts of the globe.
As decades pass and the world’s bad guys become harder to define and defeat decisively, it’s helpful to have reminders of the brave sacrifices American soldiers made in the name of saving freedom for the entire planet.
The new movie “Midway” has arrived, and offers an exciting and stirring reminder of those points. Directed by Roland Emmerich, this war epic combines a classic tale of courage with the best special effects Hollywood has to offer and a star-studded cast to bring the war-movie genre explosively back to life.
“Midway” puts the focus on bravery, patriotism and amazing aerial battles
“Midway” is the first Hollywood World War II epic in nearly 20 years, dating back to Ben Affleck’s “Pearl Harbor” in 2001. That movie put a ton of effort into its visuals and not enough into its story line, with its centerpiece being a recreation of the Japanese attack on the US Naval base that was stunning to watch but also dragged on for nearly forty minutes. It also focused too much on a love triangle among two fictional male soldiers and the woman that came between them, leaving viewers confused about whether it was a war movie or a romance.
Wisely, “Midway” goes in the opposite direction, putting the focus on both the harrowing attacks our American troops endured and the combination of stunning firepower and crafty strategizing that helped ensure the ultimate victory that saved the planet. It’s a welcome different approach to focus on the battles we faced against imperial Japan rather than the overused focus on Hitler found in far too many other WWII movies.
The film opens on a tense discussion between an American intelligence expert named Edwin Layton as he speaks with a moderate Japanese military leader in 1937 Japan, four years before the Japanese attack on our Pearl Harbor naval base drew us into the war. Layton is warned that if America and the West push Japan’s militaristic factions too hard, they will strike back viciously to assert their strength in the world.
Four years later, that warning comes back to haunt the US when Japanese bombers assault the Pearl Harbor naval base in a devastating surprise attack. Emmerich captures the insanity of it all with effects that send planes flying off the screen, crashing into naval warships and some stunning shooter’s-eye and pilot’s-eye views of the action as the American forces fight back.
But once the dust settles and the shocking cost of the attack is fully realized, the brilliant Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) is called in to oversee the retaliation. While the movie is stacked with several more impressive battle sequences, centered upon wild man pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and ace tail gunner Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas), “Midway” also shows the heavy strategizing that occurs as America and Japan escalate–with the US finally realizing they have to stage a decisive attack on the Japanese base at Midway Island in order to save the West Coast from an even bigger assault that could topple America and the free world.
Beyond the action, there’s some impressive thought and balance to be found
As I’ve mentioned, “Midway” delivers best when it’s serving up its intense bouts of action. Its pre-end credits sequence showing the results of what happened to each of the heroes depicted also drives home that these were real men putting their lives on the line to keep the world free, and there’s no understating the impact of that.
Also intriguing is the fact that Emmerich and writer Wes Tooke take a more balanced and mature approach than many war films of the past. While Japan is clearly in the wrong for its unprovoked attack and it’s made clear that they also killed a huge amount of innocent Chinese civilians for helping downed American pilots, the average Japanese soldiers are seen in a few key moments as young men who, like their American opponents, were just following orders and that even the leaders thought in their minds that they were acting honorably on behalf of Japan’s interests.
But there are a couple of weak spots. The heavy amount of strategizing involved and the story’s jump from battle to battle sometimes makes it confusing, blurring all the battles and military officials together. And aside from the hotshot team of Skrein and Jonas, there aren’t a lot of chances for the rest of the cast to standout, although the often-bald and overly energetic Harrelson is interesting to watch in a calm, thoughtful role that also features a full head of hair and Quaid has some fun with his bluster.
Overall, however, “Midway” stands out as a refreshing, giant-scaled throwback to a war genre that’s rarely attempted anymore. If you’re looking for an often thrilling and patriotic look back at some of the bravest men America’s ever known, this is a great way to go.
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.