Early disclaimer; prior to Midway, I have been somewhat a fan of Roland Emmerich, particularly with his works in Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 10,000BC (2008) and 2012 (2009). To cut it short, if you need a disaster movie, Emmerich is the guy that you need to look for.
Here’s the catch. Most of Emmerich’s films like Independence Day and 2012, revolve around fictional disasters which, on a scale of 1 to 10, give about 1000 in terms of destruction. If you knew already, Midway is nowhere close to being pure fiction, and in fact, it falls on the other end of the scale. If you engage a disaster-flick director and get him to produce a piece of history narrative with his own tricks, what do you get? Well, you get Midway.
The initial appeal of Midway, at least to me, does not lie within that piece of historical story that it’s trying to tell. Rather, it’s that long list of familiar names that graced the poster, Emmerich included. Rather than mentioning the actors’ names and the roles which they have played, I’ll just stick to the names. Because the latter won’t make any sense to you anyway, unless you’re a history expert. Woody Harrelson and Patrick Wilson grasped my attention the most, and soon after that, my eyes wandered towards more familiar names like Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart and surprisingly, Nick Jonas. Ed Skrein seemed to play the leading role, which intrigued me greatly as well. There’s a massive void of time since I last saw him in protagonist roles, and I thought it would be interesting to see him as a lead in Midway.
It didn’t take me that long to discover my initial gripe with the film. I have a (good) habit of not being a smart-ass by unnecessarily googling all the facts about a film that could potentially spoil that movie even before I book the tickets. So, for me, Midway could by anything in between First Way and Last Way.
I can hear laughter already, but trust me, if you want to fully immerse yourself in any movie, the internet is the most dangerous place to visit beforehand. It’s full of booby traps, and I’m pretty sure our fallen comrades would agree. By fallen comrades, I mean those who knew that Tony Stark had a daughter and he was going to die in Endgame, way before they should.
Carrying the knowledge that Midway is a war movie and it would involve the Pearl Harbor incident at some point, I was plenty shocked, as with the residence of Pearl portrayed in the film when the Japanese air-force struck. I have watched ‘the other’ Pearl Harbor, which starred Ben Affleck and was released in 2001, and in that film, almost 50-60% of the total length was dedicated to building up suspense and showcasing the terror of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Whereas for Midway, Pearl Harbor didn’t even last until midway. The Japs came and gone with the wind, leaving a trail of CGI destruction, pushing up the number of casualties, and left zero tolerance for any meaningful build-up to happen prior to the attack. The irony is, it was later divulged that Emmerich somehow planned for the incident to harvest sympathy from the audience, insisting on how ‘every American’ in the plot had lost a brother in the attack. In which, it would ultimately guide the plot as it sails further. Well, now the ship has to sail without coordinates.
Still, if you pay enough attention during the attack on Pearl Harbor, you will catch a rather strong hint of how Emmerich is about to present Midway to you as a whole. Different scenes haphazardly transition to one another, seemingly lacking any true motivation. Bumpy lines, like, “Climb over to that ship or you’ll die, you hear me?!”, blast out of nowhere. The failure to remember most of the characters’ names, despite trying hard. And perhaps a double-edged sword; those overdeveloped battle CGI’s that seemed believable at first, but pull you away once you realize how much redundant artistic sense is crammed into each frame.
I did notice all of them. It’s just that I chose to ignore those signs, because with Midway being a product of Emmerich, I would like to love it. If that’s still possible.
But even to a mild fan like me, Midway proved to be testing my endurance with each chapter it stepped into. Or was there any at all? In one of truly rare occasions, if you challenge me, now, to quickly tell you the story of Midway and you’ll hand me ten bucks, at the end of the day the ten bucks will still be in your hands.
There seems to be a serious lack of commitment from Wes Tooke to lay everything out in an audience-friendly format, so that everyone can enjoy Midway as much as the people who made the film, when he wrote the script. Instead, if Midway’s plot could talk, this is exactly what it would say, “You there! You read history books, yes? So here it is, person A is doing event C, while person B is undergoing Plan D. Ah yes, Mr Z is escaping from the enemy, so you won’t see him around that much. All this leads to event X, and voila! Here you go. History.”
With the erratic nature of Midway’s storytelling and laughable dialogue lines, it’s undeniable that the casts were placed in a difficult environment to excel. With that said, a few have managed to shine, like Woody Harrelson and Patrick Wilson. Their performances expressed clarity and strengthened the charisma of their characters, rather than building clouds of doubts like what the story-line did. Luke Evans’ and Dennis Quaid’s presence are noteworthy, though one fell victim to laughable lines, and the other, lack of lines. And don’t ever mention about Aaron Eckhart. His inclusion in Midway is as good as a cameo.
I purposely save the best for last, because Ed Skrein is easily the most controversial casting decision among the group. His tendency to overwork his performance so that he can look cool on-screen without missing a beat, got me tired pretty fast, at least during the early minutes of Midway. Sure, later on the script conveniently dismissed the character as just being cocky, and gave Skrein a character arc to support that theory. But without both a compelling character arc and a committed tweak of performance by Skrein, the whole idea is not at all convincing. And for a character who occupies the screen for the majority of the film-length, these fine details do matter.
Or maybe, Emmerich wasn’t all that concerned about character arcs and consistency of the plot. Or perhaps, he put a huge chunk of his bets into another trick of Midway, which could possibly end up as its final saving grace. And from the box-office sales at the time of writing, it probably will. I am of course, referring to his focus on all the fireworks that fuel Midway during the scenes of intense battle.
To be fair, the visual setup and CGI’s born out of the film’s abundant war-zones are a sight to behold. It just shows you how committed Emmerich was to bloat-up the scale of each conflict, and how the co-producing firms from China were willing to invest astronomical amounts of dollars(read:Yuans) into Midway. Inherently, some audience will definitely respond positively to those aspects, perceiving that as a really, really generous offering of visual effects and action. However, the fact that each frame looked over-polished and over-perfected bothered me, and distanced Midway further away from that raw, grimy, and grisly war movies which I have always loved.
Similar to the routines of bravery set-off by the characters, the battle scenes felt engineered. Modern. Synthetic. If I have to be utterly honest, take out those vintage jet fighters and replace them with alien aircrafts, and you will get Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). Which, is not conclusively a bad thing for a film.
Sizzle that with Emmerich’s recent habit to dramatize even the smallest of things like routine plane take-offs and landings, you will get the perfect popcorn-movie formula. Yes, jet-fighters are bucking bulls in Midway, and they don’t take off or land properly even in the hands of the best pilots. There will always be burnt tires, skewed wing-angles, malfunctioning engines, and a hundred more faults. Some will find that intense or even entertaining. Some, like me, will find themselves having a hard time swallowing them whole.
Roland Emmerich’s Midway suffers from the same shortcomings that invaded Independence Day: Resurgence, which saw an enormous effort placed on winning the explosion and firepower race, with little to no regard towards the wellness and substance of the plot. Between Midway and a good ‘ol history book, there’s no doubt that Midway delivers a million more times better in terms of entertainment value, being a heavy-hitting popcorn movie that it has always aspired to be. But I reckon that the history book itself tells a more compelling story, and with better clarity than Midway.—The Film Addict