Review: Midway (2019) – Tries to be a documentary without being one

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Midway – movie review


Review video


Written review

Midway is a historical war film that depicts how the Americans predict, prepare and fight the decisive Battle of Midway against Japan during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The film is directed by Roland Emmerich who did both the Independence Day movies (1996, 2016), White House Down (2013), the terrible 1998 Godzilla, just to name a few. The script is written by Wes Tooke who did most of his writing work for TV series.

Looking at Emmerich’s filmography, he is pretty much like another Michael Bay, who likes loads of cheese and use a lot of special effects and explosions, and not great with character development, pacing and drama. With that, I’ve pretty much already listed the main problems about this film.

There was a review embargo until after the film was released to public so I was already not expecting much from it. I went into the cinema just hoping it to be a big, loud, brainless popcorn movie that’s as enjoyable as Independence Day or White House Down. Unfortunately, it’s not. The film tries to be a documentary without being a documentary. I think I would’ve enjoyed an actual documentary more than this.

I don’t know the specifics of these historical war events so I can’t be sure but I guess the film does try to be as factual as possible. Unlike Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor film (2001), most, if not all, of the characters here are based on real-life historical figures and all their real names are used.

The story mainly follows Richard “Dick” Best, portrayed by Ed Skrein, who’s basically the cocky and seemingly reckless but brave and skillful pilot. The type of protagonist we’ve seen before in many films like Top Gun (1986), Green Lantern (2011) and Emmerich’s own Independence Day. The film establishes his aircraft-flying capabilities and courage by having him showboat a dangerous landing trick at the beginning and predictably would come to good use later on in the film. The script is just lazy.

But thankfully, there is no tedious triangle romance like in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor or anything like that. Instead, the film goes the complete opposite direction, offering less character development and hence no real emotional weight or tension. I didn’t really care about any of the characters at all. The film bloats itself with so many war figures it wants to honour that it caused the narratives to become uneven and rushed.

There is an ensemble cast of many familiar stars such as Patrick Wilson, Aaron Eckhart, Luke Evans, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore but they simply did not have enough time or material to explore their characters.

While the film did open my eyes and educated me about the amazing, courageous and brilliant contributions of these real-life individuals, the portrayal of them in this film feels very two-dimensional at best. Some of them just appear, do the important things they’re known for and that’s it. This is literally what Aaron Eckhart does in this film for his role as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.

The film even shows a little bit of Japan’s point of view and at the end of the film, it states that it’s a tribute to both American and Japanese soldiers. But the film doesn’t really hide its true purpose of only depicting the American’s heroism and to celebrate their bravery and intelligence. It doesn’t portray Japanese soldiers as more than just soldiers serving their emperor. It doesn’t show Japanese civilians getting killed but it shows the Japanese killing civilians. Very typically bias of non-Japanese war films. Nothing new there.

The Battle of Midway was a very important naval battle in this war but it was only explained in the film through very simple and bland dialogues. I get the need to dumb it a little to make it easier for the general audience to understand the difficult tactical or strategic decisions the characters have to make. I probably needed that as well. But it doesn’t convey or build the story up well enough for me to feel invested. I never really felt the true gravity of the situation and that’s the biggest issue I had with the film.

The visuals are good but not as spectacular as Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor which was released 18 years ago. However, to be fair, Bay had $40 million of budget more than Emmerich and Midway is considered an independent film despite having a budget of $100 million. This film has its own depiction on the attack on Pearl Harbor right at the beginning but very small scale compared to Michael Bay’s.

The other battle sequences at the sea and in the air looks good and the visual effects are fine. The action seems repetitive but maybe that was how it went down. Flying, sailing, shooting, maneuvering to avoid attacks, things blowing up here and there. Heroic dive bombers flying downwards and releasing bombs on aircraft carriers; over and over again. It doesn’t have much thrills to offer and due to the lousy buildup and poor development of characters, all the battle sequences felt very hollow.

I believe Emmerich genuinely wanted to depict these war events properly and pay sincere tribute to the people involved. After all, it is an independent passion project of his. And I do respect the film for trying to be as historically accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, it’s just not done well enough as a movie. I believe the budget constraints might have led to not finding an ideal writer and having to cut down on the battle sequences.

If anyone knows the history, they would already know what happens at the end. But even when a plot is super cliched (like this one), it’s the film’s job to make it interesting, intriguing and engaging for the audience but it simply did not do any of that for me.

If this was a complete fiction, there really isn’t much good things to say about this film.

*Rating and Malaysian censorship info are given in the review video above. Please watch it, give it a thumbs up and subscribe the channel if you haven’t already. Thanks for your kind support!

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Genre: Historical war action drama
Running Time: 138 minutes
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Wes Tooke
Cast: Ed Skrein, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quiad, Aaron Eckhart

Malaysia Release Date: 7 November 2019
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Centropolis Entertainment, Starlight Culture Entertainment Group, Street Entertainment, Shanghai Ruyi Entertainment

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