Chances are that most individuals in the 20-to-30 age bracket are most likely unfamiliar with Midway, a 1976 war film chronicling the pivotal Battle of Midway circa World War II and featuring an all-star cast with the likes of Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Hal Halbrook, Cliff Robertson and Robert Wagner rounding out the film’s ranks. Most, however, should at least possess some sort of awareness of the career of Roland Emmerich, a Michael Bay of the sci-fi genre best known for helming such mindless Armageddon-laden blockbusters as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, with lower-budget fare sprinkled in between and the occasional massive stinker in such entries as 1998’s dreadful Godzilla and 2013’s “other” President Under Siege film, White House Down.
Twenty-five years after roaring to the world of in-demand following the still-entertaining Stargate and three years removed from his dismal Independence Day sequel Resurgence, Emmerich could be seen as either a likely choice for yet another retelling of Midway, again bringing another stacked cast to the table featuring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid and Woody Harrelson along for the ride, or a questionable decision considering his spotty track record and lackluster output as of late. The resulting product could easily go either way-an entertaining film in the vein of such classics as Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk, or another misfire a la Bay’s Pearl Harbor, which itself could be seen as a predecessor to the events depicted here. Emmerich himself is no stranger to the genre, having brought audiences the Revolutionary War drama The Patriot nearly two decades prior…let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?
Midway, simply put, contains everything with the exception of quality-horrific pacing, miserable primary, side & background characters, expository dialogue that flows with all the grace of a battered Nintendo cartridge and a slew of hilarious attempts at accents sported by roughly the entire cast that in no way helps the film elevate from the depths of garbage it currently occupies rather uncomfortably. I’d like to leave it there, but after enduring 138 minutes of Emmerich’s nonsensical wartime-isms and wishing I’d left to check out the new Terminator I feel it my mission to spare others of the tremendous waste of time that is this effort.
Describing the plot is ultimately needless-countless history books, the ’76 original and even a preceding documentary have all already covered in much better detail the United States’ response to the Pearl Harbor attack and the events that transpired in the weeks following which helped to turn the tide in Uncle Sam’s favor. In this regard, I’m sure Midway tries to do a serviceable job in retelling this momentous true story, but being mentally prepared for a smattering of action held together by endless scenes of people talking is 100% the way to enter into this film, should one decide this is an enjoyable way to spend time in a theater seat. The dialogue shifts from blatant exposition to just plain bad on a dime, and while the aerial battles can be somewhat rousing, they never look like anything less than a trademark Emmerich CG-bloated mess at the end of the day.
The cast fails to help, either a result of poor direction or a collective agreement that everyone on board will be doing their own bizarre thing with their individual parts. Ed Skrein as hotshot pilot Dick Best tries to distance himself from the one-trick bad guy performances he’s given us previously, resulting in cliché, while Patrick Wilson wears a perpetually confused look as he attempts to own his role as intelligence Commander Edwin Layton, another half-hearted endeavor. Aaron Eckhart and Dennis Quaid could easily star in a documentary about actors with the ability to aggressively scowl while squeezing their facial expressions into a tight ball, and though both have limited screentime in their respective officer roles it’s Quaid who’s doing something akin to an unusual Christian Bale-esque Batman voice with several lines that truly made me laugh in how ridiculous they sound emanating from Quaid’s jowls-they’re random, silly, and possibly one of the only reasons to see Midway. At least Woody Harrelson’s here as the Admiral spearheading the whole operation, though unlike his knack for saving many of the films in which he’s starred or shown up briefly with the Harrelson-ness for which he’s so well known, it’s understandably dialed back here, much to my chagrin.
Rounding out this badly-assembled group would be Nick Jonas, who may very be one of the best parts of the movie even if his one monologue reeks of amateur hour at a Brooklyn-based theater called Fuhgeddaboutit, while there’s really nothing further to utter about Luke Evans as Best’s friend/rival (?) McClusky and Mandy Moore as Best’s wife, who like her onscreen husband may also be sporting a terrible New Jersey accent. Similar to Skrein, who struggles to hide his natural Cockney affectations, I couldn’t tell what Moore was doing at all in this regard, if anything.
I also would be remiss if I forgot about a film director who appears once or twice and may be portrayed by the most overacting British individual onto which I’ve ever laid eyes, or a hermit-esque codebreaker who I honestly wished was played by Hank Azaria. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt Azaria could’ve done the part better. It’s me, I’m sure.
When it comes to judging a film, I’ll always take a moment to strip the project down to its core, making sure that the crew at the very least operated the camera properly so as to capture the image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye. Even if that were the case in Midway, this simple act suffers greatly thanks largely to what I can only assume was a fire in the editing booth, which when combined with cinematography that’s nothing special and a score that’s more ominous rumble than actual music-save for the occasional oboe, plagiarized right from the soundtrack to Lincoln-sadly contributes to the film’s dismal worth. Factor in the issues mentioned above along with an upsetting lack of real emotion that remains a hallmark of every great war film (Emmerich’s own Independence Day included) and what you’ve got is something that might make for an entertaining watch during a Bad Movie Night with twenty or so of your closest friends, or a product that should be avoided at all costs.
There’s nothing more to say, nor was there ever much to begin with, I suppose. Emmerich is sure to find himself handed a one-way ticket to Director Jail following whatever profits this film will surely be unable to rake in, while these complaints have ultimately been nothing more than the written version of the time I lost watching Midway. That said, if I can somehow eke out a modicum of entertainment via my drawn-out insistence this film be avoided, then I suppose there’s some good to be found here. If there was ever a moral to be garnered, it’s that your average movie theater shows more than one film at any given time.
Whatever you do, see anything else.