MIDWAY (2019, streaming on Google Play) is military historical actioner focusing on the experience of bomber pilots in WW2 from the Pearl Harbor attack to the Battle of Midway, considered a major turning point in the war. As my next WW2 series is about carrier aviators fighting in the Pacific, I considered this essential viewing. The film largely got panned by critics, so I expected it to be lifeless, but while the characters are pretty weak, the action and history is pretty darn good, and overall I’d give it a B.
The funny thing is the action is so good that if this came out before say SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, I might have loved it for that alone, but films are the product of their times, and you can’t rely on action alone to make a lovable war movie these days–you need strong characters and a strong script.
The film follows an ensemble cast with some good actors, focusing mostly on Dick Best, a bomber pilot; Layton, an intelligence officer; and Admiral Nimitz, who replaced the scapegoated Admiral Kimmel as commander of the Pacific Fleet after the Pearl Harbor attack. None are particularly interesting. Layton fights with “Washington” (the senior military leaders), believing his intelligence is more accurate, and while he’s right, this is hammered over and over and in a sanctimonious way. Dick Best has the strongest character; for the first half of the film he’s not likeable–cocky is one thing, constantly belligerent is another–but he learns some humility along the way, which by the end makes him somebody we can root for. Nimitz is the most human and likeable, though we never really see the tough and brilliant commander he was, and after the midpoint, he functions mainly to clap Layton on the back.
Historically, the film is pretty accurate, covering all the major movements and battles of the carrier ENTERPRISE during the first months of the war. The sweep of time and events is cool for history buffs and is supposed to be epic, though it may be too ambitious, as a lot of it feels rushed and without depth, including a diversion to cover the Doolittle Raid that ends with a few scenes in China probably to satisfy the film’s Chinese financiers. Because of this rush, a lot of the dialogue feels way to pointed, such as a senior officer–I think it’s supposed to be Admiral Kimmel–telling Layton during the Pearl Harbor attack, “You were right! I should have listened to you!” Of particular interest is showing what’s happening among the Japanese battle commanders during Midway, which lends some gravitas and weight to the story.
So overall, it’s no SAVING PRIVATE RYAN–which though heavy handed combined incredible action with a simple story and a small cast of characters we can get to know and root for–but overall, hell, I have to say I liked MIDWAY. Regardless of its flaws, it’s a fast-paced actioner that makes a big effort to stick to historical accuracy, has great action, and is just plain fun to watch.