An example of by-the-numbers filmmaking at its blandest, Roland Emmerich’s retelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway that followed it reaches for epic but only manages to stumble towards the generic, landing firmly on the tedious.
Emmerich’s specialty has always been the bombastic, for better or worse, and his attempt to bring a level of authenticity to this film is overshadowed by his reluctance to eschew that propensity towards large scale spectacle. There is a level of admiration for the technical achievements, but they aren’t injected with life, and after a while, they’re nothing more than mildly diverting at best, and just plain boring at worst, sanitised to ensure the film attains a rating that allows it to play to the widest audience possible.
This is also seen in a sub-par script that revels in the faux profound to try to achieve that broad strokes appeal. Its attempts to be authentic often result in the laughable as characters explain what’s going on to each other in the grandest possible terms, posturing at heroism while lacking any substance. This is a common problem with the film, and after a while, the artificial rousing speeches and empty platitudes start to blur into one. It would be hard to scrounge a personality out of any of the characters, but the closest is Patrick Wilson’s Edwin Layton, an intelligence officer whose warnings aren’t initially heeded by superiors, but who becomes a pivotal part of anticipating the next moves of the Japanese after the events of Pearl Harbor. Wilson is the most interesting screen presence and manages to elevate the odd scene beyond the script, which is relentless in its quest to bore rather than engage.
The rest of the cast, while talented, struggle to do the same. Ed Skrein has the lead role as Lieutenant Dick Best, and his performance largely involves a valiant but unsuccessful attempt at a New Jersey accent and the relentless chewing of gum. He’s not the engaging bad boy hero the film thinks he is, instead merely a caricature rather than a fully formed person. The likes of Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid are roped in merely to play cookie cutter military men who frown and growl at the right times and look thoughtfully off into the middle distance. It’s a sad waste of a great cast who are made to do a school play-esque re-enactment of Band of Brothers without any of the underlying depth to their stories.
Ultimately, Midway is a focus group film, every line constructed to appeal to as many people as possible. Instead, it achieves a level of mediocrity that vastly overcomes its attempts at sincerity, though Emmerich does try. To its credit, the film refuses to be as jingoistic as some of its genre counterparts, and there is an attempt to tell some of the Japanese side of the story, but this also lacks the depth to truly resonate. It suffers from the same desire to sanitise the characters down to a few lines, rendering them mere vehicles for a bland script rather than people to get invested in. For all the bombast and flashy CGI, Midway has nothing to say.
Dir: Roland Emmerich
Scr: Wes Tooke
Cast: Ed Skrein, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Luke Kleintank, Tadanobu Asano
Prd: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser
DOP: Robby Baumgartner
Music: Thomas Wander, Harald Kloser
Run time: 138 mins
Midway is out on digital download now, and available on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 9th of March.