It’s like watching Michael Bay’s notoriously bloated Pearl Harbor (2001) all over again. Minus the lengthy three-hour running time and a hokey love triangle between Ben Affleck’s Rafe McCawley, Josh Hartnett’s Danny Walker and Kate Beckinsale’s Evelyn Johnson. That’s how I felt after watching Roland Emmerich’s latest movie, Midway.
The title itself refers to the famous Battle of Midway during the crucial days on June 1942, which took place six months following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In this World War II epic, the movie focuses primarily on how the U.S. Navy (led by Ed Skrein’s Lt. Richard “Dick” Best, Patrick Wilson’s Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton, Luke Evans’ Lt. Commander Wade McClusky and Woody Harrelson’s Admiral Chester Nimitz) devises an elaborate plan to reiterate against the Japanese naval force after the post-Pearl Harbor attack.
The good news is, I’m glad Emmerich didn’t end up replicating Michael Bay’s formula by adding a time-wasting love story in between. But relative newcomer Wes Tooke, previously a TV writer for Jean-Claude Van Johnson and Colony, came up with a screenplay that feels wholly generic. Even if the intention is to make an old-fashioned World War II movie, the dialogues are awfully stilted while all the melodramatic moments could have used some serious trimming. The characters are sketchy and it’s hard to root for their sacrifices. Ed Skrein may look the part playing the fearless real-life pilot, Lt. Richard “Dick” Best but his otherwise lead performance is mostly underwritten while his American accent sounds wobbly at best.
The same also goes with the rest of the ensemble cast, with the likes of screen veterans Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid, who plays Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey showing up for an easy paycheck. Aaron Eckhart’s glorified cameo appearance as Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who famously led the Doolittle Raid, simply came and gone without leaving much of an impression. Mandy Moore, in the meantime, is relegated to an obligatory stay-at-home worried wife of Ed Skrein’s Lt. Richard “Dick” Best. Only Patrick Wilson did a decent job pulling off a restrained performance as Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton.
That leaves us the action sequences. The one that Emmerich is normally good at and in Midway, he manages to stage a few thrilling aerial combat sequences with sweeping camerawork. But at the same time, they tend to feel like a video game cutscene and the overreliance of CGI only lessens the visual impact.
Midway was reportedly Emmerich’s passion project since he’s been trying to get the movie off the ground stretching way back in the 90s. I can see that he really wanted to pull off a good old-fashioned World War II movie that feels earnest and straight to the point. It’s just that Emmerich is never known as a credible storyteller and enlisting a relative newcomer like Wes Tooke to take on his first feature-length screenwriting duty isn’t really encouraging either.