Whilst a film like Midway is in no way trying to compete with something as high calibre as 1917, Roland Emmerich’s affectionately old-fashioned war outing being released only weeks after Sam Mendes’ award-winning feature certainly doesn’t help this film in terms of comparison. Of course, one doesn’t enter a Roland Emmerich movie if they’re looking for quality realism, so anyone seeking this out as a companion piece to the aforementioned 1917 best look elsewhere as this owes more to Emmerich’s own Independence Day than anything resembling history.
There’s a retro/”Aww shucks”-type mentality laced to Midway that almost acts as the film’s excuse as to why it’s so cheesy and bombastic, and if you’re willing to go along with its B-grade persona then it just may entertain you enough with its well-intentioned nonsense. Personifying all things cheesy and bombastic at the core of Midway is the rather oddball casting choice of Ed Skrein as Dick Best (a real person too, despite what you may think given his suggestive moniker of a name), a fighter pilot who seems to have little care for his well-being given his fly-or-die temperament; an understandable gung-ho, pro-America personality trait that is at odds with the relationship he has with his loving wife (Mandy Moore, fine in an utterly thankless role) who just wants him to come home.
Despite being based on a real dive bomber pilot, Dick Best feels more like a stock character thanks to Skrein’s faux-US accent and his consistently crazy attitude (he really is just the best dang pilot they have!), which in turn devalues the film in a way. The battle of Midway during WWII, a subsequence of the Pearl Harbour attack, is the type of personal and cultural moment for many that should be depicted in a project afforded better than a glorified action movie; though to give credit where it’s due Emmerich treats the Japanese with respect, sympathetically portraying the Admirals in charge as men of duty and honour, and not simply as war-hungry villains.
That being mentioned, it’s a patriotic movie through and through and the majority of the cast involved all inject that sense of unwavering pride into their performances, resulting in a mixed bag of committed and caricature. Luke Evans embraces the bromantic cheese as Best’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson plays it straight as an intelligence officer who warned those in charge of the Pearl Harbour attacks, Dennis Quaid tackles through questionable dialogue as a Vice Admiral, Woody Harrelson feels slightly miscast in a straightforward turn as a Commander-In-Chief, Aaron Eckhart has alarmingly little to do as a flight commander, and Nick Jonas navigates one of the film’s more impressive action set-pieces as a Machinist’s Mate commandeering a Kamikaze attack before his final moments reek of climactic cliche.
At 138 minutes Midway is in no particular hurry to tell its story, although it rather ironically feels alarmingly quick in detailing said story, seemingly rushing through the climactic Midway battle and placing a strong emphasis on the melodramatic tropes that surround its narrative. It’s an effects-heavy action film with some standard moments of levity peppered throughout, and as an old-fashioned vehicle (or one of those expensive projects that earns Netflix backing) it does what it needs to do, but anyone seeking a war story heavy on emotional weight and overall subtlety best look elsewhere as Emmerich’s M.O. of style over substance is still very much adhered to here, despite the important story at its core.