War is a tempestuous beast. It brings out the heroics and the horrors of our species known as humanity. It brings out the guile and the cunning and the romance, oh the romance.
It’s also been documented ad nauseum.
It’s safe to say that Roland Emmerich of “Independence Day” fame doesn’t tread any new water in his special effects spectacle, “Midway” featuring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore and Dennis Quaid too. Hearkening back to the war epics of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when cameos drove war-centric stories depicting heroism and braggadocio within the realism that was naval war, “Midway” focuses its efforts on the Battle at Midway, using it to support a misdirected love affair between a husband and wife based in Hawaii.
“Midway” does not reach the level of resplendent cameos that populated films such as “Tora, Tora, Tora,” “A Bridge Too Far,” or “The Dirty Dozen”; its ensemble cast does though. It manages to reach the level of explosions and effects of the aforementioned films.
“Midway” marks Wes Tooke’s, who is known primarily in television for “Colony” and “Jean-Claude Van Johnson,” first feature screenplay. It’s central thesis surrounds the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and then the Battle at Midway in which the nearly depleted fleet was able to send the Japanese aggression back to Japan, turning the tide of the Pacific Theatre back. Tooke and Emmerich set a stage for the film by opening it up with a back-channel diplomatic conversation before Japan’s infamous attack of Pearl. They knew the dangers of attacking the American fleet back then, who remained neutral in the European Theatre operations.
At its center is Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Skrien), a maverick fighter pilot who pushes his commanders’ buttons, but also has the instincts to see his mission through to completion. The character makes for a modern Luke Skywalker – someone who understands that he is a larger part of the effort, but also has the daring-do to push his efforts to the next level. He reports directly to and constantly annoys Lieutenant Commander Wayde McCluskey (Luke Evans), the wing group commander. There is an ongoing push to recognize that they need to train the upcoming ranks to support them.
Tooke does inject fear of failure in many of the characters, but especially in Best. Skrien does an effective job in subtly conveying that fear, even if five minutes later, he’s in the cockpit dive bombing or evading enemy craft.
On the other side of the incursion is the support staff at Pearl; those who still have to pinpoint where the Japanese fleet is going to end up. Heading that effort is Lieutenant Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), the intelligence officer who pinpointed Japan’s attack on Pearl when Washington wouldn’t listen to him. His fear is that the incoming commander won’t listen to him because he could not convince others to take action. That commander happens to be Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson). The chemistry between the two actors, one of fear that he cannot convince and the other of being shoveled into a situation he didn’t want to take on, is one of the stronger moments in the film.
That’s the challenge with the way Emmerich put together “Midway.” The supporting ensemble cast feels just as equal in its screen time that we don’t get to feel any one character stand out. Emmerich does move us from Pearl to Doolittle’s Raid with Aaron Eckhart playing the Admiral. There are moments when people like Best can’t believe that Doolittle’s mission could even get off the flight deck, carrying the emotional tension to its logical conclusion.
By the time we actually get to the Midway Battle, we’re a bit spent; characters don’t seem as interesting as the recreated events they are apart of. Speaking of characters, all of them are based on real participants in the war; none of their names have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.
“Midway” is not a remake of the 1976 Jack Smight film of the same name, but it is no less the spectacle that the prior film’s name carries. It honors the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives for a better future for all of us.