‘Midway’ Blu-Ray Review: Roland Emmerich’s War Epic Can’t Stick The Landing
Before I saw Midway, I considered it to be one of the greatest cinematic triumphs of 2019 — not because of its quality, but because of its provenance. Independence Day director Roland Emmerich has been trying to get a movie based on the historic 1942 naval battle since the 1990s, but the nine-digit budget proposal drove away nearly all major Hollywood financiers. Sidelining the major studios entirely, Emmerich managed to come up with much of the film’s funding himself, thus creating one of the most expensive independent films ever made.
Unfortunately, the final product is not nearly as triumphant. Emmerich seems simultaneously doing far too much and far too little with the film, resulting in an experience that induces more boredom than wonder.
Midway attempts to cover as many aspects of the battle as possible, featuring an ensemble cast that ranges from pilots to commanders to scouts and most conceivable occupations in between. No one actor gets a lion’s share of the screen time, but if there is a star, it is probably Ed Skrein‘s Richard “Dick” Best, the foolhardy head of squadron of dive bombers. Skrein’s faux-New Jersey accent is forced to the point of distraction, and his character is too shallowly written to fare much better. Also present are Dennis Quaid, doing absolutely nothing as Fleet Admiral William Halsey, and Woody Harrelson, visibly bored as Admiral Charles Nimitz, among many others whose performances are either too one-note or too bombastic to be worth noting here. By choosing to focus on such a large group of (mostly) men, Emmerich loses the chance to investigate any one of them deeply, resulting in what feels more like a set of sketches than a complete cinematic project.
The film’s themes also suffer from this overextension. At various moments, Midway seems like it’s about to take a dive into the horrors of war, the concept of duty, the emotional turmoil of Navy wives, a Japanese perspective on the conflict, or even questions of atheism in times of battle. For unknown reasons, deep exploration into any of these themes is ignored in favor of moving from one set-piece to the next, leaving little to no room for emotional or intellectual engagement on a meaningful level.
One might be able to forgive this if the film’s set-pieces were themselves interesting. Unfortunately, these moments are where the movie’s independent status show the fullest — and not in a good way. Some of the early fighting, particularly the raid on Pearl Harbor, looks more like a high-quality home video than it does a $100 million film. The action is repetitive and dull, and the film’s soundtrack and cinematography do little to spice things up. While some of the lead-up to the titular battle is interesting — particularly the codebreaking sequence — the film simply devotes too much time to action it’s not prepared to properly show.
All that being said, Emmerich is a veteran director whose films, if uninspired, are not lacking in competence. Midway may be a tired and unoriginal film, but fans of war movies or naval history will probably find more than enough here to keep them interested. The Blu-Ray’s special features will also help with that, featuring six different featurettes on both the making of the film and the history behind it, as well as a director’s commentary by Emmerich himself.