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Midway (Patrick Wilson/Ed Skrein) - DVD Review

Midway

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

ROLAND Emmerich follows in the footsteps of Michael Bay by following innumerable destruction-based blockbusters (Independence Day, White House Down) with an attempt to come over all serious for a World War II epic designed to offer an overview of America’s entry into the conflict.

Where Bay concentrated solely on the events of Pearl Harbor, however, Emmerich opts to use that as an entry point from which he builds towards another of the key early battles in the Pacific, namely Midway.

But while decidedly more even-handed and sticking more rigidly to the facts (by virtue of its focus on real-life heroes), the overall effect is still pretty similar. Midway, like Pearl Harbor, is long, loud and surprisingly dull, placing its biggest emphasis on the spectacle that Emmerich as a filmmaker has long since displayed his biggest flare for.

The film unfolds from a number of perspectives, including the Japanese. But its primarily concerned with hot-shot pilot Lieutenant Dick Best (Ed Skrein), whose Top Gun-style disregard for rules and superiors quickly earn him a reputation as one of the most daring in his squadron.

It’s Best’s missions that provide the film with its reason for existing: dazzling aerial displays of sacrifice and courage as they go air-to-air with Japanese enemies and drop bombs aboard Japanese battleships and aircraft carriers.

And to be fair, there’s a certain spectacle to be found in all of this, albeit clearly CGI-enhanced, with mind-blowing acts of devil-may-care flying supposedly helping to create a tension that’s sorely lacking from any other part of the picture.

Alas, this also contributes to the film’s failings, as some of the sequences feel too OTT, with several last minute recoveries from seemingly impossible scenarios placing a strain on credibility and eventually feeling repetitive.

Far more interesting – courtesy of the acting talent involved – is the role played by intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) in the success at Midway, along with newly appointed commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson). Their strategy forming and code-breaking exploits offer the potential for intrigue and tension yet, in spite of the best efforts of the actors involved, Emmerich allows this to dissipate all too quickly in his desire to get back to the fighting.

Aaron Eckhart also crops up as another of America’s famous flying heroes, James Harold Doolittle, who infamously led the Tokyo Raid (aka The Doolittle Raid), while Tadanobu Asano and Etsushi Toyokawa add some interest from the Japanese perspective – and are depicted in a sensitive fashion as clever men.

But whenever the film approaches anything close to thoughtful character insight or moral complexity, it pulls back in favour of more gung-ho heroism without ever really capturing a true sense of loss or sacrifice. And while Emmerich manages to avoid feeling too jingoistic or flag-waving, Midway still feels a little too patriotic, sentimental and old school in its depiction of heroism.

It’s a very contrived type of film, opting for earnestness over invention. Where the best war films – from Saving Private Ryan through to The Darkest Hour and Dunkirk – find new ways of bringing out the tension of the campaigns they depict, and the hell of war with it, Midway goes for pretty-boy spectacle and tokenistic complexity.

It feels too polished, too by-the-numbers and too like its joining the dots to get where it’s going. For a film with so much at stake, it’s a surprisingly boring affair. The memories of the people it depicts deserve a far better movie to get their courageousness across.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 20mins
Digital Download: March 2, 2020
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: March 9, 2020

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