Thursday, November 28, 2019

Midway review

Director Roland Emmerich has made a bunch of films. So he knows the importance of keeping focus on a dramatic narrative. In 1994, he wrote and directed Stargate (1994) , a science fiction movie that was about meeting the fictional aliens that colonized the earth in ancient Egypt. Now Emmerich didn't go into the enslavement of the ancient Egyptians. That would have taken away from the narrative, the purpose of the Stargate and where it would lead us. Unfortunately, his instincts for narrative get lost in the historical drama Midway. In fact, the movie starts with a scroll that it is about events leading to the battle of Midway. Really?

Yep. This 2019 version of the Battle of Midway starts with events leading up to it. We meet Lt. Commander Layton (Patrick Wilson) whose in Japan years before World War 2, getting to know the Japanese. Then years later the film Midway moves to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is depicted in frightening fashion but hey I thought this movie was about the Battle of Midway. We meet some of the main characters, hot shot pilot Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and the responsible air group commander aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Wade McCluskey (Luke Evans). Throw in Woody Harrelson as the legendary U.S. admiral Chester Nimitz. But before we actually see the planning of the Battle of Midway, the movie decides to take some time to show the raid on Tokyo by Army Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart)

It's good to see Ed Skrein playing a good guy. And everybody in the cast is good. But they're only as good as the screenplay and writer Wes Tooke loads it up with plenty of corn. And he makes a big mistake when he tackled the historic Battle of Midway. He's telling two other battles before Midway. Pearl Harbor. The Doolittle Raid. And I'm very suspicious of American movies made with Chinese money. (Shanghai Ruyi) In the movie, Doolittle crashes in China. He's helped by local Chinese resistance fighters. And they are strafed by Japanese fighters. Doolittle asks who the Japanese are attacking. And the Chinese say it's the civilians. Okay, it's true that the Japanese killed Chinese civilians. But I can't help but wonder if this scene was in here to please the Chinese producers.

Director Emmerich knows action, special effects and big explosions. And Midway does those things well. But he also has made films that stayed on narrative course. By the time we get to the Battle of Midway, he's wasted too much time. I'm not giving anything away when I say the Americans won but how? Three Japanese carriers are sunk but we really don't see how. It's so badly depicted that you're confused as to which ship was sunk. It's basically delivered in a line of dialogue. We really don't get a feel for the battle. You're scratching your head at what happened. The battle was close because it was two fleets looking for each other. So much so, that the dramatic impact of the sinking of the last Japanese carrier lacks the emotional weight it should have been given. The Americans suffered great losses. The 1976 film of this battle, Midway did a better job of setting up the conflict because it didn't waste time with extensive depictions of the battle of Pearl Harbor or the Doolittle Raid.

Some day there's going to be a better dramatic retelling of the Battle of Midway. Maybe it will be done in a television mini-series. This 2019 version is worth seeing on cable. But if you want a better feel for the real battle, read a good book on it. The grade for Midway is B Minus.

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