“Midway” Distributed by Lionsgate Pictures, 138 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released November 08, 2019:
Good production values and excellent computer-generated effects highlight “Midway,” the new movie from Lionsgate Pictures retelling the story of the 1942 battle that shifted the balance of naval superiority in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The Battle of Midway was the first naval encounter in history in which the opposing fleets were never within sight of each other.
“Midway” covers much of the same material as Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” in 2001. In describing the events which led to the June 1942 confrontation between the US and Japanese fleets, “Midway” also depicts the December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, the April 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and the Battle of the Coral Sea in May of 1942--the actual Midway sequence occupies only the final hour of the picture. But advances in computer generated imagery and realistic recreations of actual events turn this historical review into surprisingly compelling--and often startling--motion picture viewing.
The script by rookie screenwriter Wes Tooke is sometimes deficient in explaining a few of the intricacies of the battle: A delay in sighting the Japanese fleet led to the US Navy’s launching an uncoordinated attack. Without support from fighter planes, virtually the entire first wave of American torpedo bombers was shot down by the Japanese, resulting in the dive bombers carrying most of the burden of the battle. The picture also glosses over the pivotal role of Rear Admiral Spruance in the absence of the ailing Admiral Halsey, and the loss of the aircraft carrier Yorktown. In the plus column, the historical importance of the encounter is given its due, if not emphasized.
Among the standout performances in the ensemble cast, Patrick Wilson is harried and devoted as naval codebreaker Edwin Layton, Dennis Quaid is blowsy and blustery in an extended cameo appearance as Admiral “Bull” Halsey, and Aaron Eckhart is a steely, flinty General Doolittle, leading the US Army’s bomber raid on Tokyo. Woody Harrelson is unusually subdued and thoughtful as Pacific Fleet Commander Chester Nimitz (with his wavy white hair, Harrelson resembles a cross between Bill Clinton and Billy Graham). Tadanobu Asano and Jun Kunimura are the Japanese admirals Yamaguchi and Nagumo.
In the grand tradition of pop stars appearing in war pictures, Nick Jonas plays an especially heroic radioman/gunner, and almost singlehandedly earns the movie’s PG-13 rating by dropping its solitary F-bomb. Ed Skrein, late of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is the picture’s nominal leading man as the dashing Navy flyer Richard Best, while Mandy Moore as a Navy wife wrings her hands on the home front in Honolulu. But the picture’s best characterization is contributed by the eclectic Luke Evans as legendary US Navy squadron commander Wade McClusky. Evans’ chiseled countenance and humorless demeanor camouflage the occasional zingers in his dialogue.
“Midway” has long been a passion project of motion picture director Roland Emmerich, the blockbuster filmmaker behind 1996’s “Independence Day” and its 2016 sequel, the 1998 “Godzilla” remake, “The Patriot” in 2000, and 2013’s “White House Down.” For years, Emmerich couldn’t obtain the necessary backing for the film, and finally resorted to raising the reported $100 million budget himself, much of it from Chinese investors. As a result, “Midway” is one of the most expensive independent pictures ever produced.
Released during the Veteran’s Day weekend to some 3242 theaters across the United States and Canada, preliminary estimates indicate the gamble of “Midway” is paying off: Originally projected by distributor Lionsgate Pictures to earn up to $15 million over its opening weekend, “Midway” was able to bring in some $6.3 million on its opening day alone. The picture scored the first place spot in the week’s Box Office Mojo Top Ten with $17.5 in ticket sales, over the new “Doctor Sleep” in second with $14.1 million. “Playing with Fire” placed third, and “Last Christmas” fourth.
Film buffs will enjoy the brief subplot in “Midway” featuring actor Geoffrey Blake as legendary filmmaker John Ford. The Academy Award-winning Ford was commissioned a Commander in the US Naval Reserve during World War II and assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, where he supervised the production of propaganda films. Stationed on Midway at the time of the battle, Ford and a small camera crew filmed portions of the actual fighting even after being strafed and wounded by a Japanese fighter plane. Ford’s resulting 18-minute color documentary, “The Battle of Midway,” is easily available for viewing on YouTube.
Filmed on location in Hawaii with some additional production in Montreal, Quebec, “Midway” is rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, and for language concerns (thank Nick Jonas) and scenes of smoking and liquor consumption.