Review: ‘Midway’: Better than I’d feared, but still not for everyone

Christopher Kelly, news staff

“Midway” (2019) is the action-packed recount of one of the most decisive battles in the Pacific theater during World War II. It covers multiple perspectives from different sides of the war both leading up to and during the battle. “Midway” is directed by Roland Emmerich, who has finally returned to the war-movie genre after nearly two decades, with his last war movie being “The Patriot” (2000). Ed Skrein and Patrick Wilson as lead characters “Dick” Best and Edwin Layton respectively are carried by an extensive supporting cast who make up the better parts of the film.

The movie is over two hours long, and it feels even longer — but not because of pacing. None of the time spent with the characters feels wasted, as they all played an important role in the Battle of Midway. However, the balance between action and strategy made the film feel longer. The inclusion of certain scenes involving the characters’ families back home were unneeded for the most part, but the argument could be made that these were real people whose stories should be told in full.

“Midway” is a movie meant for people who enjoy history and, more specifically, this time period and the war itself. Anyone flipping through channels late at night would be bored by the beginning of the third act. This is due in no small part to the slim characterization throughout the film. By the end, I was struggling to remember the names of the main protagonists, which is a shame because they were depicting real soldiers and intelligence officers who had major roles in the Battle of Midway. Most of the characters felt cookie-cutter for their parts, and their dialogue just screamed cheesy at some points. The main hero diving in a suicide run in order to attack the enemy flagship and whispering “This is for Pearl Harbor” felt pretty on-the-nose, even for this movie.

Looking past the dialogue and into the action itself, however, yields its own rewards. The movie is visually amazing even though it relies almost entirely on CGI, and it remained optimally tense whenever a bombing run started or when a torpedo was fired. Those few moments of holding your breath and waiting for the impact really sucked me into the action and seemed to replicate how naval warfare would have been in WWII.

Unsurprisingly, the actual battle sequence that takes up the entire end of the film is the most entertaining part. What did surprise me was the specificity of events that took place, with the film going so far as to timestamp particular attacks. The gravity of the battle is well established by that point in the movie, with the audience aware that it will decide the entire outcome of the war in the Pacific, so it feels rewarding to see the pay-off by the climax when the action finally picks up.

The film’s structure can best be described as a Call of Duty story plot. The dialogue is a little on-the-nose, and the writers may have taken some liberties with historical accuracy, but it is entertaining and gets you more interested in the time period and significance of the events. I would recommend “Midway” for avid video game players and serious history buffs, but casual moviegoers — like the guy who was snoring behind me in the theater 90 minutes in — probably won’t remember the plot after a day or two.