The mostly not-bad WWII epic proves Emmerich still has a bit of THE PATRIOT in him.
By Matt Cummings
Depending on your point of view, Director Roland Emmerich is either a cheap hack with zero quality control (WHITE HOUSE DOWN, ID: RESURGENCE), or a remarkable craftsman who’s created a handful of pop culture masterpieces (THE PATRIOT, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, ID:4). Both opinions would be right, but it’s his recent string of flops that has people concerned. And while the same cannot be said for his passion project MIDWAY, it’s a not-awful remake that few are likely to see.
After the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the Pacific theater becomes a powder keg as the Japanese advance eastward towards the United States. Standing in their way are Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), Vice Admiral Halsey (Dennis Quaid) and their men, led by pilots Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) and Dick Best (Ed Skrein), and the strategist Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson). Although Layton suspects that the Japanese will soon attack Midway Island, Washington disagrees, forcing Nimitz to defy orders and setting up the most pivotal naval battle of WWII.
MIDWAY tones down the deep strategum of the original, keeping a sharp focus on the battles with a visual intensity that keeps our attention in a rapt state. But make no bones about it: this is still an Emmerich picture, so expect cheesy half-baked dialogue and a ton of rah-rah moments, all wrapped around some interestingly good bones. There’s a whole discussion of the American codebreakers, as well as some great back-and-forth between Layton and Nimitz. Both could command future Oscar runs, so we have Emmerich to thank for exposing them. MIDWAY doesn’t spend much time with the naval women, nor does this war seem to include anyone of color. I’m also worried that its core audience averages 90, who may not be inclined to revisit such a horrible period in our history.
MIDWAY might actually work quite well alongside 2001’s PEARL HARBOR in terms of style; but there’s zero competition when compared to the orignal 1976 MIDWAY. That was a terrific, well-acted affair by some of Hollywood’s finest; this features a solid but unremarkable cast who do their best with Writer Wes Tooke’s cheesy script. It will also have a tough time making money, as it’s situated just outside the coming onslaught of (far better) Oscar fare and those holiday blockbusters. I wonder if it might have performed better in August/September, had it not been haphazardly dumped here in mid-November.
Some will discount MIDWAY as nothing more than American chest-thumping, at a time when our influence abroad is being hammered like those ships at Pearl Harbor. But, the film sports an good cast, looks and sounds pretty great, and provides for several tense moments even though we all know how it all turns out (SPOILERS: We win). Its rather paltry $75m budget may not be enough for it turn a domestic profit (as its core audience literally isn’t around anymore), and it doesn’t have a chance against the impending lot of Oscar flicks, but perhaps it needs neither to be watchable. Any long-term success will be based on younger people desiring to know more about this pivotal period in WWII, but those chances are unlikely, given that lightsabers and frost-bitten snowmen are quickly on their way. But while it’s still an Emmerich film, catch it anyways; you’ll appreciate the effort before it quietly disappears next month.
MIDWAY is rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking and has a runtime of 138 minutes.