History can forget about our heroes…
While it tends to get a little underrepresented in film, the battle of Midway was a pivotal one during the second world war and it’s done a fair bit of justice here in proving that you don’t need a star or a studio to put together a $100 Million + large scale spectacle for what just might be the best pure war movie we’ve seen in years.
Midway centers on the Battle of Midway, a clash between the American fleet and the Imperial Japanese Navy which marked a pivotal turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII. The film, based on the real-life events of this heroic feat, tells the story of the leaders and soldiers who used their instincts, fortitude and bravery to overcome the odds.
Breaking out of the major studio system, Midway is a war movie that harkens back to the old school days of movie making that evokes memories of films like Tora, Tora, Tora or A Bridge Too Far which are less character driven and more event driven. Here the battle and the struggle is the story, which is how it should be.
Director Roland Emmerich breaks out of the studio mold here and makes what is the equivalent of $100 Million dollar indie movie and it actually allows his passion to shine throughout the narrative. While we’ll admit there are moments where the CGI effects aren’t exactly perfect he still manages to get us emotionally absorbed in it all by focusing on scope of the events that are happening to the characters around us. He’s always scaled action well and here it goes at a fever clip while still allowing for the occasional moment to appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women who fought in these battles.
With him being able to strike a fair balance between the myriad of moving characters in this large story and the action that they participate in we get to experience these combat actions from a variety of angles, including the one that has been getting lost in recent storytelling; The Battle itself; which is never jingoistic at any time, it’s just watching the chess pieces unfurl across a grander board then most of us would ever experience.
If you had to call anyone the lead in this film, by default it would fall on Ed Skrein as ace flyboy Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best. His character works pretty well as a major hinge of the narrative and he shows genuine flashes of being able to carry a movie like this with ease as he leans into the kind of everyman swagger that helped win the war. Patrick Wilson is strong on the other side of the coin as Edwin Layton in Military Intelligence trying to stay one step ahead of the opposition in the wake of the destruction of Pearl Harbor. The rest of the ensemble which includes Mandy Moore, Luke Evans, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, Jake Weber, Alexander Ludwig, Dennis Quaid and Woody Harrelson all play there parts to a tee building the larger picture that was the conflict of Midway.
We’ve become conditioned to see war movies in recent years about “right” and “wrong” and lose appreciation for not just the skill it takes to participate in these battles (or subsequent movies about them) but also in the total necessity in teamwork, sacrifice and a little luck in order to get the outcome you desire. That’s what makes Midway one of the best war movies we’ve seen in years because it doesn’t focus on picking a side and reminds us that in these games of war, you may not hate your adversary, but you have to play (i.e. fight) like you do.