“Midway” showed audiences are still hungry for All-American heroism.
“Midway” director Roland Emmerich, best known for disaster yarns like “Independence Day” and “2012,” combines cutting-edge effects and a glittery cast to bring the war movie genre back where it belongs -- on movie screens nationwide.
The 2001 smash “Pearl Harbor” favored Michael Bay-centric explosions over rugged storytelling, with a finale that clocked in at roughly 40 minutes long. The film’s extensive love triangle also left some audience members conflicted.
“Midway” doesn’t repeat that mistake.
The film puts the focus on both the blistering assault on American troops as well as the stunning firepower and strategy that helped the Allies win.
The story opens in 1937, four years before the fateful Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Emmerich captures the insanity of it all with effects that send planes flying off the screen, crashing into naval warships and some stunning shooter’s-eye and pilot’s-eye views of the action as the American forces fight back.
But once the dust settles and the shocking cost of the attack is fully realized, the brilliant Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) is called in to oversee the retaliation. While the movie is stacked with several more impressive battle sequences, centered upon wild man pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and ace tailgunner Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas), “Midway” also shows the heavy strategizing that occurs as America and Japan escalate – with the US finally realizing they have to stage a decisive attack on the Japanese base at Midway Island in order to save the West Coast from an even bigger assault that could topple America and the free world.
Emmerich and writer Wes Tooke take a more balanced, even mature approach to the material.
We watch both Japan’s unprovoked attack and a consequence rarely featured on screen – how many Chinese civilians were killed for helping downed American pilots. The creative team refused to stereotype the Japanese soldiers, often seen as young men just following orders.
The film’s Nov. 5 world premiere in Los Angeles featured three of the actual survivors of the Battle of Midway and an appearance by the US Navy Color Guard. The patriotic screening also included current Navy members in the crowd and a rendition of the National Anthem, among other flourishes.
Not a knee was taken in protest.
Emmerich told the crowd he thinks “Midway” is an important film for our times. The movie was a dream project of his for 20 years, but studios feared it might be too similar to “Pearl Harbor” in some viewers’ eyes.
He thinks Hollywood needs more, not less, World War II epics.
“We live in a world that’s totally divided, especially in America. We live in freedom. These guys were united and gave their life for democracy,” said Emmerich. “It’s great to remind people today that these people existed, and every one or two years there should be a WWII movie to remind people about that. Especially in our times, when everyone is so sarcastic and cynical. These guys were true heroes and were the greatest generation.”
That’s refreshing, but the film’s weak spots are tough to ignore.
The heavy amount of strategizing involved and the story’s jump from battle to battle sometimes makes it confusing, blurring all the battles and military officials together. That doesn’t defuse the film’s significance or entertainment value.
“Midway” emerges as a throwback to a war genre that’s rarely attempted anymore. If you’re looking for a patriotic look back at some of the bravest men America’s ever known, “Midway” is for you.