This past weekend saw the release of Roland Emmerich’s Midway, a movie that seemed to pose the question, “what if Pearl Harbor, but directed by the guy from White House Down and The Day After Tomorrow?”
To add additional comedic context, the trailer promised the movie would help us “discover the untold story of the real heroes of World War II.”
Ah yes, that famously untold story, of THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY. Midway‘s marketing may have attempted to whitewash a John Ford documentary, a 1976 Charlton Heston movie of the same name, and at least ten years of History Channel programming, but it did add Luke Evans and a Jonas brother. Jingoism, schlock, and teenybopper heartthrobs are three great tastes that go great together. The film actually won the weekend box office, though $17 million still seems low for a special effects-driven war movie blockbuster.
Roland Emmerich is one of our greatest bad filmmakers, and while experiencing the majesty and tastelessness of one of his films normally requires twelve bucks and two and a half hours of spare time, I’ve attempted to recreate the experience here. I’ve done it using a method I devised years ago, of reading every review of the film online, saving the expository sections, and reassembling the plot in chronological order. There’s something oddly entertaining about having a bad movie explained to us by bored critics.
If there’s one filmmaker who has proudly carried on the tradition of cornball spectacles full of rising nobodies and fading stars — movies like the 1976 Midway, directed by World War II veteran Jack Smight and starring World War II veterans Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, and Cliff Robertson — it’s Roland Emmerich. (NPR)
“Midway” begins matter of factly with blunt statements on a black screen: Midway is the most important Naval battle ever fought and it showed how one battle turned the tide of World War II from Japan taking control of the West Coast to being defeated. (Boston Herald)
The film opens with an alarmingly synthetic visualisation of the Pearl Harbor attack (clunky computer effects, stick figures on fake-looking ships) then essentially traps us for two hours in the company of cardboard characters. (The Guardian)
British actor Ed Skrein stars as the most reckless of all the flyboys, Dick Best (The Guardian)
a man known to fly like “he doesn’t care if he comes home,” (Chicago Tribune)
the flashy young hotshot with the beautiful wife (Mandy Moore) and adorable kid, whose picture he prominently displays in the cockpit of his rickety two-seat TBD Devastator, (Patriot Ledger)
whose gifts as an aviator are overshadowed by a hot-headed desire to throw caution to the winds and “put a 500-pound bomb down their smokestack.” (LA Times)
He hates orders, loves his friends, and flies into every blaze of enemy gunfire safe in the knowledge that his wife is staring out the kitchen window of their house in Honolulu, her eyes locked on the horizon and her hair crimped to perfection (Indiewire)
The Londoner’s attempts at a Jersey accent can only be termed laughable. (Patriot Ledger)
His mumbled delivery indicates he has seen GoodFellas several times. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette)
Dick chews gum and delivers wince-worthy lines such as, “Nnnnyeah, when you gonna let us hit those Japs?” (Times UK)
He loses his Naval Academy pal (Alexander Ludwig) in Pearl Harbor, which stokes his taste for revenge. (Chicago Tribune)
“This is for Pearl!” Best shouts as he mans a plane, hellbent on revenge. (Detroit News)
You can predict like clockwork that his wicked, untamable ways will be tempered with a newfound sense of maturity before fade out. (RogerEbert.com)
Mandy Moore has relatively little to do as Dick’s wife Anne, but she does get one juicy showcase scene at an Officers’ Club dinner dance, where she proves to be just as much of a “spitfire” as her rebellious husband. (Chicago Sun Times)
She plays a borderline parody of the concerned wife, whimpering tragically as she gazes at her own angelic reflection in the mirror. (Independent)
She might deserve the Medal of Honor for repeatedly having to say that she loves “Dick Best” with a straight face (Indiewire)
Luke Evans sports a Clark Gable mustache as the stoic, by-the-book Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky, who doesn’t trust Best and tells him to knock it off with the “cowboy” act. (Chicago Sun Times)
…who will later relent and say, “Men like Dick Best are the reason we’re gonna win this war.” (Rolling Stone)
Nick Jonas plays a soldier with an Italian accent so broad he sounds like he’s auditioning for a pasta commercial. (Detroit News)
I was only able to separate him from the dozens of other non-descript white boys via his peach-fuzz mustache. (Patriot Ledger)
He’s just one of numerous Navy pilots and sailors who look, sound and act mostly the same, like a whole movie full of Ben Affleck knock-offs. (FilmRacket)
All the most enormous, jutting, chiseled chins in Hollywood are called up to do their duty, and armed with lines of dialogue that sink like depth charges. (The Guardian)
Its fakeness is matched only by its cast of dozens, all of them chiseled out of wood and shellacked to a high gloss resembling puppets more than men (Pariot Ledger)
one of the least charismatic, whitest casts ever assembled. (Asheville Movies)
Tooke’s screenplay identifies them all by whatever their singular trait might be. “He’s the man who tried to warn us!”, greets Layton. “He’s the best pilot we’ve got!” is about the only thing good anybody has to say about the appropriately-named Best. (Punch Drunk Critics)
A character wearing sunglasses and dressed in a khaki uniform climbs out of a car with a soldier, and the soldier cries out: “Gee whiz, I’ve never met a real-life movie director before, Mr. Ford!” Mr. Ford, as played by Geoffrey Blake, is meant to be the legendary John Ford, who filmed the Battle of Midway and turned it into the 1942 documentary The Battle of Midway. You should probably just watch that instead – it’s streaming on Netflix. (Slash Film)
It comes down to a battle of who has the most aggressively protruding chin. Given the pure quantity of jaw-clenching he fits into just a few minutes’ screen time, I’m going to give the facial-hypertrophy trophy to Aaron Eckhart as Doolittle, a flying legend previously embodied onscreen by Spencer Tracy and Alec Baldwin. (NPR)
Midway teaches us that wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by jawlines and cheekbones. (AV Club)
Rounding out the Americans are a gravelly Dennis Quaid (a career-worst) as shingles-inflicted Adm. William “Bull” Halsey (Patriot Ledger)
subject of that obnoxious Paul McCartney and Wings song, who spends his screentime growling about not giving up before being overtaken by shingles. (RogerEbert.com)
The most memorable thing about Harrelson’s Admiral Nimitz is his hair, which draws your attention every time he’s onscreen (RogerEbert.com)
one of the worst wigs in cinema history. (FilmRacket)
JAPAN AND CHINA
The Japanese are as clichéd as the Americans; they’re stoic and ramble off comments about honor while making thinly veiled threats. (RogerEbert.com)
The Chinese are also represented in a subplot featuring James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) that feels imported from a different movie. Considering that several logos for Chinese companies appear during the opening credits, these scenes must have been a prerequisite (Roger Ebert.com)
It also may explain the heavy Chinese investment in the $100 million “Midway” production budget. (Chicago Tribune)
The script, by Wes Tooke, is loaded with dumb speeches that are meant to seem inspiring, and clunky expository lines where characters exclaim a trait about someone they’re interacting with. (Slash Film)
This is a movie where men stand on top of bars when they have important speeches to make. (LA Times)
spouting dialogue like “that’s the bravest damn thing I’ve ever seen” and “let’s take it upstairs to the old man” (LA Times)
…the kind of war movie where the cocky free spirit pilot is always popping a stick of gum into his mouth while defying orders and vowing revenge, and the quietly suffering wives wear their best dresses and sport stylish hairdos while telling their husbands to win this war and come home safely, and dive bomber pilots are always saying things like, “We’ve got company!” (Chicago Sun Times)
“You always wanted to be a hero; now’s your chance!” “I nevertheless know the fighting spirit of these men.” (NPR)
Men take the time, mid-combat, to say things like “God damn it, that magnificent son of a bitch actually found them!” (Hollywood Reporter)
A high-ranking intelligence officer is working late into the night when his wife wonders if it will really make a difference if he stays up another half hour?
Why yes, comes the reply. I just might be able to save the lives of some fine young American men.
“I’ll make you a sandwich,” says the understanding wife. (Chicago Sun Times)
Scene after scene in Midway makes it distractingly clear that the actors are standing on a sound stage in front of a green screen. (Asheville Movies)
….a barrage of only sporadically convincing CGI (Daily Mail)
an abrasive cycle of men barking esoteric jargon, followed by loud, jumbled aeronautical action sequences where it’s difficult to tell what’s going on until later when a character explains it in civilian terms. (Asheville Movies)
Recipe for battle sequences:
• Show the commanding officers (on both sides) gaming out their strategies and occasionally going on deck with binoculars to scope out the action.
• Pull back for long shots of aerial battles in which it’s difficult to distinguish between the American and Japanese aircraft as dozens of planes twist and turn through the smoke-filled, fiery skies.
• Cut to close-ups of Navy dive bombers gritting their teeth, barking out warnings and commands, and hollering “Woohooo!” when they score a direct hit on one of the Japanese fleet carriers.
• Pull back for more long shots of ships on fire, planes zig-zagging, torpedoes zipping toward their targets, etc. (Chicago Sun Times)
It is like a book report by a third grader: there’s good guys, bad guys and a whole lot of explosions. The end. (Detroit News)
The only true substance to be found in “Midway” comes in the scenes right before the credits that tell us what happened to all of the people involved. Those “what happened” title cards reveal more about these characters than anything else that has happened in the film’s 138 minute running time. (Bowling Green Daily News)
This movie sounds almost as funny as looking at the still image of Nick Jonas dressed as a fighter pilot. Now if you will all excuse me, I have some Netflix to watch.