Written by: Hannah Tran
Midway (Roland Emmerich, 2019) 1 out of 4 stars.
For a film about bravery, the latest entry into disaster virtuoso Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster-riddled lineup proves itself spineless. Depicting the events of its titular World War II battle and the events leading up to it, Midway is simply a cowardly Dunkirk, never allowing itself to take any tangible risks or dabble in anything reminiscent of originality. Filled with a consortium of familiar faces, it never quite chooses between sappy character backstories and mindless battle spectacles, meaning you’ll be forced to know these characters more and care about them less, resulting in a storyline that will only triumph in making you feel thoroughly detached and disconnected from it.
While Midway heavily displays Emmerich’s typical penchant for pulse-pounding action sequences, it has little interest in, or understanding of, a necessity of war films: chaos. Because of this, the action largely feels overly filmic, controlled, and uninspired. Each battle sequence lasts beyond excitement, making whatever compelling choreography the film has to offer into a tedious waste of time. The time is further bloated by an unfocused narrative, the scope of the story acting less as a deep reconstruction of a single event during the war and more as an expansive, but shallow, overview of an entire stretch of battles and the bits between them.
And although it offers a biography-filled epilogue that seems to last for a quarter of the seemingly endless runtime, it feels as if none of these characters make up more than ten minutes of that time. The myriad of characters would be impossible to tell apart if the film weren’t so reliant on the knowability of its star-studded cast. And that cast, ranging from Aaron Eckhart to Woody Harrelson to Nick Jonas, feels semi-wasted, as even the major characters seem to only be allowed supporting roles, all of which are given the most lackluster of dialogue. Furthermore, it’s questionable, half-hearted attitude through which it portrays the Japanese soldiers is never able to fully decide whether these men are faceless, exotic invaders or courageous soldiers just as noble as their American counterparts. The movie fails by offering little critique on American war mentality, but fails even more in its attempts to politicize and simplify the relationship between these two forces.
Despite its overwhelming reliance on visual effects, Midway feels like it was made twenty years ago. While it fails to contribute anything new to the war film canon, the most telling sign of its own datedness lies in its inability to fully commit to any commentary regarding itself or the current culture surrounding it, cinematic or otherwise. Near the beginning of the film, it is expressed how some Japanese leader or other is far too moderate for the people, his centrism falling out of line with their changing attitudes. Oh, the lack of self-awareness …