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"MIDWAY"
(2019) (Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, remaining American forces try to figure out where the Japanese will strike next and then mount a defense and counterattack.
PLOT:
Following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Navy in the Pacific arena is severely crippled, something not lost on Admiral Chester Nimitz (WOODY HARRELSON) who's just been named as the Commander in Chief there. He relies on Navy intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton (PATRICK WILSON) for intel on what the Japanese fleet might next have in store, with Layton not wanting a repeat of the December 7th attack that he warned was likely coming.

Based on the work of his code breakers, he guesses the Japanese -- led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (ETSUSHI TOYOKAWA), Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (JUN KUNIMURA) and Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi (TADANOBU ASANO) -- are likely going to target the Midway Islands in hopes of destroying the remaining American fleet, especially after the bombing raids on Tokyo carried out by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (AARON ECKHART) and his squadron.

Under the command of Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey (DENNIS QUAID), those aboard the USS Enterprise prepare for what's coming next. That includes Lieutenant Commander Clarence Wade McClusky (LUKE EVANS) who's in charge of the torpedo and dive bombers. Richard "Dick" Best (ED SKREIN) is his best pilot, but one who takes risks, much to the concern of his wife, Anne (MANDY MOORE), and tail gunner, James Murray (KEEAN JOHNSON), but who's appreciated by good friend Clarence Earle Dickinson (LUKE KLEINTANK) and the likes of Aviation Machinist Mate Bruno Gaido (NICK JONAS).

With Layton narrowing down the time frame and location of the likely Japanese attack, all involved prepare for a battle that will prove to be the turning point in WWII.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
For many of us at a certain age, you get to the point in life where you feel like you're often repeating yourself. You know along the lines of (and I'm not yet "that" old for what it's worth) kids saying "Grandpa's telling the story...again… about when he was a boy."

In a recent review, I commented on growing up as the son of a WWII vet and seeing every movie related to that. And in another one about a different sort of war, I pointed out that the story of famous American inventors needed a mini-series treatment rather than regular, one-off movie to tell the tale and do both the story and its characters justice.

Well, here I go again. Back when I was twelve, my dad and I headed off to the theater to see "Midway," a WWII film about, natch, the pivotal battle of 1942 that swung the Pacific arena over to the American side. I have to admit, however, that the only thing I recall about seeing that movie was that it was my first experience with Sensurround.

For those not familiar with that (it was only used for four films total), it was a cinematic speaker system where gargantuan subwoofers were brought into theaters and probably tested the structural integrity of the buildings, what with all of the sonic vibrations being sent forth.

In fact, and maybe because of my height at the time, those low frequencies hit me so hard right at throat level that I didn't think I was going to be able to eat my popcorn. Probably due to that, I didn't remember (until just looking it up) that the film was loaded with stars including, but not limited to Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson and Robert Wagner. And I likely didn't realize that many of the action scenes featured footage lifted from previous war flicks and even John Ford's 1942 documentary.

Now, nearly half a century later, we have a new version depicting the Battle of Midway, once again simply titled "Midway." Gone is the Sensurround and borrowed film footage, but kids seeing this offering will likely walk away like I did from my version, amazed and overwhelmed by the spectacle and likely not remembering anyone who's in it.

Much of that obviously stems from director Roland Emmerich putting much of the film's reported $60 million budget up on the screen in terms of special effects sequences featuring the various battles, sometimes making everything feel like an elaborate video game. But the rest is due to there simply being too many characters and storylines for the film's 140 minute running time to handle. Yes, just like the recent "The Current War," this different sort of war flick definitely needed the mini-series treatment.

Working from Wes Tooke's screenplay that doesn't have the luxury of truly creating any sort of character depth via dialogue, Emmerich overloads the viewer with locales, battles and characters. There are the pilots -- including those played by Ed Skrein, Luke Kleintank and Luke Evans -- who find themselves flying into battles featuring extremely low odds of surviving. One has a featured wife -- played by Mandy Moore -- but like everyone else she's given the short shrift in terms of character development.

Other parts of the plot deal with the newly in charge Admiral (Woody Harrelson) trying to figure out how to keep what's left of the American fleet afloat while contending with a pending attack. In that regard, he's counting on an intelligence officer (Patrick Wilson) and his team of code-breakers to piece together when and where the Japanese will strike.

And the latter even get their own sub-story, with Etsushi Toyokawa, Jun Kunimura and Tadanobu Asano playing officers of varying ranks who have their own issues they must contend with. At the same time, another part deals with famous bomber squadron commander James Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) having to ditch his plane and end up among the Chinese, while Dennis Quaid plays an admiral whose command is cut short by a case of shingles.

Had the powers that be decided to turn this into a network or perhaps streaming mini-series, all of the above could have been fleshed out to engaging proportions. As it stands, most everyone receives little more than scant attention, ceding the dramatic fireworks to the battle sequences. I'll admit those are decently staged and sometimes exciting, even while making you seriously question their historical and physics-based accuracy.

Featuring and favoring spectacle over character and story substance -- even while honoring those who served with plenty of rah-rah patriotism to go around -- "Midway" certainly isn't a bomb, but four decades from now, kids turned middle-aged adults will be hard-pressed to recall what actors appeared in it and who they played. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 24, 2019 / Posted November 8, 2019


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