Director gives ‘Midway’ almost flippant treatment

By Chic DiCiccio

There’s really only one word to describe the first 30 minutes of “Midway,” and that word is tacky. The 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is shown as if it’s a video game, complete with a ridiculous rope climb between burning naval ships. It’s silly to expect anything less from director Roland Emmerich, who turned blowing up the White House during a national holiday into an $800 million behemoth. 

Mandy Moore (right) and Ed Skrein in “Midway.”
Photo courtesy of AGC Studios

Emmerich’s greatest skill is getting the MPAA to slap a PG-13 rating on his movies that all seem to show hundreds, even thousands of humans being killed. It’s actually astounding, and “Midway” is no different. 

Whether it’s Japanese fighter jets raining bullets on Pearl Harbor streets or U.S. Navy forces blowing up an aircraft carrier, Emmerich gets his cartoonish bowl of blood. 

This all makes “Midway” an odd experience. The historical merit of the subject matter should make any viewer an attentive one, but it’s written with an extremely high cornball factor, which lessens the impact of the real events. If it could get any more conflicting, nearly every actor is either miscast or chewing away at the overly glossy scenery. 

“Midway” does boast an impressive cast, and if there is a lead actor, it’s Ed Skrein as Lieutenant Dick Best. Best’s Navy fighter pilot is straight out of “Top Gun,” and Skrein looks the part, but his Jersey accent is flat out brutal. Mandy Moore plays his wife, Anne, and it’s a thankless role without purpose. 

Woody Harrelson eventually shows up as Admiral Chester Nimitz, and he helps bring some reality to the acting proceedings, as does Patrick Wilson’s Army intelligence officer, Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton. That subtlety goes by the wayside nearly every second that Dennis Quaid’s Vice Admiral Bull Halsey is on screen. It’s unclear if this was the goal, but Quaid seems to be doing a bizarre Larry Flynt impersonation, and it’s absolutely dreadful. 

Oddly enough, the most intriguing part of “Midway” is the subplot that could have been completely removed. Aaron Eckhart plays Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who led the first bombing run on the country of Japan, and he’s more compelling than the rest of the cast combined. It’s easily the best section of the movie, even though it’s completely out of place. 

The action is decent, even with flat, phony looking effects. It benefits from the built-in intensity of the real-life events, and Emmerich’s propensity for over-the-top action only briefly creeps in. There are a few eye-rolling moments, particularly some cheesy one-liners that characters drop as if they are in a 1980s action flick. One of these moments is so cheap and unbelievable that the actor forced to say it should elicit some strange type of movie pity. 

It’s a shame that an important event gets such silly, almost flippant treatment, but that is what we have with “Midway.” This type of movie needs an overly serious touch, and it is sadly more Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” than Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima.”