June 4, 1942. A date of tremendous historical importance which would symbolise the first turning victory of World War II for the Allies and which would showcase one nation’s determination to rise above tragedy and overcome tremendous adversity. This is where Roland Emmerich takes us with Midway and it delivers epic scale and some amazing historical depth.
The film follows the story of US Navy sailors and aviators who persevered through the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
When it comes to directors who have a handle on what’s needed at the blockbuster scale, Roland Emmerich is a filmmaker who has serious talent in this arena. And his work on Midway is packed full of bigger-than-life heroism and true filmmaking spectacle. Grounding his audience in historical fact, Emmerich charts out a full retelling of the Pacific Theater from the bombing of Pearl Harbour through to the Dolittle Raids, the Battle of the Corral Sea and finally the penultimate showdown between the naval forces of America and Japan at The Battle of Midway. It’s an expansive blockbuster that takes into account both the war rooms of Pearl Harbour and the cockpits of the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers that delivered the big hits, and all of this action puts you at the very forefront of this conflict.
Stepping up and accepting the call is Ed Skrein as Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best, a brash, confident and cocky pilot who was at the forefront of the Battle of Midway and who leads the charge into this inferno that is fought over the Pacific. Skrein does right to both the legacy and spirit of Best with his portrayal and he honours this hero who was at the forefront of the Battle of Midway and who was responsible for sinking two enemy carriers on the day. I’ve long wanted to see Skrein take on a challenging role, and he finds it in Best as he has to balance his personal beliefs with those of his greater duty to his country and a need to get even. Alongside the heightened dramatic tension that he brings to the role, you also completely believe in Skrein’s ability to be this man of action who is willing to get the job done and he captures the can-do attitude of this very rare breed of man.
When it comes to thespians who are at the top of the class, Patrick Wilson ranks high among them and he takes on another very interesting character with his performance as Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton in Midway. As a noted Naval veteran and intelligence officer who has a full view of the situation involving the Japanese, Wilson’s Layton feels responsible for the deadly consequences of Peal Harbour and is adamant that he will not fail again. Wilson displays a fearless determination as Layton and jumps into action in order to give the Navy every advantage they can in the fight that is to come. As Layton, Wilson is both intellectual as well as being exceedingly practical and he really flourishes under the direction of Emmerich and his performance as Layton is a testament to the intelligence and immense will he showed to never give up and make things right.
Climbing aboard is hotshot Hollywood star Luke Evans as Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky, a stern and disciplined wing commander whose by-the-book approach doesn’t always sit well with Skrein’s Best and Evans once again gives another commanding performance in Midway. As one of Hollywood’s most diverse and talented performers, Evans is always a solid choice in whatever film he stars in and he brings a great presence in his performance as McClusky. While Skrein is the maverick as Best, it’s Evans’ McClusky who is holding up the ship and who has to focus on the bigger picture that is at hand. While he’s a warrior through and through he does have to contend with the larger forces at play and this places him at odds with Best, but when called upon he steps up to the fight. Evans was a great choice for the part of McClusky and he cuts a brave and determined figure in Midway.
While Midway does place most of its emphasis on its male military cast one of the most important characters is Dick Best’s wife Anne, played by Mandy Moore, and her performance is integral to the success of Midway. While Dick and his fellow Naval pilots might be off fighting the war, it’s Anne and the other wives who have to contend with the prospect that their husbands might never come home. Moore is incredibly realistic in the emotion that she gives Anne and she has great chemistry together with Skrein which allows the audience to invest in their relationship and the importance that Best’s family means to him. Mandy Moore as Anne Best gives Skrein’s Dick Best a reason to fight for, and her performance is equal parts glamorous and homely and she’s of incredible importance to the success of this film.
Finally giving Midway an incredible sense of gravitas is Woody Harrelson as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the man who is appointed commander of the Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbour and who spearheads the Battle Of Midway. Harrelson is one of Hollywood’s most eclectic performers and he’s never played a character as straight as Nimitz before, and I must say that he does an astounding job here. As Nimitz, Harrelson bears the brunt of responsibility and it’s he who is very much carrying the flag and safeguarding the idea of freedom. It’s enjoyable to watch Harrelson mix it up with his portrayal of a man who is so squared ahead and unflinching in his purpose, but Harrelson does keep to the real history of Nimitz and a man who was adept at thinking outside of the box and looked to innovative ways to secure victory.
If you’re seeking an action rush then you’ll most definitely be pleased with Midway. WWII enthusiasts will be particularly pleased with this one as Emmerich and his team hold true to the facts of the battle and get the details right in relation to the film’s principal characters and the extensive array of vehicles and armaments that they use. In terms of its action scope, Emmerich puts his audience right at the very heart of the Battle of Midway and you’ll be holding onto your seat and absolutely white-knuckling it as Best and his dive bombers make their run on the colossal Japanese carriers that they have their sights on and the barrage of heavy gunfire that they have to fly through to claim victory. This is one blockbuster that absolutely goes for it with its action experience and audiences will feel the rush.
Alongside all of its heavy blockbuster moments, Midway is a tremendous calling card to the spirit and ethos of the men and women of the Greatest Generation. Having answered the call when their nation needed them they sacrificed all to ensure the promise of freedom and Emmerich, his cast and this film does everything they can to honour their memory and sacrifice. Emmerich also takes his time to tell both sides of the story of the Battle of Midway, from both those of the American and Japanese forces and he keeps to historical fact as a way to hold true to those who fought and died regardless of rank or creed.
Midway is a powerful film and honours the heroism of a group of brave men who refused to be beaten down and who stepped up when called upon to do so. It presents some full-on action moments and is bound by a terrific cast and solid historical detail and those who witness it are sure to be utterly moved by its narrative.
Image: Roadshow Films