Movies, Action and adventure
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

In staging the epic real-life naval battle, action specialist Roland Emmerich feeds his appetite for destruction, sometimes thrillingly.

You don’t go to Roland Emmerich for subtlety. The director behind such shuddering behemoths as Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow is most comfortable with explosions—he exists only to make Michael Bay seem slightly more interesting. Midway, his cacophonous, often rousing reconstruction of the four-day 1942 naval battle that turned the tide of WWII’s Pacific theater, is right up Emmerich’s alley. The film pays hypnotic, nearly educational attention to dive-bomber runs, plunging us earthward behind propeller planes as their pilots dip low enough to drop their lethal payloads with accuracy. Steel battleships and raining fire are Midway’s primary colors; the movie flaunts its hugeness at every turn. You’ll never mistake it for the real thing, but Emmerich’s eye for historical detail is scary.

In our current moment of Dunkirk and war films with an arty pulse, Midway plays like a Hollywood relic: a two-hour videogame in which all the action goes down without a hint of wind against the actors’ foreheads. (Don’t think too hard about the gaucheness of Emmerich’s opening act, a bloodless reconstruction of the attack on Pearl Harbor.) The movie becomes a superior entertainment, briefly, whenever it shifts focus to the military strategists behind the hardware: Patrick Wilson’s Japanese-speaking intelligence officer Edwin Layton, guilt-ridden and determined to make good, could have commanded his own plot. Elsewhere, we hear flyboys shout lines like “Knock off the cowboy bullshit,” but cowboy bullshit is exactly what Emmerich is all about. He even casts an actor to play legendary Western filmmaker John Ford, rolling his documentary cameras to capture Emmerich’s own spectacle.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf


Release details

Release date:
Friday November 8 2019
138 mins

Cast and crew

Roland Emmerich
Wes Tooke
Ed Skrein
Patrick Wilson
Woody Harrelson
Dennis Quaid