Midway is this mishmash of old school war drama and new special effects and (some) new sensibilities. It ends up being more than a little charming, even if it isn’t particularly good. Of course, I am generally a fan of movies about propeller planes and melodrama. So Midway was pretty solidly up my alley.
Midway opens with a brief scene in Japan, before the war starts as intelligence officer Edwin Layton has a talk with Yamamoto about the potential for war. The movie then jumps forward to Pearl Harbor, and follows the Pacific front through the titular battle. It largely follows a few characters. Layton and Admiral Nimitz at Pearl Harbor, who have to decipher intelligence to find out where the Japanese are headed. It also focuses on the pilots of the carrier USS Enterprise as they fight in the Pacific. It all culminates in one of the most decisive battles of WWII.
The characters, all based on actual soldiers, are broadly drawn. The actors are talented and do what they can—though Ed Skrein and Luke Evan occasionally struggle with the American accents—but the action is spread around too much to really get more than a broad feel for any of them. Skrein is the star as pilot Dick Best. He is a talented pilot, but his superiors are hesitant to put him in charge of a flight. Layton is played by Patrick Wilson, who is always great and generally underappreciated. It also occasionally checks in with the Japanese as they plan a surprise attack on Midway, and in a surprising movie it shows them as people, not just as enemies.
The flying scenes are exhilarating. I enjoy, at a certain level, any movie about flying small aircraft. This movie does an excellent job with it. It feels like a roller coaster as the pilots turn into a dive bombing run. And it has a lot of dogfighting.
One scene that stands out, I guess in a bad way, is the brief snippets showing Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo. Aaron Eckhart plays Doolittle as he conducts his daring raid by taking off from carriers in the pacific, flying over Japan and landing in China. His bits of the movie are small and the raid is at least tangentially related to the Battle of Midway, in the way that all of the war in the Pacific was related. It really feels like this little detour is in the movie for how it ends. Doolittle crash lands in China, and with the help of Chinese civilians manages to evade Japanese patrols and escape. While a movie about Doolittle’s Raid would be interesting, it appears to be in this movie so it can be sold in China.
Midway is just a generally enjoyable war movie. Good actors giving decent performances, some exhilarating action. It is historically accurate enough to pass without anything really standing out as just being wrong. I don’t expect to see it on any top 10s at the end of the year, but I liked watching it.