Friday, November 8, 2019

NOW SHOWING: Midway (2019)



          I saw a good Midway movie on Thursday, unfortunately it was the 1976 version.  Although not a great war movie, it is much better than the new CGI extravaganza from Roland Emmerich (“The Patriot”).  He had trouble raising the $100 million price tag, I guess because investors questioned the public’s desire to see a movie about the Battle of Midway.  What, no aliens?  He must have spent 90% of the money on the CGI, leaving only about 10% for the cast.  Remember when epic war movies like “The Longest Day” had all-star casts?  “Midway” is not in that league.  We do get Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid.  At least they are age appropriate – I’m looking at you “Midway” (1976).  But we also have to watch Nick Jonas and Mandy Moore.  Hey kids, come learn some history told by teen idols!

                        The movie opens with an excerpt from a speech by FDR that has little to do with the movie.  This was the first sign that my fears encouraged by the trailers might be justified.  We get the usual “true account” claim and the movie is proud of its accuracy.  More on that later.  Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson – yes, that Patrick Wilson) attends a dinner hosted by Yamamoto in 1937 Japan and they discuss a future conflict between their two countries.  Yamamoto predicts that if their oil supply is threatened, it will mean war.  Spoiler alert:  there will be war.  At this point, the movie becomes the Richard Best (Ed Skrein – yes, that Ed Skrein) biopic.  It’s 1941 now and Best is a Dauntless dive bomber pilot on a routine flight.  He shuts down several things on the plane to simulate a worst-case scenario for their landing and then we get the second clue that my fears were justified because the landing defies all reality through the wonders of CGI.  It also serves as foreshadowing for his climactic landing at the end of the film.  And proves he’s a maverick.  Cliché alert:  his commander puts up with him because he’s the best pilot, damn it! 

                          If you have seen the trailer, you know Emmerich had the guts to bring us CGI Pearl Harbor again.    Once again we get Zeros flying between battleships while strafing what – the water?  And through the wonders of CGI, the Zeros can go below treetop level to strafe streets.  As with all the early scenes, the purpose is character motivation.  In this case, Best loses his best friend on the Arizona.   If we’re not Top Gunning with Best, we are going cerebral with intelligence savant Layton.  Joseph Rochefort makes a cameo appearance, but Layton gets the lion’s share of the credit for determining Japanese intentions.  In a ludicrous exchange, when his analysis is challenged, he proceeds to tell Nimitz the exact time and place the Japanese fleet will be discovered.  And he’s right!  The movie does intercut to Yamamoto and disses the Moore/Jonas fans by using subtitles.  The movie does the bare minimum in depicting the Japanese planning.

                        The movie makes barely a mention of Coral Sea, but decides to spend time on the USS Enterprise’s raid on the Marshalls.  Why?  Because Best needs to drop a bomb that causes collateral damage to a bunch of taxiing Japanese bombers, followed by a chase through mountains by two Zeros.  He’s in a Dauntless and they are Zeros, so you know where this is headed (if you are a history buff).  If not, get ready for the next big ride at Universal Studios!   Next is the obligatory Doolittle Raid starring Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckert) and only Jimmy Doolittle.  Enough foreplay, on to the main event.  The movie hops through the greatest hits:  discovering what AF stood for, Yorktown being repaired, Spruance taking over for Halsey, the USS Nautilus not sinking a ship, etc.  The battle begins at around the 1:30 mark meaning Emmerich only has time to film the story of how the USS Enterprise and Dick Best won the war.  He does manage to throw in an homage to John Ford’s filming his Midway documentary.  Note to Emmerich:  it is not wise to remind the audience of a great director.  The next twenty minutes is full of flak and flames.  (Note:  no Japanese were harmed in the filming of this movie.)  Safe your tissues, Yorktown fans. Once again, just as in 1976, the carrier somehow survives cinematically.

                         I have not read any reviews yet, but I know the movie is being crucified.  Justly so.  I don’t want to gloat about seeing this coming.  I wanted to like it and I’ve already mentioned I like the similarly crucified 1976 version.  But this movie is to 1976 what “Pearl Harbor” is to “Tora! Tora! Tora!  In other words, a CGI bloated war movie insult.  “Midway” (1976) and “Tora!” may have had wooden acting and quaint combat footage, but at least they were good history lessons.  Not that this movie is laughably inaccurate.  The seemingly most ludicrous historical atrocity (Bruno Gaido jumping into a parked plane’s back seat to shoot up a crashing Betty bomber), actually occurred!   It is more balanced between the command (Nimitz, Halsey) and the pilots than 1976 and all the airmen (Best, McCluskey, Gaido, Dickinson) are real people and are fairly accurate.  Emmerich's effort to bring these great warriors to the public's attention is by far the greatest strength of the movie.  It's just a shame that he has someone like Best (the only human being to bomb two carriers in one day) look like Luke Skywalker.  The others are treated more realistically.   Layton gets his due (at the expense of Rochefort).  But Fletcher is not even mentioned and Spruance is barely in the movie and comes off in a negative way as an overly cautious fill-in for Halsey.  As a Spruance fan, I was very irritated with his treatment.  So, as a history lesson, it won’t steer you the wrong way, but the coverage of the battle is half-assed as it concentrates on making Best into a superhero.  The CGI is good, but as usual it allows the filmmaker to defy reality.  For example, Best escapes a Zero by doing a hammerhead stall (climbing vertically until about to stall, then dropping the nose to reverse direction), something a Dauntless could not have done.  In fact, virtually everything Best’s plane does is ridiculous if you know anything about dive bombers.  He waits until less than 500 feet before releasing his bomb and then has to skim the water when pulling out.  Typically, each Best flight gets more ludicrous because Emmerich has to top the previous effect.  I was laughing by the end of the movie.  The CGI does allow for realistic looking aircraft and that is a treat for aviation buffs.  But then they just can’t stop themselves from adding two bombs to the torpedo planes!

                        We all know what to expect with CGI war movies by now, but can’t we get some decent acting just once.  While not as wooden as the 1976 cast, this one’s low rent all-stars sincerely do try, but they just come off like a high school play.  Skrein can be good, but here he labors through an atrocious accent and just can’t pull off the Tom Cruise imitation.  Wilson appears to be constipated through most of the picture.  Luke Evans sports a mustache that is equivalent to Skrein’s accent.  Nick Jonas and Mandy Moore are singers.  The bombastic music doesn’t cover for them.  The dialogue is as bad as you would expect.  “I thought you were dead.”

                        Well, we are still waiting for CGI to make the great air combat movie.  The effects have improved to where it might be possible, but if filmmakers continue to insist on using it to “enhance” the story we’ll never get there.  There will never be another movie about Midway.  Twice was enough.  However, I want you to imagine taking the screenplay for the 1976 movie, throwing out the romance, adding Best and the others without the melodrama, and doing a frame by frame replication of the combat using CGI.  Now you have a great war movie.  Someone should try it with the Battle of Britain.

GRADE = D+


 

21 comments:

  1. Are there any fighter dogfights? I'd love to see a Thatch Weave maneuver.

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  2. Most of the history related websites think this is a horrible movie. I lost all desire to see it when I saw a Zero flying between trees on a narrow street in the trailer. On Rotten Tomatos the reviewers give is 42%, but the audience gives it a 92%. I think our chances of seeing another epic like Tora, Tora, Tora or The Longest Day with Saving Private Ryan like effects is pretty much zilch. The audience is will to pay big bucks for this dreck.

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  3. "Midway" is a rollicking war film. HIstory buffs need not apply." Adam Graham, reviewer posted on Rotten Tomatos.

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  4. I like how the movie included the B-26's near collision with the carrier's bridge

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    1. While I know the usual "Cheer for American" was there, in the cringe line "This is for Pearl!" (which I would have removed), I am glad they didn't have a moment with the B-26 that narrowly missed crashing into the Akagi's bridge, by showing a scene of the pilot trying to crash the plane into it, while crying out "For America!", and just left it ambiguous, like it was in real life, by leaving it unclear whether the plane was trying to deliberately hit the bridge or was simply out of control due to battle damage.

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    2. In the movie, a stunned officer asks if the B-26 was trying to hit the bridge on purpose, and Nagumo nervously suggests "his controls must have locked up", but his body language indicates that even he is uncertain, and the near-collision left an affect on him which it did in real life.

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  5. Ugh. Picked up a cheapie "Dauntless-The Battle of Midway" which is a bizarre cross between "The Perfect Storm" and the War and Remembrance chapter on Midway. It got Spruance-Browning conflict mostly right,but avoid it.

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  6. "This film is dedicated to the Americans and Japanese who fought at Midway. The sea remembers its own."

    Emmerich portrays the Japanese in a largely human light. Many are depicted as courageous, professional men with some even presented as reluctant combatants. The dedication has come under attack by some people, who see it as a disrespect to the Allies and a political correctness.

    While I can understand the criticisms, I actually think it was a bold honest statement, and an excellent idea; it is not unreasonable to attempt to restore some semblance of humanity to the utterly dehumanised Japanese soldiers. The recent discoveries of Akagi and Kaga, surely act as a humbling reminder that the unforgiving Pacific was a mass grave for casualties on both sides, and certainly did not differentiate between its victims. As Emmerich states: “The sea remembers its own.” It's just like how many war graves, especially from WW1, have both German and British soliders buried side by side together, as if saying, that despite being enemies in life, in death, they are united. This film isn't the first time that a acknowledgement of both sides in war was dedicated. In the video game, "Heroes of the Pacific", the main character says "some of (the Japs) must have been good men too". In the U-boat simulator video game, Silent Hunter III, the manual says "This game pays homage to everyone - Allied or Axis - who served at sea during the crucial years of World War II." Heck, the opening text of "Das Boot" notes the 30,000 of 40,000 German submariners that died. The makers of the movie have said that was supposed to be a tragic fact. Nazi or not, dying on a U-boat, especially underwater was a horrible death.

    From the text, it’s clear that Emmerich wants the audience to see the Japanese as human just as the Americans are. Why he wants us to know this I’m less clear on. He doesn’t show much "good" characterisation to the Japanese, especially when they murder Bruno Gaido, other then Yamamoto who is presented as a reluctant warrior, and several other officers and sailors who get very little screen time. Maybe he wanted to evoke the feeling of defeat that they must've felt. Politics, and governments aside, right and wrong sides aside, they were still soldiers. Maybe he wanted the audience to draw their own conclusions on them if they care to. Some of the Japanese, especially the ones who murder Gaido were clearly evil. Some (there are real life examples) were the opposite, and just wanted to fight honorably, and even respected their enemies and might have been opposed to the brutality done by their comrades. Others were probably varying degrees of indifferent. Most of all, during the course of the Battle of Midway, I would say the Japanese as a whole were just men doing a job, and their personal politcs were irrelevant. They wanted to survive the battle just as much as the Americans did. And given how well the war was going for Japan then, morale would have been high and they probably thought they would win the war. Maybe Emmerich left the audience to decide on some of the minor Japanese characters we see; are they honorable or brutal men; are they good or bad men? Rather, my guess is that Emmerich is trying to avoid looking like he’s glamorizing the Americans by indirectly acknowledging the Japanese are human too. If that’s what he wants, he’s doing it in a rather poor way. Especially since he shows the Japanese reprisals towards Gaido and the Chinese civilians who helped the Doolittle radiers. But perhaps he simply wants audiences to know that some of the Japanese were good men too. Maybe he wanted to portray both sides as just men fighting each other under orders without truly making any side the bad guy or good guy and leave it up to the viewers to decide who they think is a good or a bad guy. Regardless of his motives, I applaud his choice to acknowledge both sides as human beings in the film’s epilogue.

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  7. Thanks. Good insights. Actually, once the war was over, most Hollywood movies about the Pacific treated the Japanese more than fairly because they were now a valuable ally in the Cold War. I agree that the individual Japanese soldier and airman was mainly motivated by desire to serve their country. The big problem was their military culture's attitude toward captives. This is evident in the killing of Gaido. Of course, the officers are mainly to blame for that.

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    1. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the war crimes the Japanese committed. Plus, it didn’t matter if some Japanese were good men, every step they were still taking forward was a step for Imperial Japan which had to be defeated

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    2. I thought you might be interested in this, given the dedication to both the Americans and Japanese in the film
      Historian Parks Stephenson has given good reasons on why it’s a bold move to honour some Japanese who fought in the war, while not ignoring Japan’s wartime atrocities.
      https://stonescryout.org/?p=2871

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  8. Also disappointing they omitted the sinking of the Yorktown. The wreck of the Yorktown was remarkably intact for a ship that sank in 1942. In fact, she was so strong when heavily damaged, that she survived for a long time after the battle had technically ended, as if she wanted to see the last Japanese carrier sank before she went. And when she finally sank, it was said to very quiet, almost peaceful. And the fact that even at the bottom of the ocean, she still looks strong, upright on her keel. It’s as if even in death, the ship remains defiant and proud. She seemed like a good ship.

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    1. Neither Midway movie covers the sinking of the Yorktown.

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  9. Also sad that they omitted most of the Midway raid, especially the defending Wildcats, most notably the heroic sacrifice of Major Parks.

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  10. I also had a problem with Best's character in the film, especially since I have heard he was far different in reality (Apparently, he was confident but he wasn't cocky). And honestly, I am incredibly bored with the ‘hero has a crisis of confidence about 2/3 of way through the film’ trope, which occurs in 99% of every movie these days. It’s dull storytelling.

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    1. Agree. In some ways, it has cutting edge technology with an old school plot.

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  11. Re: Japanese atrocities in China. Added mostly to secure Asian financing and distribution deal.

    Re: Dauntless - The Battle Of Midway. A pretty good movie considering its budget was a fraction of the usual Hollywood production. I enjoyed it.

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  12. In my opinion, the new Midway film is superior in nearly every way to the old movie. As far as the actual portrayal of the battle, the film is remarkably accurate. There are some very minor details which are incorrect- some examples include the portrayal of far more B-26s than were actually involved in the battle, TBDs carrying both torpedoes and bombs, more Dauntlesses are shown being shot down diving on the carriers than were actually lost, and both aircraft and ships are shown far closer together in formations than they would have been in actuality. A perhaps not as-minor detail which is incorrect is the idea that the Japanese would invade the US west coast successfully in the wake of a US Navy failure. While the IJN was indeed a formidable force, the Japanese could not have realistically carried out a successful invasion of the western United States. Already deeply involved in the war in China for years, the Japanese Army would have been stretched beyond its limit in the event of an invasion. The IJN could also not have supported such as invasion successfully, which Admiral Yamamoto near perfectly well. However, on the whole the movie gets the actual flow of events correct. Some details are even depicted which audiences may believe to be fictional but were in fact truth; Bruno Guido’s shootdown of a Japanese bomber, which cut the tail of the Dauntless he was sitting in in half happened in reality. Guido’s execution by the crew of Japanese destroyer crew is also true- both he and his pilot were thrown overboard with weights tied to them. Another seemingly unlikely event which also occurred was the near-miss of a crashing B-26 which nearly hit the bridge of the Akagi; this aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and narrowly missed crashing into the Akagi's bridge; it cannot be known for sure if the plane was out of control or if the pilot was trying to deliberately hit the bridge. On the whole, the movie is remarkably accurate- I struggle to think of a movie which has made as much of an effort to be true to history since 1970’s Tora Tora Tora.

    There has been some criticism of the movie in that the filmmakers chose to primarily show the Enterprise’s air group’s role in the battle. There are positive and negative aspects to this decision. On one hand, some of the battle’s events are skipped- we don’t see the Yorktown being attacked repeatedly, and only see the carrier burning and sinking following the successful Japanese torpedo attack. The attacks on the Mikuma and Mogami are also not shown. However, it did provide a greater focus on the aircrew aboard the Enterprise, which ultimately became the most storied US warship of the Second World War.



    Midway is certainly one the most true-to-the-events World War II movies to be released in many years. While the film uses a heavy amount of CGI to tell its story, CGI has progressed to a point where it closely resembles reality. If there is one major criticism I have for this movie, it is that some of the dialogue is perhaps a bit clunky. In spite of this, I highly recommend Midway for those interested in the subject- it is a very substantial improvement on its 1976 predecessor and it is a worthy retelling of the battle.

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    1. Thanks. You make some good points. I appreciate the input. You might want to check out my War Movie Lovers group on FaceBook.

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Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.