Saturday, February 29, 2020

Movie Reviews: Midway (2019)

directed by Roland Emmerich
This isn't a remake of the 1976 film but a new take on the famous and iconic WW2 1942 battle between the United States and Japan. The Battle of Midway was a turning point of WW2 . 

Just six months after Pearl Harbor, the United States badly defeated Japan at the Battle of Midway, giving the Japanese such a thorough drubbing that Japan could never again take the offensive against the United States. 

The US advantage in numbers, material and innovation would turn the tide of war against the Japanese though their defeat would take another three years. In this battle the US lost about 300 men and one aircraft carrier. The Japanese lost about 3,000 men and all four carriers in their fleet. It was a curb stomping, a knockout, a mollywhopping, a whupping, a beatdown.

This movie tries to give the Japanese status as honorable enemies. This was of course how they saw themselves. The reality was different. Much like the US and European nations it attacked and temporarily displaced the Japan of the thirties and forties had a very strong streak of racism, xenophobia and national chauvinism. This was expressed against everyone who wasn't Japanese and especially anyone who surrendered. 

Japanese military doctrine held anyone who surrendered in the deepest of contempt. POWS were mistreated. 

The movie nods to this by depicting the Japanese deliberate drowning of an American POW and war hero who refused to give information outside of his name, rank, and serial number. 

Compared to some captured American or European soldiers, sailors and airmen this fellow probably got off light.

This is a PG-13 movie so there's not much explicit gore. The film begins by showing the attack on Pearl Harbor, moves through the improbable "Let's reach out and touch them" retaliatory Doolittle raid on Tokyo, and spends the bulk of its time on the titular battle. 

The film's great weakness is the over reliance on CGI SFX. There is enough real life battle photography and video available from WW2 photographers and airplane cameras that anyone familiar with that footage will likely be disappointed with the film's Star Wars inspired SFX.  I know I was. This looked less like a WW2 movie and more like a video game of a WW2 movie.

The great secret to the Battle of Midway and one reason that the Americans were victorious was that the Americans had broken the Japanese military communication code. 

The Americans were disciplined enough not to reveal this while the Japanese were apparently arrogant enough either not to believe that such a thing could be done or simply didn't bother changing their codes more frequently. The Americans knew when and where the Japanese planned to attack.
But such foreknowledge isn't enough. You need men who are willing to fight, kill and die for their country and each other. At this time the Americans didn't necessarily have the better weapons. There have been complaints about British actors taking American roles. 

Some of those complaints are sour grapes but some of those complaints are valid. Ed Skrein and Luke Evans play two heroic American pilots but their "American" accents and mannerisms are so over the top that no one will be surprised to know that both actors are British born.

It doesn't help that their native accents poke through a few times. Woody Harrelson is Admiral Chester Nimitz, a man who will run through a wall for his men but in turn expects them to get things right the first time.
Aaron Eckhart is Lt. Colonel Doolittle.  Patrick Wilson is Lt. Commander Edward Layton, an intelligence officer under immense pressure. Dennis Quaid shines as Vice Admiral Bull Halsey, a gruff no nonsense type.  

Nick Jonas attempts an over the top East Coast accent as Bruno Gaido, an Italian immigrant, rear gunner and machinist. 

It shows how strongly cinema associates Italian-Americans with New York that the Texas born Jonas attempts a NYC accent and swagger for Gaido even though Gaido grew up in Illinois. 

Etsushi Toyokawa is the stoic Admiral Yamamoto, the Commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy. Yamamoto is said to have opposed war with the US but also predicted that he could run wild against the US for six months or so. After that, he couldn't guarantee much, an accurate assessment as it turned out.

This was a decent film but ultimately no more than that. Just too much CGI. I did like the ending credits which showed the actors and the people they played side by side, along with their ultimate fates. The movie doesn't shy away from some sentimental pulls on the heartstrings (Skrein's character won't fly without a picture of his wife and daughter, which he always looks at when things get hairy) but most of the personal heroics depicted actually took place.
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