Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour (2001) is considered one of the most laughably bad war dramas of all time. It’s a cheesy war film with over-the-top special effects. Eighteen years later, Roland Emmerich has decided to give him a run for his money with a cornier and more over-the-top film about Pearl Harbour.
This is a passion project that no studio wanted to greenlight, and for good reason. Emmerich was turned down by various studios because he was asking for too much money to finance the battle scenes.
Eventually, Emmerich made Midway through the help of some Chinese investors, after cutting down many of the expensive scenes from his script. Even then, Midway is one of the most expensive independent films ever made. Sadly, little of that money was spent developing a good script.
The film starts before the events of World War II and takes us through the battle between the United States and Japan. It features the morning of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour with their carrier fleet, and forced the Americans to enter WWII. Then, it takes us to the Battle of Midway, where the Japanese Navy was defeated by the American fleet.
Director Roland Emmerich’s expensive Midway suffers from the same problems his previous blockbusters did: action at the expense of acting and a decent script
Like Emmerich’s other films such as Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), White House Down (2013), and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), Midway suffers from the same glaring problems.
Although it has been touted as a visual spectacle, the CGI isn’t that good. Midway is packed end-to-end with huge action sequences that are powered by special effects. Unfortunately, they all feel like something from a bad video game. The action is so stylised that it feels more cartoonish than authentic. If I wanted to experience cartoonish scenes, I would have played the latest Battlefield or Call of Duty game. At least I would have had more fun.
What’s more, the performances come across as unconvincing, especially during the action. Emmerich has never had a knack for directing actors around the green screen. Like Michael Bay, he’s more interested in making everything go ka-boom. The actors here follow all the clichés of war films, with the first pumping and awkward close-ups of fake intensity.
Emmerich made Midway through the help of some Chinese investors, after cutting down many of the expensive scenes from his script. Even then, Midway is one of the most expensive independent films ever made.
That the actors feel strangely detached from the action is a real pity, because Emmerich has a wealth of talent. It’s not every day you have a film with actors such as Patrick Wilson (Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton), Luke Evans (Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky), Aaron Eckhart (Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle), Woody Harrelson (Admiral Chester W. Nimitz), Dennis Quaid (Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey), to name a few.
Unfortunately, the ensemble cast has little to work with. They all play one-dimensional characters in an underwhelming narrative that makes random and heavy-handed attempts to tug at our heartstrings. To make matters worse, they play real soldiers who probably deserved better.
To its credit, Midway tries to give us something of a Japanese perspective. However, this is outweighed by its testosterone-fueled narrative that has little place in today’s cinema.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking
Published in Dawn, ICON, November 17th, 2019