To enjoy the opening sequence of Roland Emmerich’s latest bloated bomb fest, Midway, you’re best off watching the trailer. The editing of the teaser manages something that Emmerich fails to do in this relentless, seemingly never-ending history lesson – it builds a degree of tension, albeit for 15 seconds.
The sequence depicts the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, replete with bombs landing on ships, explosions, more bombs landing on ships and some more explosions. We’re also introduced to some of the characters; there’s a youngster who is scared, NOO JOISEY ED SKRIEN as a gum-chewing rogue of a pilot, and soon enough, Patrick Wilson’s furrowed brow and Woody Harrelson’s distracting hair.
Emmerich and writer Wes Tooke haven’t spent too much time on character or dialogue (“That’s the bravest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen!” is standard fare) – this a CGI fest that uses WW2 to justify its existence, as Emmerich, claiming this is a passion project that’s been knocking about for 20 years, enjoys blowing things up. The same things, over and over again.
There’s no atmosphere. No tension. No drive to the narrative. No characters to care about. The ratio of explosions to thrills is extraordinary. It’s edited to within an inch of its life, and given that it clocks in at over 150 minutes, that’s ludicrous. There’s a five hour cut out there somewhere. The very thought is terrifying. At least in that version Aaron Eckhart’s role might have made more narrative sense.
He ends up in China as he depicts the upbeat ending of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in several short scenes, only to disappear before his story is resolved (Emmerich uses a post-script title card to eventually do that). Given that several Chinese financing companies appearing in the opening credits, it’s not hard to figure out why this part was included.
Moments are lifted directly from every war movie you can dream of, from Memphis Belle to Flags of our Fathers, serving to remind you that could’ve watched all of them instead, and still wasted less time than you had watching Midway. No well-worn story beat, no cliche is left un-recycled.
The boredom that such bad storytelling leads to is compounded by the repetition of the bombing runs. Over and over we watch planes go high in the air, get shot at by Japanese guns, then dive towards a big CG target. And it’s not even convincing CG for much of it (unless that’s how they did Woody’s hair).
And when it becomes clear the planes that get shot down never feature anybody we’ve met, there’s no point worrying about NOO JOISEY ED SKRIEN’s welfare. He’s clad in so much plot armour the plane shouldn’t have been able to take off in the first place. The depiction of death is notably absent in this PG-friendly edit.
NOO JOISEY ED SKRIEN does try his hardest to affect that accent and carry the limited emotional weight of the film, but he’s a B-movie actor in a D-movie role and when Dennis Quaid turns up as an exposition-spouting Admiral, he thinks he’s chewing the scenery, when really he’s just explaining stuff to the audience while not really explaining why his neck rash is a plot point.
Emmerich deserves a small amount of credit for remaining as historically accurate as possible (all characters are based on real people) and he doesn’t demonise the Japanese. Neither does he get quite as patriotic as Michael Bay’s predecessor, which will go up in your estimation after seeing what Emmerich has done with similar material.
A film as bad as this could be a good laugh, it could be mildly entertaining, endearing almost. But it’s too long for that. The big budget spectacle isn’t witty, charming or fun enough to forgive it’s considerable shortcomings. It’s annoying, obnoxious and one-dimensional. The title might well refer to the longest anyone has gone before deciding they want to walk out of this film, so we urge you, watch the trailer. Read the book. Play the video game. Just don’t waste your life watching Midway.
Midway is in cinemas from Friday 8th of November