Movie Review: “Midway” (2019)

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Greetings from isolation, peeps! Except for a quick Walmart Pickup which didn’t even require going into the store, I’ve been at home for a full week. No church, no choir, no cuddle sessions with my baby niece, nothin’. And now we’re under a Stay-At-Home order from our governor until April 12. Phooey.

Nevertheless, we’ve kept calm and carried on, staying busy with school, gardening, reading, baking, organizing…and catching up on that Midwayreview I promised a couple of weeks ago!

@ Google Images

“On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces launch a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii. Six months later, the Battle of Midway commences on June 4, 1942, as the Japanese navy once again plans a strike against American ships in the Pacific. For the next three days, the U.S. Navy and a squad of brave fighter pilots engage the enemy in one of the most important and decisive battles of World War II.”–Google Synopsis

As a World War II history enthusiast, I was very intrigued about this film. I haven’t seen the 1976 film of the same name, and a little cursory research assures me I’m better off not seeing it. This newest take on the pivotal, three-day Battle of Midway is very long, somewhat exaggerated, and a little confusing–but if you want something far more historically-accurate, this is the film to watch.

Wikipedia’s article on the battle offers a solid grasp on why it was so important in the story of the Pacific Theater:

The Japanese operation, like the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, sought to eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific … The Japanese hoped another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to capitulate in the Pacific War and thus ensure Japanese dominance in the Pacific. Luring the American aircraft carriers into a trap and occupying Midway was part of an overall “barrier” strategy to extend Japan’s defensive perimeter, in response to the Doolittle air raid on Tokyo …

The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of the American reaction and poor initial dispositions. Most significantly, American cryptographers were able to determine the date and location of the planned attack, enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to prepare its own ambush. Four Japanese and three American aircraft carriers participated in the battle. The four Japanese fleet carriers—Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū, part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier—were sunk, as was the heavy cruiser Mikuma […] It was the Allies’ first major naval victory against the Japanese, won despite the Japanese Navy having more forces and experience than its American counterpart.

The attack on Pearl Harbor, as portrayed in “Midway.” (@Google Images)

So that’s the plot, and the movie is actually very accurate to this history! According to my research, the biggest historical discrepancies were technical: “the American planes in 1942 didn’t use that particular bomb sight,” “this island wasn’t really that mountainous,” and “the USS Nautilus attacked this Japanese destroyer, not that one.” (By the way, don’t you just love the fact that the Navy named their submarine “Nautilus?” Too bad the Jules Verne fandom didn’t have Tumblr back then: they would’ve been squealing.)

But I’m the kind of viewer who latches onto characters faster than plot, and director Roland Emmerich offers us not just one, but four different protagonists:

  • Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa), who utters the famous (if apocryphal) line, “We have awoken a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve” after the attack on Pearl Harbor…
  • Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), who warned everyone for years of an upcoming Japanese attack on America…
  • Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein), a hotshot pilot stationed on the USS Enterprise (*grins meaningfully at all my fellow Trekkies)…
  • and Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson), who takes over American naval operations in the Pacific after the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Other characters include Admiral Halsey (Dennis Quaid), Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckart), Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans), and courageous machinist Bruno Gaido (played by Nick Jonas, who sticks out like a sore thumb a la Harry Styles in Dunkirk). The fast-paced and often sprawling plot, however, revolves around the four aforementioned protagonists and their own weaknesses, strengths, and motivations.

Ed Skrein & Mandy Moore in “Midway.” (@ Google Images)

One article I read about Midway said that it “isn’t a movie about World War II. It’s a movie about World War II movies.” And that’s true. If you ever had a stereotypical vision in your mind about what the typical soldier or officer in World War II should’ve looked or acted like, Midway’s got you covered. Damian Lewis’ soft-spoken Dick Winters and Andrew Garfield’s endearing Desmond Doss would both be quite out of place here.

On the other hand, Midway* does an excellent job in respecting both American and Japanese soldiers alike. While it doesn’t sugarcoat the Japanese atrocities in China and on the seas, it does portray Yamamoto and (most of) his subordinates as capable, intelligent men driven by honor and devotion to their emperor. Nor are the Americans seen merely as foolhardy cowboys. Even Lieutenant Best, whose greatest virtue is certainly not subtlety, gets a few quiet moments of anguish and self-doubt.

All in all, Midway is an engaging film: you have to pay attention, because otherwise you’ll lose track of all the different characters and storylines, but you won’t be twiddling your thumbs waiting for the action to start. The depictions of life on aircraft carriers and submarines are fascinating. The Pearl Harbor sequence, which takes place within the first ten minutes, is downright harrowing. And yes, the last ten minutes or so had me watching through my fingers!

@ Google Images

Conclusion, then: watch Midway* for the history if not for the acting (which is less than stellar). I’d say it’s worthy of a WWII buff’s attention…though I did enjoy my re-watch of Hacksaw Ridge this past weekend far more.

5 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Midway” (2019)

  1. So, I didn’t watch this, because I had a feeling it wouldn’t be to my taste, and now hearing you talk about it, I can see that I was right. I like WW2 history, but I’m far more interested in the civilian side than the military side. I don’t like guy-centric war movies. So if this is “a movie about WW2 movies”–then yeah, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

    Great review, Maribeth!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, Friend! Yeah, if you’re more of a “civilian side movie” sort of person, this one probably isn’t your cuppa tea. I really enjoy a lot of “military side” productions (Ike, Band of Brothers, Hacksaw Ridge, etc.), but this did feel a little bit…blunt? Heavy-handed? There was little to no subtlety in this movie. It’s solid history but it’s not great art…if that makes sense.


  2. Given your proclivity for WWII history, you may be interested in The Other Side of Infamy, a book by Jim Downing. He was in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii, during Pearl Harbor. Though off-duty when the attack happened, he raced to the burning ships to rescue men and collect the dog tags of the deceased, and later wrote letters to their families. His faith journey is incredibly inspiring. It’s a pretty short read, but it’s stuck with me over the years (also because I had the honor of meeting him).

    Thanks for the review. This may be a movie I’ll skip, but I know my dad would love it. 🙂


    1. Oooh, thanks for the recommendation! That sounds like a great story–and what a blessing that you got to meet the author! It’s becoming rarer with time, but I’m always so honored and excited whenever I get to meet a WWII veteran. We have two WWII vets at our church and I love them both dearly.


  3. I’m also a huge WWII buff! I especially love the maritime history of it. I recently read the book “Salt To The Sea,” by Ruta L. Sepetys. It’s an incredible book with incredible characters, and it’s centered around one of the least-known tragedies of the war, the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. It’s the single largest maritime loss of life in history, even greater than the sinking of the Lusestania, yet almost no one knows it even happened. I would definitely reccommend Salt To The Sea, as well as a nonfiction book called “The Cruelest Night,” that also tells the Gustloff’s story. (If you can’t tell, this is a but of a soapbox for me, the more people I can tell about this the better haha!)


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