Current Issue #488

Film Review:

Producer/director Roland Emmerich’s remake of 1976’s old-school war epic of the same name has oodles of fancy CG effects, some PC edges, a couple of inaccuracies and a dubiously flag-waving aspect sure to irk many audiences.

Despite the presence of a few reliable players, Wes Tooke’s script bogs them down, and as a spectacle it feels less than stirring because, as usual, just about NOTHING here is real. Whereas the original movie and other pre-CG combat pics had to feature vintage planes, risky aerial photography, hard-working stuntmen and the like, here all that’s needed is for someone to switch on a computer.

After a 1937 prologue set in Tokyo and featuring an ominous conversation between US Naval attaché Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa), we cut to four years later, with America still neutral as the war rages elsewhere. Layton has always insisted that the Japanese will eventually strike, but no one ever listened, and lo and behold, they do, on the morning of December 7 1941 at Pearl Harbor (hey, good name for a movie!).

The attack itself starts abruptly (as the real thing indeed did) and proves vaguely impressive, even though, again, none of it feels authentic because none of it is actually happening. The Yanks recover from the shock and start preparing to retaliate, and a bunch of based-on-real-people characters swirl about, all of whom feel like types in a disaster movie which, of course, they are. And director Emmerich knows a bit about disaster movies too, having previously handled Independence Day and its delayed sequel, the bad first shot at Americanising Godzilla, the climate change catastrophe of The Day After Tomorrow and even the dopey White House Down.

Anyway, along the way we meet: Vice Admiral William ‘Bull’ Halsey (a glowering Dennis Quaid); Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (a white-haired Woody Harrelson), who gets the only joke here; famed flight commander Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart still looking like a comic-strip hero); and a mob of tough fighter pilots, including Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) and the memorably-named Dick Best (Ed Skrein, who usually appears as bad guys). Classic movie buffs might also smile at the brief appearance by Golden-Age-Of-Hollywood director John Ford (played by Geoffrey Blake), who really did get injured at the titular battle while filming for a later documentary, but he’s depicted as a bit of a fool.

The women herein (including former teen star Mandy Moore as Dick’s wife Ann) barely get a look-in because this is all about blokes doing blokey stuff, as indeed it was. There’s also a definite attempt to make the Japanese officers and soldiers seem human and at least semi-sympathetic, while the Chinese chaps who help save the shot-down Doolittle are shown as heroic – but, then, this is a US/Hong Kong/Canada/China co-production, so that’s hardly surprising.

But why remake Midway anyway? Surely we’ve seen all this before, and while the ads naturally claim that this is the “untold story” of these events, we’ve in fact been told about this, and told, and told, and told, and told, and told. And told again!

Reviewer Rating

Midway (M) is in cinemas from 30 January

DM Bradley

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