Midway (2019)

Part of our growing up was the classic Kiwi crib (baches are for North Islanders). Ours was in Waikouaiiti, on the coast halfway between Oamaru and Dunedin.

Rajah, Shelley and Melanie with crib in background

This was home away from home on weekends and school holidays. One of the attractions was the local tip, just down the road. This was a primary source of income for us kids, in the good old days of cash deposits on glass bottles. We would harvest dozens of these from the tip and convert them into cold hard cash.

Something else that we rescued in large quantities was books, dozens and dozens of them and these formed the foundation of our holiday reading, mainly pulp fiction, Pan novels and Reader Digest monthly magazines. One of the Reader’s Digests, (December 1973??) had as its monthly condensed books, The Battle of Midway (I think it was the Richard Hough version). I read this story over and again over our baching years and become so familiar with this battle (of this version of it…

A real highlight was when Dad took me to see the 1976 epic Midway in Christchurch, must have been August school holidays that year. I was old enough to think it was really cool but also to pick up that a lot of the combat was rehashed combat footage or borrowed from Tora Tora Tora. Certainly, despite a cast that was epic in size and fame, Midway was not The Longest Day, Zulu or The Battle of Britain. A Bridge Too Far the following year also eclipsed Midway.

We’ve been pretty let down by serious historical war movies in the last two decades. Ridley Scott brought us Blackhawk Down, and at the end of last year, Australia decided it was finally time to tell the Long Tan story in Danger Close. Generally though, the pickings have been slim: Michael Bay inflicted Pearl Harbor on the world around the same time as Blackhawk Down was released; in all fairness the coverage of the actual attack is pretty good, it’s just the other two hours that are problematic. And what the hell was Dunkirk? That epic tale was covered far better in the light Their Finest Hours.

When I was teaching at the Air Power Development Centre, Midway was one of my popular case studies to demonstrate that air power can directly influence the outcome of the battle, a campaign or even a war without “boots on the ground”. It’s a battle that the US probably shouldn’t have won for a whole raft of reasons and so academic debate is still popular with fresh material still being regularly published.

So, yes, I was interested when word of the new movie first came out. Like many with an active interest in aviation and/or naval history, I was hoping for an epic like A Bridge Too Far or The Longest Day that would tell the story of THE pivotal battle of the Pacific War as it deserves to be told. The previews didn’t really give much away and I was keen enough to pre-order it from Mighty Ape so it’d arrive on its New Zealand release date.

Hmmmm….I should have done two things. Heeded the warnings on Neptunus Lex that it was badly flawed and waited until it appeared in the bargain bins or on special. I discounted the NepLex warnings as I took them as mainly targeting the unnatural viewing angles of the air combat enables by the digital imagery.

Yep. Midway 2019 is bad. Worse than the 1976 version and, assuming it’s possible, worse than Pearl Harbor. Michael bay’s notorious 2002 epic at delivers better than fair coverage of the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, it feels like a tragedy. Why Midway has to go all the way to Pearl Harbor to start its story is unclear: that attack is such a significant part of our history that we all get Bluto’s classic “Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??!!

And then it blunders through the Doolittle Raid in a manner no less clumsy than Michael Bay’s depiction in Pearl Harbor. And it’s not necessary. While the Doolittle Raid was the catalyst that provoked the Japanese to move on Midway, it could be covered, Star Wars-style, in the introductory minutes of Midway. Instead, over half the movie (if you ignore the credits) is dedicated to the precursor attacks and that’s just not necessary. If these scenes were well-produced then there may have been some value in them but they’re not: Pearl Harbor is better in every way – and it pains me to say that…

Instead the coverage of the actual Battle of Midway is compressed, contorted and barely comprehensible. Scenes cut from one to another with barely time to absorb one before the next cut. Where the digital imagery could have provide new perspectives on the air combat, it just fails miserably. Clearly a lot of research has been done into aircraft types etc but then there are horrendous clangers: you would think from this movie that the US Navy or US Marine Corps had no fighters; the B-17s that bombed the Japanese fleet in the early phases of the battle are replaced by the B-26s that conducted low-level torpedo attacks on the fleet; the full magnitude of VT-8’s sacrifice is lost in the jumble of battle scenes.

A good plot and good acting can carry a movie over poor effects and stand in weapons. Midway lacks both. That’s beyond disappointing. The story has a lot of moving parts but is not that complex; the characters are all well-known and well-researched. Midway dishonours them.The screenplay and acting are all at the level of “Win one for the Gipper“, with smug one-liners and staunch chins substituting for a decent screenplay and even average acting.

Midway’s sole redeeming feature is that it’s not three hours long.

I hated it.

Don’t buy it. Hunt down the 1976 Midway or rerun the last hour of Pearl Harbor.