A scene from the World War II movie Midway.
A scene from the World War II movie Midway.

MOVIE REVIEW: Battle epic more board game than game changer


Two and a half stars

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Ed Skrein, Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson

Rating: M

Running time: 138 minutes

Verdict: A good-looking throwback


Disaster director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) turns his attention to a decisive Allied victory in this World War II action drama.

A seasoned cast including Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Patrick Wilson and Aaron Eckhart lend their weight to the film.

Ed Skrein a scene from Midway.
Ed Skrein a scene from Midway.

After a set-up that puts a human face to the protagonists' Japanese adversaries, Midway gets off to an arresting start with the bombing of Pearl Harbor - no one's about to challenge Emmerich's skill when it comes to delivering an apocalyptic spectacle. Having reduced the White House to a pile of ashes and first submerged, then frozen, Manhattan, the German filmmaker is more than up to the task of recreating Japan's surprise attack on the Hawaiian naval base.

The survivors don't get much of a breather before Emmerich launches them into one of the biggest retaliatory naval battles of World War II (in reality, they had six months to regroup).

Midway tells the story of how the combined efforts of Edwin Layton (Wilson), a dedicated intelligence officer, and Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown), an eccentric code breaker, helped foil a Japanese plan to lure US aircraft carriers into a trap, one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Having painstakingly decrypted hundreds of intercepted Japanese transmissions, they provide US Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz (Harrelson) with the information he
needs to launch a surprise counter-attack.

Woody Harrelson (second from right) in a scene from Midway.
Woody Harrelson (second from right) in a scene from Midway.

Against the odds, the outnumbered and under-equipped US naval forces succeed in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers, thus altering the course of the war.

Emmerich's film has all the classic ingredients for an old-fashioned, uncomplicated war drama, which celebrates the valour, courage and sacrifice of the men who fought.

And that's exactly what he delivers.

The battle scenes, while tense, are relatively bloodless (Midway is a marked departure from the modern, visceral, flesh-shredding approach introduced by Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan and continued in films such as Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge).

The movie features some stunning aerlain combat scenes.
The movie features some stunning aerlain combat scenes.

British-born Ed Skrein (Deadpool) struggles to nail his character's New Jersey accent, but he looks the part in his reckless fighter pilot's leather aviation helmet. Nick Jonas (Jumanji: The Next Level) makes a solid impression as a fearless sailor and Quaid lends a reliable warmth to the role of veteran vice admiral William Halsey.

Playing out across land, sea and air, Midway feels a bit like a 3D, $US100 million version of the board game Battleship.

And while Emmerich doesn't demonise the Japanese, he does tend to romanticise combat.

Taken on its own terms - as a solid, meat-and-potatoes action adventure - Midway gets the job done.

The vividly choreographed aerial fight sequences, in particular, stand out. But judged alongside other contemporary war dramas, the film feels like an expensive throwback.

Opens Thursday

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