If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend, I highly recommend renting the movie Midway.
Since I’ve been sick all week, I decided to treat myself. So I rented it last night.
[I don’t do comfort food; I do comfort movies]
Fact is, when Midway was first released last fall, I assumed it would be a typical Hollywood mess the way the 2001 film Pearl Harbor starring Ben Affleck was. Boy was that movie awful.
But a couple people whose opinion I trust said good things about Midway, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
And I’m really glad I did.
The Battle of Midway is also an important subplot in Herman Wouk’s masterful epic novel “War & Remembrance” (the sequel to “The Winds of War”). I’ve read those books so many times over the last thirty years, and every time I read the chapters on the Battle of Midway, I think to myself, “Boy would this make an incredible movie.”
And boy, does it.
Much like Wouk’s account, the film doesn’t just recount the American side of the story, but also gives us the perspective from the Japanese side (which means, prepare for subtitles). Doing that gives Midway much more breadth and depth than your typical Hollywood war picture.
Overall, the film is pretty accurate historically. There are some liberties, of course, as there always are when historical events become movies. But it sticks pretty close.
And though the film is about Midway, it also includes what leads up to that pivotal battle. The Pearl Harbor attack, the Battle of the Coral Sea – where the Japanese and American navies first face one another — and the Doolittle raid on Tokyo.
The special effects are amazing. The scene of the Pearl Harbor attack, for example, is horrifyingly breathtaking. All that black smoke and fire, the Zeroes diving down and firing on the men aboard the ships — it was like watching the real thing. And when the Arizona goes down, I actually found myself crying.
[I’m a girl, okay? Girls cry.]
The actual Midway battle takes up most of the last hour and it’s pretty pulse-pounding. There were points when I was tensing every muscle in my body as if doing so would somehow help the SBD Dauntless pilots avoid getting shot down while dive bombing their targets. I don’t know if I helped them any. But I gave it my best.
Though, I can’t say my terror of flying was helped by those scenes. If anything, it just confirmed for me that my terror is justified.
The film doesn’t waste a lot of time with silly side-romance stories like the dreadful Affleck Pearl Harbor did. We get some scenes with the aviators in Hawaii with their wives and children, but they’re used sparingly mostly to give the characters more depth.
And as much as I think Woody Harrelson is a prat, he does a great job as Chester Nimitz — the Navy Admiral who replaced Husband Kimmel as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Someone else who did a great job is Japanese actor Etsushi Toyokawa who played Admiral Yamamoto. I thought he was really impressive in the role.
But the central characters of Midway are the aviators. Though, in the beginning, I couldn’t keep straight who was who in the zoo. Probably if I watch Midway a half dozen times, I wouldn’t have trouble keeping track of them. But at the same time, not being able to keep track of them at the start of the film didn’t take away from the story at all. Plus, by the time the movie got to the Battle of Midway, I pretty much figured them out.
Midway is definitely worth renting – especially if you, like myself, are a fan of World War Two stories. It isn’t just some excuse to give whatever straw-haired beefcake actor all the girls are swooning over an excuse to put on a uniform and play a Navy aviator (you know, like Affleck’s Pearl Harbor was).
And maybe that’s why it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t keep track of them at first. They were a team – not just background players staying out of the way for some highly-paid superstar actor to preen in front of the cameras.
[Can you tell I really hated Pearl Harbor?]
This kept the focus on the real life men these actors were portraying. And they are portraying the actual heroes of Midway.
The film handles the story in a way that honors and respects the service and sacrifice of those men who had such a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Pacific war.
It’s rare for Hollywood to turn out a good movie nowadays. And Midway is definitely one of those rare gems that stands out like an aircraft carrier in a sea of Hollywood garbage.
I think you’ll really like it.
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