Well. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? The first two months of 2020 have been characterized by a hectic schedule and illness. Between playing chauffer for my eldest child’s first foray into grade school basketball, being knocked flat by some nasty iteration of the flu, and a taking on a bunch of substitute teaching on top of my regular hours, I’d like a few “make-up” days added on to 2020 to enable me to catch up, please!
At least the illness had one benefit- it slowed me down enough to finally view a couple of recent films that I’d wanted to see- 1917 and Midway. I enjoyed the poignant, personal storytelling of 1917 very much. As to my feelings on Midway, read on, but be aware, there are spoilers ahead!
I had (tentative) high hopes for Midway, although the early reviews were rather mixed. After viewing it, “mixed” is also a good word for my personal reaction to the film.
The creators of Midway planned a movie with an ambitious scope. With a brief stop in 1937, Japan, to introduce Admiral Yamamoto and future American intelligence officer, Edwin Layton, the film takes on quite a lot of the early American involvement in WWII : the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a short visit to the Marshall Islands and the Coral Sea, the Doolittle Raid, and (even) the battle of Midway.
However, the run time for the film was only two hours and eighteen minutes. For perspective, that means that Midway only had 26 more minutes to tell its story than the new Jumanji movie and almost an hour less than that 2002 romance that wore the name Pearl Harbor. Perhaps the challenges of pushing this much history into a rather narrow window of time is why, while there were things that I truly enjoyed about the film, there are things that…well, I didn’t.
Let’s look at the good stuff first.
Things That Worked For Me
Focus on the real heroes
One of the first things that got me excited about Midway’s potential was the cast list – not the names of the stars, but the names of the people they’d be playing.
The major “characters” of the movie- like pilot Dick Best, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Halsey, Edward Layton, Wade McClusky, and the rest- were real people, who were involved in the Battle of Midway. In my opinion, this was an excellent choice. The true events and people surrounding the Battle of Midway were more than fascinating enough to make a film around- there was no need to resort to fictionalized characters.
I was also pleased to see that alongside well-known names like Nimitz and Halsey, the film included some of the interesting, but less-well-known stories of Midway. For instance, it included Ensign George H. Gay Jr. Shot down in the midst of the Japanese fleet, Ensign Gay hid under a floating seat cushion until dark, observing much of the battle.
It also introduced some people, like Bruno Gaido, who I’d never heard of.
Yes, Aviation Machinist Mate 3rd Class Bruno Gaido actually did jump into a parked plane on the Enterprise’s deck to try to fend off a Japanese bomber. The clip doesn’t include this, but he was also promoted to 1st Class on the spot by Admiral Halsey, just like in the film. I personally wondered if the entire movie sequence in the Marshall Islands was added in so that his actions could be part of the movie- if so, it was worth it, in my opinion. 🙂
Reading vs. Seeing
It’s one thing to read about dive bombers careening through ack ack fire towards the enemy below, or about B-25’s taking off of an aircraft carrier’s deck. It’s another thing to see it (even if it IS largely CGI.) I found the battle sequences, especially in the back half of the film- once we got to Midway- tense and engaging, and I felt like they showed the stakes of the battle without becoming overdone and hard to follow. In particular, I thought the dive-bombing scenes were pretty awesome. 🙂
Mind you, it goes without saying that Hollywood took some liberties, and as for me, I’m a civilian, and not mechanically-minded. One military spouse mentioned her husband noting one mistake in protocol, and a different review noted that the B-25 bombers the Doolittle Raiders used weren’t the right sort, nor did they take off from the Hornet‘s deck in the dramatic spray of an ocean wave. In those cases, ignorance was an advantage- nothing was so factually far-fetched that it spoiled the film for me.
Things That Didn’t
Hey! They Missed a Part!
Molding a true, complex story from history into a palatable mainstream movie must be a difficult task, and I’ve yet to see one that is 100% successful. Midway is no exception. As I mentioned above, the film makers attempted to cover a great deal of historical ground in a relatively short movie. Naturally, this meant that things would be left out, and that the pacing of the storytelling would be a challenge.
While I tried not to be “that person” viewing the movie- the one who waves the itemized list afterwards of each and every thing the film missed- there were a couple of omissions that surprised me.
The first was the fact that the Japanese attacked the Aleutian Islands of Alaska the day before their attack on Midway. This affected the number of ships that were at Midway, and would lead to the only WWII fighting on American soil– largely forgotten, but still, notable. I found the omission of the action in Alaska (apart from one passing mention of “the Aleutians”) a little odd, especially when other events less related to Midway were included.
While the fighting in the Aleutians was, perhaps, a little obscure, one of the major events in the Battle of Midway itself barely got a mention- the sinking of the Yorktown.
After suffering serious damage in the Coral Sea, it was amazing that the Yorktown even made it to Midway. Though expected to undergo months of repairs at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz said he wanted the Yorktown ready in 72 hours- and he got her. As one person (I forget who) said in the Midway movie, “I guess every battle needs a miracle.”
Apparently, it wasn’t a very memorable miracle. The Yorktown gets one more line in the film dedicated to her- something along the lines of “The Yorktown’s been hit.”
That’s it. One of the three aircraft carriers that the U.S. brought to Midway- not to mention that it was the one carrying the tactical commander of the battle, Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher who also didn’t make the movie- sinks, and it doesn’t even get acknowledged in the film. I can’t help wondering why this happened- perhaps this is because the filmmakers chose to spend time focusing on the sinking of the Japanese carrier Hiryu instead?
Where’s the Emotion?
One difference between a documentary and a movie made for entertainment is the focus on storytelling. A documentary, while the content may stir emotion, must stick to the facts. A movie can adapt the facts to give emotional punch that flows into the story.
My biggest beef with Midway was that I felt, at times, that the flow was missing. I particularly noticed this during the opening sequences in Pearl Harbor, which was a shame- having just visited Pearl Harbor last spring, I was looking forward to seeing how that section would be interpreted.
Unlike the rest of the film, the Pearl Harbor sequence is shown mainly through the eyes of two purely fictional characters (unless they’re real and have somehow evaded my internet searches!) One is Lieutenant Roy Pearce- invented to be a friend of Dick Best’s–and the other is a young sailor who complains about having to get up early and set up chairs for the church service he doesn’t plan to attend. We find out that they’re both on the Arizona (uh-oh) and then- wham! The Japanese attack!
There was so little time to bond with these two characters that, although their experiences were meant to bring the tragedy of the Arizona to life…for me, they just didn’t. Unfortunately, I felt that too much of the Pearl Harbor sequence relied on explosions and special effects. A film can get away with that in a battle sequence when the audience already cares about the characters. In this situation, the lack of character depth lowered the stakes of the scene (which shouldn’t be possible when it’s a scene about Pearl Harbor! The high stakes are already there!) and made it fall rather flat- not a great way to kick off a movie.
There was one, brief, striking part of the sequence. The film cuts over to Ford Island- the officer housing near where the ships were under attack. Mandy Moore (aka Dick Best’s wife) runs out to gather her daughter from their front yard where she stands, transfixed, watching the attack. You can see most of the scene in the teaser trailer, here:
Perhaps some lighter touches like this- the different perspective of the families, watching horrified as the ships where their loved ones are serving burn- would have brought home the reality of the tragedy and have packed a bit more emotional punch than the two rather underdeveloped fictional characters and all of the KABOOM! TRAVERSING PITS OF FIRE! RATATATATA! that took up most of the sequence.
So. To sum up, while Midway wasn’t a film that thrilled me with its thourough historical accuracy, or a film that managed the strong, emotional pull that great storytelling can evoke, it did include some pretty nifty details from history, and some good action sequences. I do hope that it focuses people’s attetion on some of history’s real heroes, and inspires them to learn more.
Of course, like any review, this IS my own opinion. Other friends who watched the film enjoyed it thoroughly, and perhaps you would, too!
Did any of you see Midway? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your opinions!
I’m looking forward to getting back into a regular blogging routine, though I am planning to adjust my schedule a bit to fit my current life- more on that later. For now, thank YOU for stopping by and visiting!