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Review: Midway

British History lessons tend not to do a deep dive of the events during World War 2 in the Pacific Theatre barring Pearl Harbour and the Atomic bombs dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; ironically The Battle of Midway occurs between both these key points and is a historian’s dream film. War heroes from both the American and Japanese sides feature prominently in Midway, but the actors are given little to work with, rather it is the dog fights and naval battles that hold our attention.

Events just happen and the only ones who get any semblance of character are Ed Skrein as Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best and Patrick Wilson as Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton, both men haunted by the events of Pearl Harbour and are determined for vengeance. Richard is a maverick fighter pilot, while Edwin is an intelligence officer, tasked with predicting the Japanese next move. Beyond this and their families back home their characters feel a little thin, though better than anyone else. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Admiral Chester Nimitz feels both perfect and miscast at the same time, leading the Navy after Pearl Harbour he doesn’t feel as committed as he says he is.

Opening on Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese get their due being more well-rounded than previous attempts – righting the inaccuracies of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. Roland Emmerich knows when to switch the story to the other side of the Pacific and capture the Samurai code that was instilled in Japanese forces in the 20th Century. Unlike the USA a lot of time is spent thinking about honour and duty before they can critique battle plans.

The attack on Pearl Harbour is shown as a deadly blow, killing off many characters the audience would have expected to survive. Luckily there is an opening for the USA to regroup and plan a trap at the Battle of Midway. The scale and surprising beauty of the battles will interest anyone with a passing interest in tactics. Ed Skrein’s war cries as he dive bombs a fleet carrier are momentous, as the camera momentarily cuts to the cacophony of explosions around him.

Roland Emmerich has a history of making memorable disaster films, from Independence Day to Godzilla which have never been lacking in character depth. Which is why it’s a shame that in a film based on real-life war heroes, the characters feel like a pastiche from old war films – the cast is an elite ensemble managing to do a lot with what little they have. Though considering that war heroes are only remembered for their triumphs and foibles it’s unsurprising that put in a film they would appear as caricatures. Midway is an enjoyable film, even if there is much to be desired.

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