‘MIDWAY’ CAN’T HIT TAR­GET

VIS­UAL SKILL IS SQUAN­DERED BY A POOR SCRIPT

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Kennedy

Sec­ond World War con­flict is turned into a car­toon

The first thing di­rec­tor Roland Em­merich should do af­ter his lat­est movie “Midway” hits the­atres is apol­o­gize. Apol­o­gize to the vis­ual ef­fects crew, the stunt­men, the car­pen­ters, the cos­tumers and artists. He has squan­dered their con­sid­er­able vis­ual skill in retelling the cru­cial World War II bat­tle at Midway by meld­ing some of the best ac­tion se­quences in years with the most ba­nal of words.

What’s the point of scour­ing 1941 Navy reg­u­la­tions to ground the real-life char­ac­ters in au­then­tic mil­i­tary gear if they say stuff like this: “I guess ev­ery bat­tle needs a mir­a­cle.”

What’s the point of lo­cat­ing the orig­i­nal blue­prints of a gun, and then care­fully recre­at­ing it, if the script calls for an air­man to tell his pi­lot: “You fly like you don’t care if we come home.”

Em­merich has turned “Midway “into an­other of his films, “In­de­pen­dence Day,” which was car­toony but worked be­cause we knew it was over the top. Here, the di­rec­tor has taken real, liv­ing men who acted hero­ically and turned them into pulp comic strip char­ac­ters. He might need to apol­o­gize to them the most.

Screen­writer Wes Tooke has ap­par­ently never seen a cliche he didn’t want to em­brace. His script is as tex­tured and nu­anced as an up­beat news­reel from the ’40s. No, there’s no young G.I nick­named Brook­lyn, but there are hot­shot fly­boys who stick their chew­ing gum next to a photo of their wives in the cock­pit dur­ing dog­fights.

Tooke’s one-di­men­sional char­ac­ters help the plot along by stat­ing only the very ob­vi­ous, like “If we lose, we lose the Pa­cific” and “This place is a pow­der keg.” (Keep that last one in mind; stuff will blow up and it will be called fore­shad­ow­ing.)

The Bat­tle of Midway took place between June 4-7, 1942, and pit­ted Ja­panese Adm. Isoroku Ya­mamoto, ar­chi­tect of the raid on Pearl Har­bor, against

U.S. Navy Adm. Ch­ester Nimitz. The U.S. had been stung by the sneak at­tack in Hawaii and were un­der­dogs in the Pa­cific.

But the U.S. Navy, hav­ing cracked Ja­pan’s code sys­tem, an­tic­i­pated Ja­panese naval move­ments and gained the up­per hand. The bat­tle ended Ja­pan’s as­pi­ra­tions of naval dom­i­nance in the Pa­cific and showed the Al­lies that vic­tory was pos­si­ble.

Like its cousin in WW II filmed fail­ure, the Ben Af­fleck­led “Pearl Har­bor,” Em­merich has de­cided to tell this sprawl­ing story us­ing mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing show­ing the Ja­panese side. Hint: Ev­ery­one is brave.

In the ac­tual bat­tle the­atre are the brave, bad-boy bomber pi­lot Dick Best (Ed Skrein), the brave but more cau­tious Clarence Dick­in­son (Luke Klein­tank), the down­home brave Ad­mi­ral Wil­liam “Bull” Halsey (Dennis Quaid), the swag­ger­ingly brave Jimmy Doolit­tle (Aaron Eck­hart) and the brave and cock­sure Bruno Gaido (a mus­ta­chioed Nick Jonas, reach­ing the very lim­its of his act­ing skills).

You can in­stantly tell why these ac­tors signed up. Jonas gets to shoot an anti-air­craft ar­tillery gun at a plung­ing Ja­panese Zero and prove his courage. “That was the bravest damn thing I’ve ever seen. What’s your name, son?” an awed of­fi­cer says. Skrein, as Best, gets to be a dare­devil pi­lot who is ad­mired by ev­ery­one. “Men like Dick Best are the rea­son we’re gonna win this war,” says one awed pi­lot. Eck­hart gets to strut about in a leather fly­ing jacket and look awe­some.

On­shore there are the brave in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Ed­win Lay­ton (Pa­trick Wil­son) and the brave out­side-the-box Nimitz (Woody Har­rel­son). The Ja­panese are el­e­gant, con­tained and brave, too, es­pe­cially Ya­mamoto (Et­sushi Toyokawa) and Rear Ad­mi­ral Ta­mon Ya­m­aguchi (Tadanobu Asano).

Tooke has pre­sum­ably met women in real life but re­ally doesn’t prove here that he knows how they think or speak at all. They, too, are brave — frus­trated that their men are con­stantly work­ing hard at sav­ing democ­racy but un­der­stand­ing. (One nicely de­clares to her ex­hausted spouse: “I’ll fix you a sand­wich.”) Mandy Moore, ut­terly wasted as Best’s wife, says things like “I’ve never seen you this wor­ried be­fore” and “Come to bed.” We’re told she is a “fire­cracker.” It is hard to be­lieve this film came af­ter “Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan” and “Dunkirk.”

Credit to Em­merich and his film­mak­ers for telling this bat­tle from the air, ships and un­der­wa­ter (we get to see the staff of the USS Nau­tilus sub­ma­rine) and the im­ages are strik­ing — gut-twist­ing bomber runs and pump­ing am­mu­ni­tion. But once again, even in the face of this cin­e­matic and real-life tri­umph, the di­a­logue is pa­per thin.

“We did it!” says a pi­lot at the end, af­ter they ob­vi­ously did it. An­other, drop­ping ord­nance onto a Ja­panese car­rier, states the ob­vi­ous: “This is for Pearl.” “Midway” might be a film best watched if you switch off the vol­ume. One star out of four.

As­so­ci­ated Press photo

This im­age re­leased by Li­on­s­gate shows Nick Jonas in a scene from “Midway.”

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