A new teaser trailer for Roland Emmerich’s forthcoming historical action film Midway dropped this morning. I first heard about the project last year and, despite a basic reaction of Oh no, decided to reserve judgment. This trailer hasn’t done much to change my initial reaction, but I am still withholding judgment. We’ll see.
The Battle of Midway is a seminal moment in American military history and the course of the Second World War. It deserves a serious, sober dramatization that will convey the seriousness of the Japanese threat, the courage of the sailors and aviators involved, something of the longterm consequences of the victory—and, of course, the terrible cost.
So I’m in favor of a new Midway film—the Charlton Heston Midway, which I’ve never seen all the way through, came out 43 years ago—especially given the potential of modern special effects to simulate something like the incineration of the Akagi.
However, I’m not sure Roland Emmerich is the best person to handle this story. In fact I’m pretty sure he’s not. He’s helmed some of the worst big-budget schlock Hollywood has had to offer for a quarter century. He made the climate change Chicken Little fables The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, the misbegotten historical adventure 10,000 BC, went down the Oxfordian conspiracy rabbithole with Anonymous, and is most famous for his mindless sci-fi crowdpleasers like Independence Day and the American Godzilla. Even what I think is his best movie, The Patriot, is a ridiculously simplistic retelling of the Revolution in the South that’s riddled with falsehood.
So I’m not terribly optimistic.
All that said, like my initial reaction to the first real trailer for Tolkien, I’m just going to list a few thoughts:
After all my negativity about Emmerich, there are some definite wins in the casting, especially Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz. Harrelson was great as Texas Ranger Maney Gault in The Highwaymen, which I loved, so I look forward to him playing a similarly legendary figure again.
The first half of the trailer covers a lot of Pearl Harbor ground, with a lot of similar shots—CGI Japanese torpedo planes zipping through battleship row, fighters strafing people on the ground, and even the departure of Jimmy Doolittle’s squadron of B-25 Mitchells for the first bombing of Japan. Two of my favorite historical movies of the last few years—Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, for my thoughts on which click here and here—cover almost exactly the same events but do so in radically different ways. If Midway is going to double up on some of the material Pearl Harbor covered, I hope it’s significantly more different than what we’ve got in this trailer.
Aaron Eckhart plays Doolittle, which could be quite good, and some publicity stills show him in China after the raid on Tokyo. But again—just how much does this film cover before it gets to Midway?
Lots and lots of CGI, not all of it impressive looking. One doesn’t have to go as far as Christopher Nolan did with practical effects on Dunkirk, which gave that film such a spare, austere look, but some detectable real planes and ships would be nice—and help convince our brains that we’re not watching a cartoon.
My wife and I just rewatched Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which is a real hoot. Nick Jonas looks exactly the same here.
This film also features two alumni of my favorite underappreciated historical film, The Alamo—Dennis Quaid (Sam Houston there, Bull Halsey here) and Patrick Wilson (William Barret Travis there, US naval intelligence officer Edwin Layton here).
I’m intrigued to get a bit of the personal life of Dick Best, the divebomber pilot who dropped a bomb into the elevator of the Akagi. He’s played by Ed Skrein and Mandy Moore (familiar to me, many times over, as Rapunzel) plays his wife. Done well this could lend some depth to the often anonymous men who fight America’s wars. But given Emmerich’s track record of developing romantic relationships—or any kind of human relationship—I’m withholding judgment.
Best’s dive toward the Japanese fleet, which we get snippets of at the end of the trailer, knotted my stomach. So, mission accomplished there.
A number of other figures from the battle—ordinary pilots and sailors who did incredible things—are listed in the cast elsewhere online, men like Wade McClusky and George Gay, who survived their flights to attack the Japanese fleet, and Eugene Lindsey, who did not. I hope Midway does them justice.
You can watch the teaser trailer for Midway embedded in this post above. The film comes out November 8, timed for Veterans Day.