It’s battle stations for Roland Emmerich as he unleashes his long-cherished take on the deciding conflict of the Second World War.




There are two types of war film. There’s the intimate, character-driven drama like Mrs Miniver (1942), Ice Cold in Alex (1960) and Another Mother's Son (2017), and then there’s the historical epic like Saving Private Ryan (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and Dunkirk (2017). The German director Roland Emmerich has always favoured scale over intimacy and brings his flair for spectacle to this colossal conflict of World War II. Drawing on all the mastery of modern technology, Emmerich reveals the sheer monstrosity of war, where black smoke turns day into night and planes flip like tiddlywinks to their doom.


Midway was the deciding battle of 1942 that tipped the balance of power between Japan and the US in the Pacific. Kicking off with Japan’s unprovoked onslaught on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the film quickly assembles a few key characters on which to hang our emotions. Most notable of these is Dick Best, a cocky but courageous pilot who was simply the best. He was to the joystick what Lewis Hamilton is to the steering wheel. Played with gum-shewing bravado by the English actor and rapper Ed Skrein, Best has to earn our affection through his actions and the love of his wife, Anne (Mandy Moore). Then there’s Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson), head of fleet intelligence, who commands the respect of Commander-in-chief Chester W. Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) through his unfailing intuition. He warned them about Pearl Harbor, but they didn’t listen. Now he has to work all the hours that God sends in order to predict the enemy’s next move. Patrick Wilson has always cut a sympathetic figure, ever since he shrugged off the typecasting of his role as a paedophile in Hard Candy (2005). All the other characters come and go with a stroke of Wes Tooke's keyboard, based on a screenplay arduously researched by the military obsessive over many years.


So the accent is on the action and the naval tactics. To Emmerich’s credit, and the visual effects army he has hired, the battle scenes are genuinely awe-inspiring, be they on water, in the air or under the sea. Intense isn’t the word for it. The film will no doubt thrill fans of such military theatre and it certainly drives home the utter waste of war, be it the human lives squandered on the altar of glory or the resources that would bankrupt a small country.


It’s interesting that a German director has chosen to highlight the heroism of the Americans in the Second World II, although it’s the Japanese who are cast as the real villains. In a footnote at the end of the film, we are told that 250,000 Chinese villagers were murdered for aiding the escape of an American commander. It’s a rousing history lesson, though, albeit one that fails to engage on a purely emotional level.




Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Etsushi Toyokawa, Tadanobu Asano, Luke Kleintank, Jun Kunimura, Darren Criss, Keean Johnson, Rachael Perrell Fosket, Alexander Ludwig, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson, Brennan Brown, Jake Weber, Cameron Brodeur, Annie Trousseau.


Dir Roland Emmerich, Pro Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser, Screenplay Wes Tooke, Ph Robby Baumgartner, Pro Des Kirk M. Petruccelli, Ed Adam Wolfe, Music Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker, Costumes Mario Davignon.


Centropolis Entertainment/Starlight Culture Entertainment Group/Street Entertainment/Shanghai Ruyi Entertainment-Lionsgate.

138 mins. USA/China. 2019. Rel: 8 November 2019. Cert. 12A.