'Midway' Review: Roland Emmerich's World War II Epic Is Little More Than A Boring Cartoon

In 2001, Michael Bay unleashed Pearl Harbor, a big, dumb, corny, effects-driven war epic about the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the battles that followed. Featuring a lifeless romantic subplot and an exhausting runtime, it's not what anyone would consider to be a good movie. But watching Midway, the new catastrophe from disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich that covers similar material, one finds themselves pining for the nuance of Bayhem. For all his flaws, Michael Bay at least knows how to stage a scene with human characters interacting (sometimes). The same can't be said for Emmerich.

Rather than concern himself with character development and drama, Emmerich, the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, specializes in blowing s*** up, and Midway gives him the opportunity to blow lots of s*** up – in a historical setting to boot. Unfortunately, Emmerich has to pad all of those explosions with human moments, which he does clumsily, stumbling from one awkward scene to the next, stranding his actors in a sea of unconvincing dialogue in the process.

The script, by Wes Tooke, is loaded with dumb speeches that are meant to seem inspiring, and clunky expository lines where characters exclaim a trait about someone they're interacting with. "You're the best pilot we have!" one pilot says to another. When an intelligence officer comes running into an office during the attack on Pearl Harbor, his superior takes one look at him and shouts, "There he is! The man who tried to warn us!" A character wearing sunglasses and dressed in a khaki uniform climbs out of a car with a soldier, and the soldier cries out: "Gee whiz, I've never met a real-life movie director before, Mr. Ford!" the soldier exclaims. Mr. Ford, as played by Geoffrey Blake, is meant to be the legendary John Ford, who filmed the Battle of Midway and turned it into the 1942 documentary The Battle of Midway. You should probably just watch that instead – it's streaming on Netflix.

Midway wastes no time in throwing us into the action. After a brief prologue we find ourselves in the midst of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and all the carnage it brings. Hotshot Navy pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein) wants immediate revenge, but his superiors refuse to let him go flying off to do whatever the heck he wants. There's protocol, after all. The rest of Midway is devoted to the weeks and months following Pearl Harbor leading up to the Battle of Midway. Intelligence officer Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) figures out pretty quickly that the Japanese are already planning another attack on Midway Island, and he convinces his superior officer Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, wearing a wig that's only slightly more convincing than the one he sported in Venom) to plan a counter-attack. Meanwhile, Dick has to learn to be less of a daredevil and more of a leader. Oh, and Dennis Quaid is there, too. His character gets shingles at one point and has to leave the movie. Lucky him.

These non-action scenes with paper-thin characters are merely the framework Emmerich has hung his saga on, and we're just as bored with them as he must have been. No one here behaves like a living, breathing human here. Everyone shouts their lines and attempts at humor fall completely flat. One might want to be kind to Emmerich and suggest that he's going for some sort of heightened atmosphere that pays tribute to the not-quite-realistic war epics of Hollywood's past – the type that would have John Wayne unconvincingly storming into battle. But it's doubtful.

Characters are introduced, rattle off some backstory about themselves, and then immediately die. We're supposed to care about these people, I suppose. And we're supposed to believe their deaths haunt Dick Best, so much so that he talks somberly about them to his wife, Anne (Mandy Moore) – one of a handful of female characters in the movie who exist merely to support their rough, tough menfolk and make them sandwiches late at night. But good luck getting worked up about anyone here. Dick Best is an absolute dud as a main character, and Skrien's performance – which requires him to use a thick New Jersey-ish accent – is often cringeworthy.

And what about the rest of the fighting men? Will you care about the jerk pilot no one likes, played by Darren Criss? What about the mustachioed machinist (Nick Jonas), who says he doesn't worry about dying because anyone could die at any time? Or how about Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart), a character we're lead to believe is "the best pilot in the whole world" because that's how one character introduces him? You'll be hard-pressed to have much interest in any of these folks. To Midway's credit, it does take time to focus on the Japanese side of the conflict as well, and Etsushi Toyokawa as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is the only actor who feels like a genuine person here. He belongs in a better movie.

Since Emmerich cares more about the action than the character moments, you might assume that when Midway delves into the battle sequences it comes to life. But that's not what happens. Nothing on the screen feels real or has weight. It's all digital clutter, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. You've likely seen video game cutscenes more realistic than the cartoonish fighter planes engaging in dogfights here. When Emmerich's Independence Day, a movie about gooey aliens blowing up the White House as Will Smith cracks jokes, is more convincing than a true story like Midway, something is very wrong.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10