Anika Goes to the Movies: Midway

Quick review: 4.5 stars It’s hard to construct an engaging narrative about a battle that sorta didn’t happen. The point of the battle of Midway is that the Japanese never made it to Midway. It turned the tide of war in the Pacific without a massive climax. The film is layered and nuanced without any of the stupid side story, over dramatization that characterized Pearl Harbor (2001). If you have a person in your life who loves history or if you love a good war flick, this is worth seeing in the theater.

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Long review- probably some spoilery things: I’m not a huge war movie fan. Turning the horrors of war into entertainment leaves me feeling a little slimy. But I have a husband who is a massive history buff and teacher so when the war movies come out, we are usually there. This one didn’t make a huge point of dramatizing the events that took place, and I appreciated that. The narrative centers mostly around pilot Dick Best, who is credited with bringing down two air craft carriers in the same day, and played an integral part of turning the tide of the war in the Pacific, but I didn’t find his story to be the most engaging. My thoughts settled on those more removed from the front.

I am not wickedly educated on the battle of Midway, so what I say needs to be taken as a lay-person’s perspective. Here we go:

  1. Etsushi Toyokawa as General Yamamoto is brilliant. His scenes portray a thoughtful, conflicted, highly intelligent man bound up in the traditions and demands of his people. The first scene of the film shows him communicating without words to the US Naval Attache played by Patrick Wilson, that he knows war is inevitable and yet he desires it not to be. He was well aware of the sentiments of his people that he was too moderate, not nearly nationalistic enough, not hard line enough to lead a Japan determined to become a world power. He knew his position was precarious, and his nation’s position, more so.
  2. Watching the U.S. forces line up shot after shot to try and take out the naval forces of Japan and then miss is heart breaking. We rarely see in film the difficulty of hitting a target with accuracy while flying a plane or maneuvering a sub. And here’s something I hadn’t internalized, the air to sea torpedos being deployed by the U.S. at the beginning of the war didn’t work! They were going into battle equipped with duds. But time and again I would hear an audible “Awww,” of frustration when a bomb failed to connect or piece of equipment misfired. Moreover, we tend to think of Americans as the superior force, hence necessitating Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The truth is the Japanese planes outstripped ours in nearly every way. We were often both out numbered and out maneuvered, making the victory at Midway a true miracle and a testament to the value of intelligence in war time strategy.
  3. It is those that lean in to the jobs no one wants that make the most difference. Chester W. Nimitz, played by Woody Harrelson (one of my personal favs), is a man pressed into service in a time and place no one was ready for, given the most limited resources to begin with, and told to go clean up the mess in the Pacific until the job was done. And he did. The best parts of this movie are the ones where we see ordinary people step up and do the extraordinary, and then go back to being ordinary people when the war ends.
  4. War is not funny, but well timed humor is often the difference between a film that drags on interminably and one that moves from beginning to end without making you wish you could get off the train.
  5. Too often war films are decidedly one sided, telling the tale of the courageous victor or the brutalized loser. While the slant of this one is clearly in America’s favor, it shows the strength, courage, intelligence, and determination of the Japanese naval forces. And in the end the film is dedicated to both he American’s and Japanese men who lost their lives in the war. “The sea remembers her own.”  And yet it doesn’t shrink back from pointing out the vicious treatment of the Chinese and the retribution killings that the Japanese engaged in. The cruel manner of death imposed on those captured at sea and the rigid pursuit of honor and glory as tokens of violent behavior make us see that war makes monsters of those who engage in it. 

Those are my thoughts. The movie is really good. The action and the flight sequences are amazing. It is absolutely worth a watch in the theater. It is what a remake should be: a reimagining and enhancement of the original for a new viewership.

Until next time, enjoy the show.

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