Review: As soon as its characters stop talking, 'Midway' thrills

WWII film from director Roland Emmerich goes big but fails in its small moments

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

As history, "Midway" is like a book report by a third grader: there's good guys, bad guys and a whole lot of explosions. The end.  

But as an action movie, "Midway" gets the job done. Sure it paints in broad strokes, but no one comes to a Roland Emmerich movie for small character moments. This is the director of "Independence Day" and "Godzilla," he knows action, and he goes all in on "Midway's" airplane and naval battle sequences, which make up a good portion of the film's run time. It's a big screen experience worth its weight in popcorn.   

Ed Skrein and Luke Kleintank in "Midway."

"Midway" takes on several key battles in WWII: the attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle's Raid and the Battle of Midway. 

Emmerich stages the air scenes like he's conducting a widescreen orchestra. Planes divebomb out of the sky, aircraft carriers retaliate, bullets fly through the air like fireworks. As pure spectacle, it's thrilling. 

It's the human moments that dumb it down. As hero pilot Dick Best, Ed Skrein is as cocky as his name implies, a comic book ideal of hoo-rah machismo. As his wife, Mandy Moore gets to look on and be concerned. And as Admiral Chester Nimitz, Woody Harrelson looks like he wandered off the set of "SNL" in his Joe Biden wig and makeup.

Nick Jonas plays a soldier with an Italian accent so broad he sounds like he's auditioning for a commercial for pasta sauce. And so on. if you can get past the clunky dialogue — "this is for Pearl!" Best shouts as he mans a plane, hellbent on revenge — "Midway" is a rollicking war film. HIstory buffs need not apply.



Rated PG-13:  for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking

Running time: 140 minutes