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‘Midway’ torpedoed by poor narrative structure

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“Midway” is what you get when a studio pays director Roland Emmerich to turn the events surrounding a greatly important World War II battle into a popcorn movie. It’s full of elements that are hallmarks of Emmerich’s other films, from a large cast of characters to scenes on massive destruction. It pretends to be a tribute to the brave warriors who fought on both sides of the conflict, but it can’t tear itself away from battles and strategy sessions long enough to tell us a satisfying story.

Based on true events, “Midway” put us in the cockpit with Navy pilots Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and Wade McClusky (Luke Evans), who find themselves swept up into action in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Led by the likes of Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and with information dug up by intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), Best and McClusky lead the rest of the pilots on the aircraft carrier Enterprise against the Japanese Imperial Navy in a battle that was a turning point in the war.

This is an ambitious film when it comes to the plot, covering events the took place before the war even started all the way to the Battle of Midway itself. It includes scenes that humanize the Japanese military men and give their perspective on events. It tries to get inside the strategy sessions leading up to the battle.

It tries to do too much.

If “Midway” has one glaring, catastrophic weakness, it’s that it tries to cover way too much ground, introduce too many characters and tell too many stories to work as a unified, effective narrative. For example, the film takes a detour to include the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo and Doolittle’s (Aaron Eckhart) subsequent escape into China. It has nothing to do with the story and could be cut from the movie completely without impacting the story. If something can be cut out without affecting the story, then nine times out of ten, it needs to be cut.

There’s a similar problem with a plot strand featuring Nick Jonas’ character. He’s a cool character but his story doesn’t really advance the narrative of the movie as a whole and distracts us from our main characters and storyline. Ditto for a series of short scenes involving legendary director John Ford coming to Midway Island to shoot a movie. Cutting this stuff would help streamline and focus the film and smooth out the pacing.

That wouldn’t fix everything, though, because the whole narrative jumps around, with key events we need to know about, like the sinking of the American carrier “Yorktown,” taking place offscreen. The ending of the battle feels a bit anticlimactic, and even if that’s how the true-life battle played out, good cinematic storytelling requires that you build tension as high as you can build it before releasing it and letting the audience feel some relief.

“Midway” isn’t all bad. There’s some sturdy acting from Skrein, Evans and Harrelson. Dennis Quaid’s gruff, salty take on Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey is another highlight. The Japanese actors carry themselves with dignity and regalness. The battles include some very tense divebombing sequences. The special effects, for the most part, are well-done. And the musical score by Harold Kloser and Thomas Wanker elicits an emotional response even when the visuals or the acting can’t.

We’re running out of men and women who actually served in World War II and can tell us what it was like and why we should be thankful for their sacrifices, so I’m glad someone is still making movies like “Midway.” I just wish the studios making these films would put preserving our national heritage and honoring the brave members of our military ahead of making money. Our national heroes deserve better.

2 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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