Midway Review: A Missed Opportunity

Colorized photo of USS Yorktown (CV-5) burning during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. The failure to depict the Yorktown during the battle, is the 2019 film about the battle’s greatest mistake.

Roland Emmerich’s new film Midway tells a story that needs telling. As its title suggests, the film depicts the Battle of Midway in June 1942 where the U.S. carrier-based aircraft sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers, ending the Imperial Japanese Navy’s capability for offensive operations in the Pacific. The battle’s significance cannot be overstated; the Athenian General Themistocles is purported to have said “He who controls the sea controls everything.” In that respect Midway was not just one of the most important battles of World War II, it was one of the most important battles in world history. Unfortunately, Midway ultimately left a lot to be desired.

While giving Midway “0/10 Nimitz-es” may be a bit unfair, it was a missed opportunity.

First, what Midway did well. The history is largely accurate, even the parts that the casual observer may not pay close attention. Faulty torpedoes, the trick with the water treatment machine, even the death by boat anchor execution, are all historically accurate. The action scenes are also intense. Despite the fact that any historical literate viewer knows the result in advance, seeing the entire screen fill up anti-aircraft fire can still cause one grab their arm rest a little tighter as American planes come in for attack. The movie focuses on the strategic and intelligence planning and well known pilots from the battle including Dick Best and Wade McClusky and what they did and what they went through. It also did a good job of highlighting the problems, many of them self-induced, that plagued the Japanese.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. The special effects are not the greatest and the dialogue can be contrived at times and for a plot entitled Midway there is a lot of time spent of non-Midway related material that could have been better spent telling actual Midway-related history. Then there is the end, where the film is dedicated to the sailors of both sides that fought at Midway, which is off putting after seeing the Japanese bomb Chinese civilians as they help a stranded Jimmy Doolittle and throw POW Bruno Gaido overboard after being weighted down after he refuses to cooperate with his Japanese captors.

Midway errors in focusing more on Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s pre-Midway exploits than Admiral Raymond Spruance’s actual Midway exploits. In one of the few historical errors, Admiral Chester Nimitz says that he selected Spruance for the job to replace a shingles-ridden Halsey. In reality, Halsey recommended his close friend to Nimitz, despite Spruance’s history being in surface warfare, not carrier operations. Spruance, arguably the most underrated admiral in American history, barely gets any screen time and that is a shame because while Spruance was more reserved than his more bombastic friend, and he was the better admiral and should’ve been awarded a fifth star, whereas Halsey probably shouldn’t have.

As for the intelligence operations at Pearl Harbor, the ruse involving Midway’s (or AF’s) water treatment was critical and deserved more than a throw away line.

But, Midway’s biggest and most shameful error a is how it handled the sinking of the Yorktown. The movie shows how the Yorktown was somehow patched together in 72 hours to make ready for battle after the Battle of the Coral Sea, but the only reference we get to the Yorktown’s sinking is a quick line when Best’s wife Anne tells a fellow Navy wife that one of the three American carriers has been lost. The movie has time for a lengthy Pearl Harbor scene aboard the Arizona and has time for the Doolittle Raid and time to follow Doolittle’s adventures in China, but in a film called Midway, there is no scene depicting the Japanese bombing of Yorktown, the heroic damage control efforts that got her back underway, only to be bombed again and ultimately sunk.

Midway is better than Pearl Harbor, but that may be a low bar. If you like action movies, Midway can satisfy you, but if you are a history buff, prepare to be disappointed.

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Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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