Midway Movie Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Real historical personae; careful handling of facts; good acting ensemble; fairly good visualization of attacks on Japanese aircraft carriers

Characters are completely unrevealed; banal script and dialog; visual effects look sloppy at times

Midway movie meaning

Genre war drama
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Woody Harrelson (Admiral Chester Nimitz), Luke Evans (Commander Clarence McCluskey), Mandy Moore (Anna Best), Ed Skrein (Lt. Dick Best), Aaron Eckhart (Lt. Col. James Doolittle), Dennis Quaid (Admiral William “Buffalo” Halsey), Hiroaki Shintani (Emperor Hirohito), Ida Hiromoto (Prime Minister Tojo Hideki), Tadanobu Asano (Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi), Etsushi Toyokawa (Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto), Jun Kunimura (Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo), etc. р.
Centropolis Entertainment, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate Studios
Year of release 2019
IMDb Website

What does the average UK know about World War II in the Pacific theater? Pearl Harbor, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that’s all. The Battle of Midway will be called only by people interested in military history. But this battle, which can be conditionally called the American Stalingrad, had a decisive influence not only on the course of the war in the Pacific, but also on the battles on the fields of Europe. Had the Americans lost at Midway, and they would have had to think about the defense of the west coast of the United States, and not about the supply of Lend-Lease or landing in Italy and France. History would have taken a very different path.

Thank God that the U.S. won a decisive victory, trading one of its aircraft carriers for four Japanese ones and showing the enemy that the defeats at Pearl Harbor and in the Coral Sea had not broken the spirit of the U.S. Navy. It was the first major U.S. victory in World War II, turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. Not only that, but this naval battle, the second in history in which the opposing fleets did not make direct visual contact and did not fire a single direct shot at each other, defined the U.S. naval strategy in the second half of the XX century. Aircraft carrier strike groups based on 11 active aircraft carriers remain the backbone of the U.S. Navy to this day. But back to the movie Midway.


All of Roland Emmerich’s films made after 2009, that is, after the 2012 disaster movie, have become real financial disasters. Not bad on the whole Anonymous collected a miserable $15 million at the box office with a budget of $30 million. The action movie White House Down about an assassination attempt on the U.S. president was unlucky with the release date – it came out three months after Olympus Has Fallen with a similar plot. The drama Stonewall grossed only $292,203 at the worldwide box office. Only Independence Day: Resurgence can be called conditionally successful, but even so, the $390 million box office with a budget of $165 million cannot be called fantastic. By today’s standards, to break even, a movie needs to earn two of its budgets.

Understandably, with such financial indicators, large companies were not in a hurry to entrust Emmerich another $ 125 million, so the director turned to independent investors and, slightly reducing their appetites, collected about $ 100 million for the picture. So, among other things, Midway became one of the most expensive in the history of cinema independent films. And a quarter of the amount came from Chinese investors, for this reason, the picture appeared in the scene in China, however, historically accurate and related to the events at Midway Atoll.


Conventionally, Midway can be considered a direct sequel to Michaelbay’s Pearl Harbor. The same scope, abundance of pyrotechnics and visual effects, slightly less emphasis on military families. The movie actually begins with the Japanese fleet attacking Pearl Harbor.

Roland Emmerich and screenwriter Wes Tuck handle the historical material quite carefully. Midway fairly faithfully depicts both the events leading up to the battle (the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz’s appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, the battle in the Coral Sea) and the chronology of the Battle of Midway itself. It’s all here: Joseph Rochfort’s work in deciphering the Japanese code JN-25b, the fake reports of drinking water problems, the persistence of intelligence chief Edward Leighton, and the minute-by-minute schedules of U.S. airplane sorties, and two suicidal attacks by Lt. Dick Best, and the Nautilus submarine miss, and the fateful order to rearm aircraft that cost the Japanese navy dearly, and even director John Ford making the movie that won him the Oscar for Best Documentary of 1942. (for more, see the Five Came Back series). In short, Midway can be used as a supplemental teaching tool in history class if desired. Yes, some moments here are overdramatized, but the events are presented very accurately as for a feature film.


Actually, the problem with Midway is that the picture looks like a visualization of the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Midway. It’s dry, precise and straightforward. But after all, this is a feature film, not one of the episodes of the Greatest Battles of World War II series. I would like to see live people, their emotions, worries and hopes behind the shambolic figures of officers on the screen. Unfortunately, there is nothing of this in Emmerich’s Midway, just a bland presentation of facts and extremely flat characters speaking platitudes. What Christopher Nolan succeeded in Dunkirk – to show the war through the eyes of living people – failed Emmerich, who spent time and funding on visual effects instead of the script. And while you really empathize with each of Nolan’s characters, Emmerich’s characters evoke almost no emotion.

This is doubly frustrating, because on the set of Midway gathered a really good company. Here and honored “old men” like Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid and Aaron Eckhart; and talented young actors Ed Skrein, Luke Kleintank and Alexander Ludwig. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to play either of them in Midway.


Although Emmerich had to reduce the budget of the movie by $25 million, sacrificing a number of battle scenes, most of the director’s money, as usual, went to the visual effects. And they cause a double impression. The same scenes of air battles and fighter planes maneuvering between cars look too pathos and unnatural. At the same time, the image of the attack of bombers and torpedo-carriers on the Japanese fleet impresses with the saturation of the picture and tragedy, and something reminiscent of the battle scenes from… Star Wars and Independence Day. Yes, it seems that Emmerich made Independence Day again, only now in the World War II setting and with Japanese instead of aliens.


Surprisingly, for all the importance of the Battle of Midway to U.S. history, Emmerich’s movie is only the second feature film devoted to these events. Jack Smythe’s previous film, released in 1976, starred the great Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz, who himself served in the Pacific Fleet during World War II and voiced John Ford’s documentary on the actual Battle of Midway. Midway (1976) grossed $43.2 million at the box office, which when adjusted for inflation, clearly surpasses Midway (2019)’s $75 million. The movie clearly won’t pay off, and Emmerich will finally fall out of favor with the big studios.

And yet… Midway (2019) isn’t so bad that you should refuse to watch it. It is a correct historical drama and overall not a bad war movie, very appropriate for distribution in a country that has been at war with a strong and insidious enemy for five years.


Roland Emmerich’s Midway is not a bad addition to the history textbook, but a rather weak feature film

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