• December 10, 2019
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Midway 2019 movie poster at Cinemark Raleigh Grande.  Midway released on November 8, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Taylor)

Seventy-seven years ago, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, a tiny island located just over 1000 miles northwest of Hawaii became the sight of the turning point of the war in the Pacific theater.  On June 4, 1942, only 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, and his fleet of US aircraft carriers (consisting of the USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, and the USS Enterprise) readied themselves for a Japanese attack at Midway after cracking the Japanese coded orders. 

The fight lasted three days, until June 7, but the main combat action took place on June 4.  Japan lost four aircraft carriers (two of which explorers discovered recently on October 16, 2019), a cruiser, 292 aircraft and roughly 2,500 casualties.  The United States lost the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft and 307 casualties.  

Many people consider the battle of Midway to have ended the threat of Japanese expansion in the Pacific. Before Midway, Japan had control over a large portion of the Pacific.

On June 18, 1976, just 34 years after the battle of Midway, Director Jack Smite released the movie Midway, which mainly focused on the officers in the high command and featured popular actors of the era like Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston and Glenn Ford.  The 1976 version of Midway has an IMDb rating of 6.8/10, and raked in $43.20 million.  

On November 8, 2019, director Roland Emmerich released Midway, featuring Woody Harrelson, Nick Jonas, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson and many other of today’s well-known actors.  The movie, with a 2 hour and 18 minute run time, had an estimated budget of $75 million USD to make.  

So, being the huge WWII history fan I am, I decided to check it out.

The movie begins in 1937, four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, with American and Japanese naval commanders toasting to friendship and peace on the seas, before abruptly fast-forwarding to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  As the movie focuses on the attack, it highlights the bravery of the men on the USS Arizona.  In particular, you follow Lieutenant Roy Pearce (played by Alexander Ludwig), a man who lost his life while bravely defending against the attack made by the Japanese.  

Pearce’s death leads to the introduction of the main protagonist. The storyline follows Richard Halsey “Dick” Best (played by Ed Skrein), a naval aviator and squadron commander who flew dive bombers on the USS Enterprise. Best comes to grips with not only flying his own plane, but assuming command of his squadron, having men die under his leadership and, ultimately leading them in a desperate battle.  A memorable moment comes during the battle: With most of the squadron down, Best and his rear gunner confront the reality that they must go back up in the air to continue the fight. The US Navy credits Best with sinking one of the four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway, the Akagi, and scoring another hit on the carrier Hiryu, on his second flight. 

The movie gives you a heart-thumping, first-hand point-of-view of what it was like to sit in the cockpit of a SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber narrowing in on its target.  It also offers a perspective of what it was like for the rear seat gunner, who would defend the plane from any enemies following the aircraft, armed only with a 30-caliber machine gun.  

Like many more recent WWII movies, due to the lack of remaining military equipment from the war, all the aircraft, naval ships, tracers and anti-aircraft explosions were CGI.  As so much of the film is computer-generated, the movie only took three months to film. That being said, the CGI was very good and gave a great representation of the battle, with plenty of action and explosions.

Unlike the 1976 Midway movie, it did offer a lot of character development and background stories of the men doing the actual fighting in the battle.  It conveyed how the ordinary American aviator, many of which enlisted straight out of high school, felt throughout the battle. They all faced the fear that once their plane left the aircraft carrier, their fate was sealed and that they might not return from the mission.  In truth, many didn’t. There were 15 planes in Best’s squadron for the attack, only four returned to the Enterprise by the end of June 4.

Overall, the movie had a great immersive experience.  There were some twists amongst the action, and many real stories and personal accounts of the battle. I feel that it is a movie that will receive a lot of attention for its cinematography and realistic character development of heroes who actually fought in the battle.  This movie really shed light on the well known and the unsung heroes of Midway. 

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