It is often said that history is written by the victors; and World War II is a victory we’ve been telling for eight decades now, something that shows no sign of slowing down.
It makes me wonder if one day we may run out of war stories to tell, this facilitating the need for a new war, just to keep the Hollywood studios in business.
I joke, of course, but it’s no over exaggeration either, it seems like every event in the course of the six-year-long war has been shaken down by Hollywood for an easy buck. Some of them are great, but for every good war film, there are several imitators flying closely behind.
I think I may have a handle for spotting the give away signs now, but I am not delusional enough to think I’ve seen it all.
Anyway, this ramble is getting us nowhere fast, let’s get in with the review.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor leaves the Unites States reeling, intelligence teams and the heads of military re-group to think of a counter-attack. Meanwhile, over the Pacific, Japanese forces are planning their follow-up strike.
I must admit to a fair amount of trepidation going into this film. First there’s the subject matter; Pearl Harbor and its aftermath is an event that has been put onto film before, and with disastrous consequences, hardly surprising given the director of that particular film, it’s an event that is difficult to portray with any amount of even-handedness, even with the benefit of hindsight.
Secondly, I worried because of the director. Roland Emmerich is the man behind the camera here, someone who I don’t consider to be awful, but certainly doesn’t shy away from the ‘style-over-substance’ approach. He’s the man behind Independence Day, a film where aliens blow up the White House, in case my point needs proving.
To cut him some slack though, if ever there was to be a subject where big explosions were to fit right in, it’d be a war movie, something where explosions are slightly more necessary, but can nonetheless be overused regardless, again just look at the Pearl Harbor movie for proof.
I’ve often thought that the best war films are those that focus on the human struggle, as opposed to being about any particular stance. Of course the ethics have to be there and in World War II’s case they’re fairly cut-and-dry, especially on the European front. On the American-Japanese side however, things are a little muddier, and the line slightly narrower.
Yes, the Americans were definitely on the side of good in this war (doesn’t that make a change) but I feel like a lot of war films in the past have used this to present and enhance certain racist stereotypes.
I’m no war historian, but I’d say that the fine points in this film were fairly accurate and well done, the Japanese characters are not heavy stereotypes, but probably a fair representation of what the Imperial Japanese were like, we’re even given a little prologue that attempts to put the Japanese attack into perspective somewhat.
I’d say in terms of ethics, it hits just the right balance, of course all the Americans are portrayed as heroes giving the Japanese threat what for, but they’re also shown to have flaws, and pains, something that is very rarely shown in an American made war film.
I’d also say the action was well-handled too, in particular the portrayal of the Pearl Harbor attack is not so over-the-top that it ceases to be impactful, we get a genuine feeling of the loss of humanity in that event. There’s a few stories of the souls lost in the attack that really add to its effect.
The film isn’t so much ABOUT that attack though, it’s more about the aftermath and the following military operation, The Battle of Midway, and all the events in between.
The film comes into its own during the battle scenes, squeezing every last bit of tension from every dog-fight and bombing run, but as a consequence of this, the more talkative plot moments are in a rush to get to the next battle, and as a result some events seem rushed. It’s not a deal-breaker, but there is a jarring difference between the time taken to complete an intelligence mission, and one to complete a military one.
As a film, Midway may be over-stuffed, it has so many things it wants to show that it fasts-forwards through the parts it thinks we’ll find boring; so perhaps a more streamlined approach would have been prudent, maybe only show us the parts that you think we’ll find interesting?
I don’t want to be too down on the film though, as I do think there’s enough about it to recommend. It’s a bit unfocused, if anything, but in the moments when it is focused (usually the action sequences) then it does deliver.
It’s not a film that will be remembered for its outstanding acting or directing, but rather an account of a war event that is maybe less publicised. The acting and directing are fine, nothing special, maybe even good in parts, but ultimately not what we’ll remember.
I remain divided then, on my actual opinion of the film. I found it engaging in some parts, but bloated and over-bearing in others. It’s certainly not the worst portrayal of World War II, but it’s also not the best. Emmerich gets my respect for not demonising the Japanese as thoroughly as other films have, I think as a German he may be somewhat empathetic to the portrayal of former war villains.
In conclusion then, I’m afraid I have to wheel out the ever-vague ‘could be better, could be worse’ verdict. If you’re a fan of war films, I’m almost certain you’d have seen better, but it’s probably not going to upset many people either. I’d recommend seeing it once, but I doubt you’ll be rushing to buy it on Blu-Ray.