Midway Parent Guide
Completely devoid of nuance, character development, or historical perspective, this hollow spectacle sensationalizes the horror of war.
Parent Movie Review
Following the carnage of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the United States needs to find a way to seize the initiative in the war in the Pacific. Naval intelligence officer Lt. Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) believes that the Japanese intend to strike at the US base on Midway Island, and that an ambush there could cripple the Japanese surface fleet. It falls to newly installed Fleet Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) to coordinate the operation, which includes Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s (Aaron Eckhart) raid on Tokyo and Admiral Halsey’s (Dennis Quaid) maneuvering in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise, Lt. Commander Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) and Lieutenant Dick Best (Ed Skrein) coordinate the bombers and torpedo planes which the U.S. Navy will rely on to sink the Japanese fleet.
This is the worst sort of war film. Completely devoid of any nuance, character, or historical perspective, Midway instead sensationalizes the violence of war and unleashes all the unbridled patriotism it can muster. It features the most over the top All-American cast ever assembled, with jawlines stronger than the fleet, all of whom have functionally identical character traits. The writing doesn’t stop there, penning dialogue so banal it feels like the movie was churned out by a computer.
For those of you who like to watch impressive spectacles on a big screen, I’ll concede that Midway does scale well. The aircraft carriers and battleships loom out of the sea like mountains coming out of the waves. Bullets whiz past the screen at a terrifying rate, and planes dodge and swerve at lunatic speeds. None of that compensates for the fact that I’ve seen more compelling action in video game cutscenes. Without any sense of character or appropriate context, this might as well be happening in space.
That’s what bothers me about movies like this. When you see Japanese planes gunning across Battleship Row, or American bombers lighting up Tokyo like a Christmas tree, that’s all you see. You don’t see the civilian casualties, the families of the downed airmen, or the larger political ramifications. In context, it’s hard to look at American bombers over large Japanese cities without remembering how nearly a quarter of a million civilians would be killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima three years later. It’s difficult to watch the Japanese Navy casually killing prisoners without thinking of the Rape of Nanking, or the Bataan Death March. None of those events make for fun popcorn movie shots, but without them, the consequences of battles like Midway are fuzzy and unimportant.
Parental concerns will chiefly be with violence, although for a large war film, there is remarkably little gore. With the exception of some blood and a few shots of severely burned corpses, the deaths in the film largely occur in the impersonal confines of distant aircraft or naval vessels, with very few deaths being directly shown on screen.
At the end of the day, Midway is a two-and-a-half hour slog of lazy cinema attempting to capitalize on the most brutal and devastating conflict in human history. Not that the film endeavors to look closely at the human cost, since it’s too busy painting its star-spangled awesome Americans and over-confident imperialistic Japanese. With nothing else on its plate, this production sets off explosions like a kid with a box of firecrackers. No amount of special effect stunts or high-profile acting talent will compensate for the interminably atrocious writing, or the callous indifference to historical events and human suffering.Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Woody Harrelson, Luke Evans, and Patrick Wilson. Running time: 138 minutes. Theatrical release November 8, 2019. Updated November 8, 2019
Watch the trailer for Midway
Rating & Content Info
Why is Midway rated PG-13? Midway is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking.
Violence: There is almost constant war-related violence. People are bombed, burned, drowned, and shot. Notable violence includes an individual burning their palms severely, an individual being tied to an anchor and thrown overboard, and the burned remains of several people being shown.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: There is a singular use of extreme profanity, six uses of scatological cursing, nine moderate profanities, and dozens of mild swears and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Individuals are shown drinking socially and smoking cigarettes
Page last updated November 8, 2019
Midway Parents' Guide
When depicting the war, what kind of attention should be paid to the historical record? What kind of consideration should be made for context? Do you think this film does a good job of respecting its source material?
Dick Best is a reckless pilot, and this causes tension with both his wife and his comrades. What is his attitude towards the war and his part in it? Why does he take so many risks? What makes it worth it for him? Do you think this is fair to his wife and daughter?
Admiral Yamamoto was a comparatively moderate member of the Japanese government at the time of the war, and he only approved the plan to attack Pearl Harbor under extreme pressure from the nationalist wing of the government. How responsible do you feel he is for the attack? How did he feel about it? What responsibilities do you think he had to resist the extremists in his government?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King is an excellent non-fiction book about the only five-star admirals in American history, and their experiences in commanding the Navy to victory in the Pacific.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is a deliberate strike back at this kind of jingoistic storytelling, and tells a semi-autobiographical story about the brutalities and unnecessary insanities of war.
The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick depicts an alternate past in which the Axis won the war, and the west coast of the United States is occupied by Imperial Japan.
Related home video titles:
There are plenty of war movies which are both better produced and more significant in their portrayal of history. These include Saving Private Ryan, Letters from Iwo Jima, Fury, Dunkirk, and Hacksaw Ridge. Movies which focus on the Imperial Japanese treatment of prisoners include The Bridge on the River Kwai, Unbroken, and The Railway Man.