A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Midway is director Roland Emmerich's action-heavy drama about one of World War II's biggest battles. As you might expect from a war movie, there's pervasive conflict and violence, with many scenes of explosions, bombs, and sudden, violent deaths. The camera doesn't linger on bloody wounds, but you'll see many dead bodies, including some that are burned black. Characters also look swollen and bruised, and some are held captive; one is killed by being tied to an anchor and dumped off a ship. Expect lots of military guns, ships, and planes. Sexual content is limited to a few kisses between married couples and one reference to a soldier "chasing tail." Frequent swearing includes "ass," "s--t," "son of a bitch," and more. Japanese people are consistently called "Japs" in a sneering tone, and at one point male soldiers are referred to as "ladies" as an insult. Characters smoke pipes, cigars, and, most often, cigarettes. Scenes take place at bars, with characters making toasts and sometimes getting drunk and lurching around. Both American and Japanese men are depicted sympathetically (women are barely present here), but there aren't many obvious role models, because most characters have very little screen time. A Japanese soldier's decision to go down with his ship seems to be viewed as honorable. Courage and teamwork are evident in the way soldiers on both sides unite for common goals. Woody Harrelson, Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, and more co-star.
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What's the story?
MIDWAY is a star-studded dive into a pivotal conflict at the height of World War II. After the United States is surprised by Japan's raid on Pearl Harbor, intelligence officer Lieutenant-Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) warns his superiors -- Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) and Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey (Dennis Quaid) -- that more attacks are on the way. The United States responds with the ill-advised Doolittle's Raid under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart), and the subsequent tensions result in the climactic Battle of Midway. There, reckless flyboy Lieutenant Richard "Dick" Best (Ed Skrein) distinguishes himself by taking out two Japanese aircraft carriers, shifting the upper hand in the Pacific theater to the Allied powers.
Is it any good?
Overly long and overstuffed with both characters and battle scenes, this film (based on the same-named 1976 movie) clearly has its heart in the right place, but it's not much fun to watch. The obvious aim is to honor the soldiers, both American and Japanese, who fought in the pivotal WWII battle. But the effect is numbing, with too many lookalike faces and confusing, endless shots of planes wheeling in the sky. How come movie makers haven't figured out that battles are a drag to watch if you can't figure out who's fighting and what's happening, no matter how well they're made? If Midway had leaned into that chaos and made the battle scenes visceral -- like the bravura opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan -- it may have earned more than the reflexive wince viewers feel at watching yet another human being die a horribly violent death.
Concentrating more closely on one or just a few characters would also have given the action more emotion. We're introduced to nine main characters on the American side at once, at least four of whom look incredibly similar (Aaron Eckhart and Alexander Ludwig: separated at birth?) and all wearing the same clothes -- OK, it's a uniform, but it doesn't help. On the other hand, the portrayal of the Japanese military officials is one of this movie's bright spots: Though Midway's overall vibe is fiercely pro-American, Axis decisions are depicted sympathetically, and their stories are given dignity. Jun Kunimura is a solemn-faced and magnetic Admiral Nagumo; the resolution of his storyline is one of the few emotional moments that really connects, amidst otherwise eye-rollingly trite scenes of soldiers hugging wives and children. Wait, who's hugging who? And why? We don't know, so it's hard to care, for these scenes, and for this so-so movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the events that led to World War II and about some of the real-life characters who are depicted in Midway. Was the movie fair to them, or did it seem biased in any way? Which characters were depicted sympathetically, and which (if any) got short shrift?
What other war movies and documentaries have you seen? Do they seem true to life? How about the coverage you see in the news relating to conflicts around the world? Is it balanced? How would you be able to tell?
- In theaters: November 8, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 18, 2020
- Cast: Woody Harrelson, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid, Ed Skrein, Luke Evans
- Director: Roland Emmerich
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: History
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking
- Last updated: February 18, 2020
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