Midway (2019) popped up on HBO this week, so I clicked on it on a whim. The movie starts with a claim that everything you are about to see is true. And yes, the bullet points of the battle that the film is built around are true. And yes, the main characters were actual people who fought in the battle. And yes, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey did suffer from a terrible rash due to stress, but why is that even remotely important enough to make a big deal about? Ultimately, including those factual points felt like nothing more than ticking the boxes of an historical outline rather than telling a story that is truly worth telling. The attack on Pearl Harbor got lots of time at the beginning, but the Battle of the Coral Sea, which set the stage for Midway and was the first naval battle in history in which no two opposing ships ever sighted each other, got the merest mention. And really, there was no need to spend any time on any of that at all. Actually, one of the things that they really got right in this movie was how ill-fitting and wrinkly the Navy dress uniforms were back in the day.
The CGI was average to bad, the acting was clichéd and wooden, the dialog was brainless, and above all, you really never understand just how much of the battle turned on the luck of the Americans catching the Japanese with their pants down after the first Japanese strike on Midway Island. For my money, the 1978 Midway starring Charlton Heston did a much better job of explaining how the battle went down. Of course, once you realize the new Midway is a Roland Emmerich movie, all of these shortcomings make sense. I could go on, but I’ll let this Military Times review speak for me. It does a better job.
If you really want to understand how the battle went down, I highly recommend Edward Jablonski’s fantastic Airwar (1971), a two-volume set that covers the air war in both Europe and the Pacific. Well written, well researched, and riveting, Airwar is a must read for anybody who is interested in the role of aviation in WWII. Jablonski is my aviation history muse, and the inspiration for the writing I do today. And he knew exactly what to leave out of the history.