Roland Emmerich's Midway is a respectful account of the World War II battle

Midway (M)

3 stars

The devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that brought the US into World War II opens this film. Then, as the title suggests, it jumps forward several months to the Battle of Midway in which the tables were decisively turned.

Patrick Wilson stars as intelligence officer Edwin Layton in Midway. Picture: Supplied

Patrick Wilson stars as intelligence officer Edwin Layton in Midway. Picture: Supplied

The surprise of Pearl Harbor for the US was, we're told, despite the attempts of naval attache Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) to warn the American government. When cryptologist Joseph Roquefort (Brennan Brown) and his team intercept Japanese messages about another forthcoming attack, Admiral Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) takes this seriously and the location is, eventually, discovered. Then comes a lot of planning followed by a lot of destruction and death.

Midway feels like one of director Roland (Independence Day) Emmerich's periodic attempts to garner critical respect as well as a commercial hit . It's a middling success in that regard: Wes Strick's screenplay features a lot of cliched moments as well as some genuinely striking real-life incidents and historical figures, some given more attention than others.

The battle scenes are usually well staged though the CGI is a little variable - flames, especially, don't always look completely convincing - and sometimes the action resembles a slightly confusing computer game.

Much of the funding for this film came from Chinese sources which might account, in part, for the attention paid to the air raid on Japan led by James Doolittle (Aaron Echkardt) after which many airmen ended up in China and were helped by the locals.

The Japanese naval leaders and their strategies are given some respectful attention although the focus is, not surprisingly, on the American forces and their actions.

There are a lot of characters and incidents to keep track of but the film does a pretty good job of juggling them all. The home front scenes are the least effective.

Unlike the 1976 film Midway, which had in the cast such big names as Charlton Heston, most of this film's actors, though effective, seem a bit second-string, as though the filmmakers wanted to spend more money on the special effects than the cast.

Midway isn't a great film but if you can overlook its flaws it's fairly accurate and not quite as jingoistic as it might have been.

This story Middling look at a decisive World War II battle first appeared on The Canberra Times.