Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) often takes major risks in hopes to see his wife and child sooner.

Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway were polar opposite events for America in World War II. Starting at an extreme low, “Midway” builds up a great underdog story and tells a tale of both obvious and lesser-known parts of the Pacific side of World War II. 

Starting at Pearl Harbor, the film is bleak. Before anyone can respond to the attack, several men on various aircraft carriers are shown being mowed down by the Japanese sneak attack. The sights of desperate and panicking men looking for an escape from their burning ships and the pools of flaming oil beneath them is depressing. Most of  them are unable to do anything to save themselves despite avoiding injury from the planes, while civilians can only watch in horror and confusion from their backyards.

From here, an emphasis is placed on the lesser known bits of the war, including intelligence. Lt. Cmdr. Edwin T. Layton (Patrick Wilson) is the only intelligence officer trusted by Adm. Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) after being the only one to warn the government it should stay on guard in case of a Japanese attack. As the Navy continues battling, Layton shows Nimitz how he gets his information and gives a brief introduction into decrypting encoded messages.

Besides those messages, both Japan and China are given a fair share of screentime, which is uncommon for a U.S.-focused film. Japan’s military leaders are shown strategizing and undergoing power struggles as both their Army and Navy attempt to persuade their Emperor. Their war methods are also shown to an extent, including bombing civilians in China with no attempt to hide their bloodlust. During battles, different generals are seen comparing how brave Japan and America are while insulting America’s planes as well.

China’s limited aid to America is also noted. In a touching moment, Chinese guerillas rescue Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolitte (Aaron Eckhart) after hearing that he led the first team to ever successfully drop bombs on Japan. The sudden shift from fear and caution to admiration is entertaining as the Chinese realize their common enemy. The horrors of war are on display as Doolittle watches Japanese planes attack random villages that clearly have no way to protect themselves.

With this being a war movie, there are obviously fights. A nice synergy between pilots and their wingmen gives a refreshing perspective on aerial combat. It adds to the battles’ tension with both men having to look out for each other if they hope to survive and fight another day. During battles, their actions feel frenetic as it constantly switches between both men. The pilot must focus on bombing targets while simultaneously dodging fire, hoping that their wingman is able to shoot down enemies behind them. Along with this, wingmen must track different statistics like altitude for the pilot and hope that they’re able to stay in their seat. This includes the brave and cocky Lt. Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein), who often takes major risks in hopes to end the war sooner and be able to see his wife and child. 

Technical difficulties are also explored, adding suspense as planes sometimes fail to take off or land properly, resulting in disaster. The details of what went wrong in World War II outside of fights are appreciated by the inner history buff.

“Midway” is a bloody tale of one of America’s greatest underdog moments. A fair share of time on the opposing forces works to show both sides of the story to avoid bias. With plenty of details and often unexplored aspects of the Pacific side of World War II, the film has something for everyone leading into Veterans Day.

Contact Caleb Barbachem at barbaccf@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.