This post originally appeared on the USNI blog here.
Well my snarky comments finally got me in trouble. I guess the Navy’s patience with my lack of historical appreciation ran out, so they assigned me Extra Military Instruction to study WWII history. I was perfectly happy assuming ‘Merica won World War II with a cunning mix of Aegis, PowerPoint, and DTS, but nooooooo . . .
I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was being sent to an advance screening of Midway, the prequel to Top Gun. Shipmates, let me tell you . . . this movie is OUT. OF. CONTROL!
Seriously, it’s about a made-up carrier battle between the Japanese and U.S. fleets off a make-believe island called “Midway” and it’s insane. This World War II–era historical fiction follows Maverick’s grandfather, Lieutenant Dick Best (great name, totally fake) played by Ed Skrein, through dogfights, strafing runs, and crazy dive bombing into spewing volcanoes of antiair artillery. Not only are the aerial combat scenes intense, the movie also captures the drama of World War II from the home front, with Woody Harrelson playing the surprisingly witty Admiral Nimitz (Penny Benjamin’s great-grandfather) and Mandy Moore as the sharp-tongued Anne Best.
As far as Hollywood action and drama go, Midway knocks it out of the park. You really get a good sense of where Maverick’s daddy issues came from, after watching Dick Best and his wingmen fly straight into the teeth of the Japanese carrier fleet and almost singlehandedly win the war for America (pfff . . . more on this preposterous scene later). As far as World War II historical fiction, Midway is just a bit too unbelievable. I mean, there are some believable parts, but others are too far-fetched to swallow. Allow me to millennial-splain.
- The Navy spends just as much time planning to beat the Army as it does the enemy (applies internationally).
- If it can go wrong, it will. Anybody who has served on a warship knows that Murphy’s Law is in full effect at sea. Midway does a good job of showing the chaotic friction of naval warfare. Torpedoes don’t work, aircraft launch cycles go sideways, scouts give incomplete or inaccurate reports . . . it goes on and on. Does anyone think it would be any different in the real world? I don’t.
- Nobody listens to the junior officers until it’s too late. I won’t give away any spoilers. Let’s just say both sides squandered opportunities for victory by dismissing the junior voice in the room. You’ll know it when you see it. The junior officer has the disruptive thought, and you can almost hear the whispers of “good idea fairy” and “pixie dust” in the background. SMH.
- Washington just gets in the way. Whether it’s dismissing the intelligence reports or pushing flawed doctrine based on faulty weapons, the National Command Authority is not trying to help our boys at Midway. Still, the courage, instincts, and determination of sailors and officers in battle—and the trust of their senior leaders—win the day. I feel this in my soul.
- The intel officer gives a straight answer. When pressed by the admirals, Lieutenant Commander Layton, played by Patrick Wilson, gives a clear and specific response to clarify his intelligence report. WHAT?? This would NEVER HAPPEN.
- The aircraft carrier elevators work. Ha!
- The USS Yorktown was repaired in 72 hours. OK, in what far-off magical fairytale land does an aircraft carrier get repaired from a direct hit in battle in three days? I LOL’d at this. More like three months! We build the world’s most exquisite, elegant weapons systems to eliminate the possibility that they will suffer damage in the first place. It’s simple!
- The Greatest Generation was scared. I’ve read a lot of tweets about the Greatest Generation, and the idea that they were vulnerable is laughable. There are several captivating scenes showing sailors and officers considering the very real possibility that they will not see the end of the war. I could see millennials whining about it, and baby boomers repressing it, but we all know sailors in World Ware II were fearless – especially since American exceptionalism dictates that we had a preordained right to victory.
- Ten minutes that won the war. No spoilers here, but the climax of the movie coincides with the climax of the Battle of Midway, which turned the tide of the Pacific Campaign, and consequently World War II and, indeed, the very course of history! And we are to believe he men at Midway did all this—fought through overwhelming odds, capitalized on moments of luck, and overcame their own personal fears—in ten minutes real time! Shenanigans!
So, as you can see, the WWII-era prequel to Top Gun is great entertainment, but <checks text messages> . . . wait, WHAT? That all really happened?!? Um, I need to go change my Facebook status to “shook.” Then, I need to go see that movie again!
BTW, aviators: the sweet, sweet irony of a SWO being asked to review this movie is not lost on me.