Parker and I went to see Midway today, and really enjoyed it. It was technically stunning – the Enterprise and its dive bombers were flawlessly executed, and for that matter I never saw any hardware (except the sinking Lexington) that wasn't technically correct as far as I knew. That doesn't mean the camouflage on the ships and aircraft was always correct – the movie starts on December 7, and neither Enterprise, the dive bombers or the ships at Pearl Harbor are in the correct camo for that period – but it's close enough. (There's also one overhead shot of the B-25s over Tokyo where they – inexplicably – have 1943 markings – but it's still far and away the most period-accurate WW II naval combat movie I've ever seen).
Beginning with the Pearl Harbor scenes, though, it becomes clear that this is a dramatization of the action, not a strict retelling. At Pearl Harbor the events of the attack are sequenced differently, and the ships are arranged a little differently around the harbor, but the action sequence is good, and unlike Pearl Harbor it's consistent. It's essentially CGI or sets that match the historical ships in CGI, so I have no real complaints. You don't have the Missouri and a bunch of mothballed 1970's destroyers getting blown up.
Along these lines, the action scenes are dramatized as well. I don't think Roi or Namur had scenic mountains, carrier task forces didn't steam at 300 yard intervals, and the Lexington wasn't a Yorktown class ship. I understand how for dramatic reasons Halsey's Enterprise does make it to the Coral Sea to join Yorktown, but too late to do anything but watch Lexington sink. And it is borderline adorable to have Yorktown and Enterprise watching Lexington sinking at the previously noted 300 yard spacing that looks just like three cows standing together in a meadow. But – again – they used the same Yorktown class carrier for the sinking Lexington. Bizarre.
Woody Harrelson does very, very well as Admiral Nimitz, and Etsushi Toyokawa does likewise as Yamamoto. In fact, the whole cast is good, and while I've heard others have issues with the script, neither the script itself nor the dialogue bothered me. Patrick Wilson is also really good as Nimitz' intelligence officer Edwin Layton.
The best thing about the movie to me was the constant parade of historically correct easter eggs that were used to propel the story along. It sounds like terrible writing to have Layton telling Nimitz the exact date, time and bearing of the Japanese attack, and Nimitz then complimenting him later for being "5 minutes, 5 miles and 5 degrees off" – but it's almost word for word what Rochefort and Nimitz actually said. And Bruno Gaido saving the day at the Marshalls and getting the plane he was in cut in half by a Japanese bomber that nearly misses, and then he comes back later in the movie to play an important role is just over the top screenwriting – but that's exactly what happened. Gene Lindsay getting banged up landing his TBD, Wade McCluskey getting switched to dive bombers – all this stuff is in there. The way the "AF is short on water" story is told is original and funny. Again, much of the story is dramatized – Halsey put himself in the hospital, but it plays better to have Nimitz have to order him off under protest. Hirohito being hustled off to his bunker during the Doolittle Raid was a terrific touch.
The accuracy extends to the technical details of the attacks on Kaga and Akagi. McCluskey mistakenly leads his squadron and almost all of Best's down on a single target, and misses – and so do others before the bombs start hitting home. Then the most critical attack of the battle is portrayed pretty accurately. Best, accompanied by only his two wingmen, went after the Akagi, but were forced to attack from abeam, meaning they had hit to the ship from the side. They're shown flying through massive AA fire when Best told us at a seminar in 1992 that there wasn't a gun on him during his run (see comments re: dramatization above) but the actual effects of the attack are shown accurately. His two wingmen both barely miss the ship (one jams the ship's rudder, which would later make salvage even less likely), but Best drops his amidships – and actually at the worst possible point where his bomb not only could damage the ship with its explosion and the secondary explosions – he also fatally damaged the water main system and because he hit around the elevator, the damage extended to both the hangars. One bomb – one ship.
Oh, and then he came back four hours later and scored a hit on Hiryu as well. Perhaps not in as dramatic fashion as the movie displays, where he lands his SBD on the Hiryu, engages Admiral Yamaguchi in hand to hand combat, and then takes off again, dropping his bomb through the hinomaru in the forward flight deck on his way off, but still. (I am only exaggerating slightly).
It's a great war movie, and it's a great and largely accurate retelling of the first six months of the Pacific war – one where the Enterprise is depicted flawlessly (okay, other than not having Ms 1 camo on Dec. 7/8). And they gave us Midway pins at the movie theater. What more could you ask for? Oh yeah, a historically accurate Lexington. But other than that, not much.