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‘Midway’ arms its big-name cast with stock roles, second-rate dialogue

Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore and Dennis Quaid are among the stars competing with CGI pyrotechnics in this superficial World War II epic.

Ed Skrein (right, with Luke Kleintank) stars in “Midway” as a U.S. bomber pilot.
Lionsgate

In full compliance with Period Piece Movie Law, the World War II epic “Midway” ends with photos of the real-life figures depicted in the film, and brief bios telling us about their lives and legacies.

Men such as Adm. Chester Nimitz, Vice Adm. William Halsey, Lt. Richard Best and Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky.

We should never forget their names and their stories, and forever be grateful for their bravery and service and sacrifice.

Spoiler alert: That brief, movie-closing sequence is more stirring and more impactful than the 2-hour, 20-minute totality of Roland Emmerich’s bombastic, slick, cliché-riddled and superficial “Midway.”

Like the 1979 blockbuster of the same title starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum and more than a dozen other big Hollywood names, this is a star-studded extravaganza light on character development and heavy on battle spectacle, resulting in an impressive-looking but dramatically underwhelming story.

Emmerich repeats the overcooked formula he’s relied upon for more than two decades, in corny, action-packed, big-budget, box-office-driven fare from “Independence Day” (1996) to “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) to “White House Down” (2013). After we meet a full roster of putatively colorful stock characters, we’re plunged into one effects-laden action sequence after another, with most of the heroic leads somehow managing to stay alive against all odds (and logic).

This is the kind of war movie where the cocky free spirit pilot is always popping a stick of gum into his mouth while defying orders and vowing revenge, and the quietly suffering wives wear their best dresses and sport stylish hairdos while telling their husbands to win this war and come home safely, and dive bomber pilots are always saying things like, “We’ve got company!”

In one representative scene, a high-ranking intelligence officer is working late into the night when his wife wonders if it will really make a difference if he stays up another half hour?

Why yes, comes the reply. I just might be able to save the lives of some fine young American men.

“I’ll make you a sandwich,” says the understanding wife.

“Midway” begins with the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and then focuses on the pivotal Battle of Midway between the Americans and the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The British actor Ed Skrein lays it on extra-thick with the Jersey accent as the skilled but arrogant bomber pilot Richard “Dick” Best, whose temperamental ways will either get him and other men killed or will help America win the war. (Maybe both.) Mandy Moore has relatively little to do as Dick’s wife Anne, but she does get one juicy showcase scene at an Officers’ Club dinner dance, where she proves to be just as much of a “spitfire” as her rebellious husband.

Luke Evans sports a Clark Gable mustache as the stoic, by-the-book Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky, who doesn’t trust Best and tells him to knock it off with the “cowboy” act. Patrick Wilson does fine and measured work as the intelligence officer Edwin Layton.

Woody Harrelson plays Adm. Chester Nimitz in “Midway.”
Lionsgate

Woody Harrelson sports a distracting hairpiece as Adm. Chester Nimitz, while Dennis Quaid goes into fully Hammy Dennis Quaid mode as Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey.

For the most part, these terrific actors and many more are stuck playing one-dimensional characters who have to deliver lines straight out of a second-rate, mid-20th century war movie, while competing with 21st century CGI pyrotechnics.

Recipe for battle sequences:

• Show the commanding officers (on both sides) gaming out their strategies and occasionally going on deck with binoculars to scope out the action.

• Pull back for long shots of aerial battles in which it’s difficult to distinguish between the American and Japanese aircraft as dozens of planes twist and turn through the smoke-filled, fiery skies.

• Cut to close-ups of Navy dive bombers gritting their teeth, barking out warnings and commands, and hollering “Woohooo!” when they score a direct hit on one of the Japanese fleet carriers.

• Pull back for more long shots of ships on fire, planes zig-zagging, torpedoes zipping toward their targets, etc.

The best thing “Midway” could do is inspire a few viewers to read up on the Battle of Midway and the real-life superheroes in the cockpit, in the war rooms and in the intelligence community who led the way for one of the most important victories in all of World War II.