I’ve been plugging away on Against the Tide Imperial most of November for Nano. I was amidst the Kido Butai engaging four of the Royal Navy’s carriers in the Indian Ocean when my memory jogged: I never reviewed Midway despite intending to right after seeing it. This, folks, is called “Nano-brain,” in which other tasks seem to fall aside as one strives to get to 50,000-words by 30 November. (As I’ve long been a Nano-rebel, yes, I’m counting this blog post towards my 50k.)
“But James, what about the movie?”
Bottom Line: Go see it. As in, if you are a Pacific War buff, open a new tab, figure out a show time near you, then go immediately. This is really a movie you want to see on the big screen, as it’s a visual feast. I’m not saying see it in IMAX 4-D like I did (all the other show times didn’t line up well for a work night). But get in as you can.
Is it accurate? About 80-90% so, with the discrepancies (e.g., Halsey arriving just as the Lexington is sinking, said carrier being represented as a Yorktown-class due to CGI, etc.) being minor and obviously done in the service of story. But let me be clear–this is not a Ben Affleck’s Pearl Harbor. Or put another way, you can see that the historical adviser was front and center versus bound and gagged in the corner. Indeed, it’s sad to say that Midway did a better job of accurately capturing the Pearl Harbor attack in a matter of minutes than the titular, much maligned movie did over several hours.
If you’re saying, “Wait, what?”, understand that this movie attempts to pack everything from 7 December ’41 to 4 June ’42 into the first half. This goes better than expected and was highly necessary if you take someone who doesn’t know the history. History buffs, however, are going to get a little annoyed at some shortcuts. For example, I can’t remember Vice Admiral Fletcher ever actually making an appearance on screen, and the producers gave Raymond Spruance similarly short shrift. The screenwriters also decided not to address Wildcats, Commander John C. Waldron, Commander Jimmy Thach, or any of the Yorktown‘s actual squadrons. (For why this is a major mistake, I suggest reading this book.)
That being said, the movie gives DICK BEST the credit he deserves (albeit with a lot of Hollywood spin). It also humanized Wade McCluskey, an officer whose moral courage history often overlooks. Lastly, it placed Commander Gene Lindsey‘s (VT-6) sacrifice front and center. On a side note, you may leave this movie wondering when they’re going to film Doolittle, and not in a bad way. (Seriously. The Raiders need their own movie after this.) For all these reasons, I’d give it 4 / 5 stars, and definitely enjoyed it.
***History discussion incoming***
For those of you who have been following some of the recent scholarship on Midway, the movie folks straddled between what I call the Miracle at Midway and Shattered Sword schools. (For a brief rundown of the debate, see Parshall, Dickson, and Tully’s article here. I separate the schools above as Parshall and Tully would later write Shattered Sword, which is a full length treatment of this article.) I think the producers did it well, as they showed the problems constant attacks had on the Kido Butai. However, they did have Nagumo well on the way to getting his second strike prepared and ready to spot when the SBDs show up. This is mostly opposed to Parshall and Tully’s belief that the Kido Butai was probably at least another half hour out from being able to swing at Fletcher/Spruance. In any case, the movie does a great job of showing the Kido Butai‘s disposition when the weather forecast became, “Clear, with a 100% chance of Helldivers and 1,000-lb. bombs…”. Personally, I’m with the movie producers, i.e., no the Japanese decks weren’t full of aircraft but another 20 minutes would have likely been bad news for the USN. Hmm, maybe someday a person should do an alternate history of Midway…
Speaking of alternate history, Against the Tide Imperial is coming along well. I’ve greatly benefited from reading the book How Carriers Fought as a refresher course in RN carrier tactics. Let’s just say it’s a good thing Somerville stayed away from Nagumo in 1942. Spoiler alert: Vice Admiral Cunningham does not stay away from Vice Admiral Yamaguchi in Against the Tide Imperial. (Edit: Which you can now read for yourself.)