Another good actor is cast in a potentially mediocre movie.
Roland Emmerich’s upcoming war epic drags us further into the fray with a new casting announcement, proving that the director is sticking with a formula that has made his most successful movies worth watching. As Luke Evans joins Woody Harrelson and Mandy Moore in Emmerich’s super expensive Midway, this latest onscreen take on the Pacific arena of World War II is intent on throwing some talented actors into outrageous and noisy warring territory.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Evans, best known at the moment for his roles in tentpole movies like The Hobbit, Fast & Furious 6, and Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, has joined Midway in the pivotal role of a war hero. He will be filling the shoes of Commander Wade McClusky, who was a United States Navy aviator who was later awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts in the eponymous battle.
Story-wise, we can likely expect Midway to be about as traditional as any war movie gets. The film will chronicle a game-changing victory for the Allied forces in WWII — the first naval victory against the Japanese that horrendously impaired the Imperial Army’s fleet capabilities during the rest of the war.
With the addition of Evans to the Midway line-up, the film keeps building up a strong ensemble of actors, and this is, in itself, a fine thing. Harrelson, Moore, and Evans have so far been able to hold their own abundantly well as featured characters in all their other projects. When you’re as charismatic as they are, there’s nothing you can’t do with a good script.
However, we also know Emmerich, or at least the Bayhem-esque style he tends to adopt. His bombastic but narratively basic filmmaking engenders a good amount of skepticism about Midway — even if it is an explosive war movie. Furthermore, our worries are compounded by the fact that Emmerich has often utilized the talents of casts that deserve so much better than the thinly scripted characters who inhabit even his most distinctive movies.
This isn’t much of a problem in a hypothetical disaster movie or a fictionalized political action thriller — stories where extreme artistic license can easily be taken in the name of having a hoot of a time. In contrast, Midway sports a real-life narrative. Unfortunately, its wartime scenario could easily devolve into broad statements of American exceptionalism, and considering the film’s $100 million budget, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine the spectacle of Midway‘s biggest set pieces. I wonder if they’ll go full Independence Day with the destructive carnage, too.
The absence of narrative depth then demands the efforts of a stellar cast, which Emmerich has thankfully delivered in the past. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum make for just about the most likable onscreen duo in Independence Day. A charming and earnest Jake Gyllenhaal braved an ice age in The Day After Tomorrow. The chemistry between not only Channing Tatum and fictional president Jamie Foxx, but also Tatum and his onscreen daughter Joey King is a godsend in White House Down.
Something similar is likely to happen in Midway. I’ve written about why Harrelson and Moore are stellar choices for a film like this. Meanwhile, as much of a rocky start as Evans had while transitioning from acclaimed actor on London’s West End circuit to mainstream onscreen success, he’s proven himself an asset to all his projects.
Between the ill-advised Clash of the Titans remake and the poorly-received re-imagined version of The Three Musketeers, some of Evans’ early movies truly leave plenty to be desired. Tarsem Singh’s visually stunning Immortals did fare much better for at least sporting a stylish flair, but it wasn’t necessarily an acting challenge as character development didn’t really happen in the film.
These road bumps weren’t enough to slow Evans down, though. His stint in The Hobbit franchise lets him be an unequivocal hero, and he manages to stand out despite the series’ massive cast of characters spanning a variety of factions. In the same year that The Hobbit landed in theaters, Evans also demonstrated a knack for villainy in the contemporary world, playing the key antagonist in Fast & Furious 6. Over-the-top as the role is, it is fun and irreverent, and he would subsequently return in other films of the franchise in a cameo capacity.
Evans has continued to find success portraying characters of all varieties since. In Ben Wheatley’s challenging auteur experiment High-Rise, he soars in the ugliest of ways alongside other insipid characters. Evans is unknowable, mysterious, and suspicious in Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train. He has a knack for being goofy yet insidiously sinister as Gaston in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Then, in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, he along with co-stars Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote brought searing humanity to the three protagonists in the biopic genre.
I don’t want to proclaim that it’s an outright shame that Evans has joined Midway when the movie isn’t even out yet. However, it’s also debatable that his skills will be put to adequate use in the film. As is the case for the best war films — such as Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, and Letters from Iwo Jima — Midway ought to be more holistically commendable because of the weightiness of its story and the historical significance that its subject matter holds.
It’s easy to put our faith in the great people who could easily lend credence to the project with their acting abilities, but here’s to hoping that the maestro at the helm doesn’t actually waste these talents.