The thing that annoyed me about this film was that it was wildly disjointed. It is formed from three main sections: the pre-amble, wherein the characters are introduced, and the basic romances are explained. Then, the film 'seamlessly' segues into a battle sequence: 40 minutes of gratuitous explosions and flying dummies, with Ben and Josh getting to fly and save the nation at the end. Finally, there is a retaliatory raid by America, which exists solely to allow 'merkins not to feel bad about losing the main battle.
The first section is by far and away the best, with the pilots and nurses introduced. The friendship between the two main characters is introduced. However, this is visibly strained as Rafe (Ben Affleck) is picked for Eagle Squadron (the American volunteer unit of pilots based in Britain, flying spits). This provides a platform for my favourite character of the entire film, the English squadron leader, who was plucked whole, waxed moustache and all, from a Biggles book. Isn't it nice how there were no kamikaze pilots, as it's unacceptable to stereotype the Japanese, but to stereotype Englishmen is fine? Rafe flies in the Battle of Britain, but is shot down over the Channel. Danny (Josh Hartnett) breaks the tragic news to Evelyn, his girlfriend. There is barely any bond between the two, but it grows gradually, until they finally consummate their passion in a parachute hangar. Yet this serenity is soon to be shattered. Rafe returns from Europe. He was picked up by a French fishing vessel, and has spent some time behind enemy lines in the occupied zone of France.
Rafe returns to Pearl Harbour, where he meets up with Evelyn as soon as possible. But he senses there is something wrong. He turns around and spots Danny, and makes the obvious mental leap. The two have a fairly tumultuous punch-up, although it's not a patch on Bridget Jones. They are both lying in a drunken stupor on the floor of Danny's car on the beach the next morning when planes roar overhead.
Here begins 40 minutes of explosions. The effects are, as noted, superb, but sadly somewhat hollow. For all the bangs and stage blood, it is impossible to lose the feeling that it doesn't really matter that much. The sinking of the battleships is impressive, but unmoving.
Although Ben and Josh do get some dog-fighting action against Zeros towards the end of this section, it is likewise unfulfilling. Although the pilots are warned that the enemy fighters are far faster than theirs, they seem to be able to outfly them with consummate ease. Likewise, their friends on the ground have the ability to down fast-moving aircraft with small arms fire. Whilst the effects are again, first-rate, with realistic tracer rounds every seven shots (yes, I was counting, okay?), it just feels wrong.
Yet even this is far better than the monstrosity tacked on the end. Rather than admit that they lost the battle of Pearl Harbor, America then decides to say 'look, we are competent, really!'. First, the Japanese have a conversation in which when complimented on his win, the Admiral states that they have simply awakened a sleeping giant. I actually cringed and moaned out load at that. Then, the two pilots are promoted, and told that they are to lead a dangerous mission. This goes ahead, causing further collective-ego-massage. Then, reaching China on the way out (but with some slightly dodgy landings), all the airmen suddenly and miraculously become James Bond, able to kill with one shot using a pistol. The crew of two B-25s (minus one for Danny, who has the good grace to die), ie at most 13, take on a platoon of Japanese riflemen. And win.