Masters of the Air

Masters of the Air

2024 - United States

‘It drives home once more that epic storytelling comes not simply from huge visual effects budgets…’

Masters of the Air review by Jennifer AJ

With Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks back in the producers' seats, AppleTV+ aims to recapture the magic of HBO’s Band of Brothers with their latest military drama. Masters of the Air undeniably invites comparison to BoB and its thematic spinoff The Pacific, both multiple award-winning series with the credentials of Spielberg and Hanks behind the scenes. The score in the opening title even has a nearly identical vibe. Of course, there are diversions. Instead of WWII ground troopers navigating its way towards Nazi-occupied France, it is now about the men in the sky - the pilots who battle Nazis on their aircrafts. The budget is astronomically higher too: the cost for the nine-episode series is reportedly hovering around the $250-300 million mark, among the most expensive series ever shot. 

Certainly, they spare no expense trying to replicate the successes of its spiritual predecessors. It comes with stunning photography, showcasing aerial warfare sequences with such sophistication and thrill. With the upgraded effects and camerawork, it also looks much slicker compared to the grittier, documentary-esque BoB. In front of the camera, the show is padded up with Hollywood’s fast rising young talents, some of whom have been Oscar-nominated in recent years: Austin Butler, Barry Keoghan, Callum Turner. The presence of these pretty boys certainly gives the show a more modern, prestigious feel.

Masters of the Air

The story focuses on the men from the US Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group as they attempt to penetrate German-occupied Europe. In particular, it zooms in on the friendship between two of its pilots, Gale “Buck” Cleven (Butler) and John “Bucky” Egan (Turner). As these proud young warboys begin feeling the real tolls of war, their pride, hope, heroism and brotherhood will be challenged. 

War enthusiasts would be pleased to find a detailed depiction of the Air Force during WWII, showcasing excellent production value that leaves no stones unturned to bring to life the wartime era’s specific history. From the aircrafts to weapons to war gadgets, it feels really immersive and well crafted. 

Unfortunately, despite the cast’s best efforts, the characters never quite come alive. The writing of each character feels pretty generic and paper thin, just moving them from one goal to another as the plots require them. They are presented as these cool, talented airmen, but without proper character motivations and hurdles set up for them, there is something distant about them. You can still enjoy the well-made action but everything in between gets tedious quickly, especially since the plot is rather plodding. Sure, people talking around tables bragging or planning stuff can and have been interesting before, but here, it feels stuffy despite the gorgeous photography. The pacing also feels a bit non-cohesive, jumping from one context to another without proper flow. As a result, you cannot truly feel the full impact of the visually exhilarating action because the emotional aspect is largely missing. It drives home once more that epic storytelling comes not simply from huge visual effects budgets, but the weight put behind those glitzy extravaganzas. 

While Masters of the Air honourably aims to recapture the glory of war epic from the past with all the right ammunition, it ultimately leaves out the biggest and most crucial weapon: story. The show might still delight those who enjoy the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk and Top Gun: Maverick with its technically masterful war sequences, but everything else about the show doesn’t soar to expectation. It takes off, but the flight is rather bumpy all the way.

Published on March 21st, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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