More than a decade after the first rumours, Donald L. Miller Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany is now hitting the small screen. While the series co-produced by, amongst others, Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) and Steven Spielberg (Jaws) was due to be an HBO production, significant budget conflicts and schedule problems are the reasons why it’s now appearing on AppleTV+ instead. Because of that move, Masters of the Air became Apple’s first in-house produced series, and they couldn’t have wished for a better first.
If you’ve watched The Band of Brothers or The Pacific, this anxiety-inducing drama could be right up your street. While the series starts in a very old school, suave, and welcoming bar, it doesn’t take long before Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven (Austin Butler), Major John’ Bucky’ Egan (Callum Turner) and their fellow air pilots, Lieutenant Curtis Biddick (Barry Keoghan) and Lieutenant Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle) of the 100th Bombardment Group face their first aerial battle. From then onwards, the majority of this series takes place in narrow, outdated (back then, it was the most modern version they had) claustrophobia-inducing bomber planes. While the young pilots of this unit – which will go down in history as “The Bloody Hundredth” – are young, rebellious, cocky and airsick, it’s all hands on deck when they’re being reminded of how brutal, ruthless and unpredictable the war can be during one of their death-defying raids. Their hope and excitement turn into despair and horror.
From then on, Masters of the Air becomes visceral, gory, distressing, and gripping. Whether it’s the bombardment of the German U-boat in Norway, the adrenaline-spiking dogfights and the dangerous bombing of the German ball bearings facility, each action sequence excels because of the carefully beautifully crafted special effects, the highly authentic looking set design and the roaring sounds. Many times, there’s also the absence of sounds, especially when the pilots have to fly over enemy territory quietly, and when a bullet then hits the plane or a loud malfunction occurs, the impact on the audience is even much more significant and more intense.
The suspenseful scenes are also a beautiful showcase of the stunning cinematography, as each moment perfectly balances top-notch action and emotions. The same can be said for the entire series, as the violence, blood and suspense are stunningly combined with the characters’ development, feelings and emotions. The plane on fire, the falling debris and the bodies hitting the aircraft or ground make this series an overwhelming and horrific watch.
While the character development and building feel a bit forced and shaky at first – they want to introduce us to the many characters as fast as possible – it becomes very effective during the second and especially during the third episodes. The action scenes are still in the majority – which can slightly hinder the character building – but there’s much more room for character development from then on. The audience is getting a glimpse into their past and what separates one perfectly chiselled pilot from another.
The many different characters and their personalities are vital for the audience’s engagement, and there’s certainly an abundance (in a good way) of it in this series. The many flaws of the characters show the audience that despite the pilots being courageous, ferocious and noble, they’re just humans whose lives can be over in a split second. Let’s hope that the character-building will keep improving throughout the season, not only because it would push the gripping storyline forward but also because we would get to see much more of the stunning A-list cast.
Butler and Turner ensure that the camaraderie and brotherhood– which has always been vital in a Hank/Spielberg collaboration – spat off the screen. Butler (Elvis) gives his Major a lot of charisma and the old school vibe, especially dressed in an exquisite costume, while Turner (The Boys in the Boat) effortlessly provides his character with the necessary charisma and fun but also sturdiness and seriousness. Throughout the third episode, their on-screen friendship is being put under much more pressure because of the continuing war, so it’ll remain to be seen how this will impact their performances. There’s also a certain audacity hanging over Masters of the Air, as the creators aren’t afraid to kill off some of their major stars during the first three episodes. Be prepared not to see everyone of the killer cast making it to episode nine.
While there’s an overly ambitious start, episodes two and three prove that Masters of the Air can be a stunning piece of art without going over the top or showing off too much. The series is heartbreaking and heart-stopping at the same time, and with an outstanding cast and slick visuals, the creator and directors (including Cary Joji Fukunaga, Dee Rees and Ryan Fleck) can create an exceptional, fast-paced homage to the brave and resilient fallen soldiers from the Second World War.
Episodes 1-3 of Masters of the Air are available on AppleTV+. Every Friday, a new episode will be released.
While there's an overly ambitious start, episodes two and three prove that Masters of the Air can be a stunning piece of art without going over the top or showing off too much. The series is heartbreaking and heart-stopping at the same time, and with an outstanding cast and slick visuals, the creator and directors (including Cary Joji Fukunaga, Dee Rees and Ryan Fleck) can create an exceptional, fast-paced homage to the brave and resilient fallen soldiers from the Second World War.
Subtitle translator by day. Film journalist by night.