When it comes to prestige war dramas, few creative teams inspire more excitement and trust than Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. After revolutionizing the genre with sparking masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific, they’ve cemented a reputation for balancing seat-gripping action with rich historical insight.
Now the iconic duo is back with Masters of the Air, a long-awaited continuation of their Emmy-winning HBO classics. Teaming up with Apple TV+, Spielberg and Hanks plunge viewers into the white-knuckle world of American bomber crews in WWII, focusing on the notorious “Bloody Hundredth” division. Just as its companions put the spotlight on ground infantry and marines respectively, this series trains its sights on the daredevils in the sky, chronicling their against-all-odds struggle to smash the Nazi war machine.
It’s the kind of pedigreed project that sends expectations soaring. Given their astonishing track record, if anyone can capture the hair-raising heroism of these flying aces while also probing deeper themes of morality and loss, it’s these masters of the craft. With plane-loads of cash and directorial firepower behind it, Masters of the Air is perfectly positioned to propel the war anthology to thrilling new heights. But the question remains: will it live up to the towering legacy of its forerunners?
Soaring Production Values
When it comes to replicating the bone-rattling chaos inside a WWII bomber, most directors would shudder at the challenge. Luckily, Masters of the Air has some of the most seasoned pilots in Hollywood guiding the flight stick. With a reported $250 million budget under their wings, the visual effects team had the fuel to push the envelope, convincingly catapulting viewers into the claustrophobic metal belly of the famed B-17s.
Two full-scale plane replicas were constructed to maximise in-cockpit authenticity, while CGI wizardry fills in the wide-angle dogfights. The result is an adrenaline-spiking hybrid of guts-and-glory physicality and cutting-edge immersion. Bullets blast through aluminum skin, jittery hands fumble with flak jackets, and frozen breath fogs up tight shots of terrified eyes. It’s a visceral spectacle made all the more deafening thanks to Oscar-worthy sound design.
Yet the fireworks never outshine the history. Meticulous attention was clearly paid to uniforms, insignia, and gear of both friend and foe. Their world is recreated down to the last oil-stained knob and gauge. Combined with liberal use of genuine war footage, it plants your pulse firmly in 1944. There’s also no shortage of sweeping vistas as bombers rumble against the clouds, dwarfing stretches of English countryside. Cinematography shifts smoothly between clunky contraptions and poetic landscapes, echoing the series’ balance of human intimacy and epic scope.
While CGI can only take you so far inside a truly vintage plane, Masters of the Air throws everything it has at putting modern viewers at the mercy of flak bursts. Given the stratospheric bar set by Saving Private Ryan for blending blockbuster flair with riveting realism, Spielberg’s squadron soars.
Finding the Story Amongst the Flak
When it comes to chronicling the air war against the Nazis, Masters of the Air faced a challenge as daunting as the flak-filled skies its heroes braved. Unlike the character-driven Pacific and Band of Brothers, the Bloody Hundredth’s story is one of churn. Planes and crews came and went at an appalling rate, making it hard to latch onto individuals amidst the attrition.
Rather than forcing a familiar template onto the savage churn of bomber group warfare, the writers wisely opted for a more fragmented approach. The first hours in particular eschew plot in favor of hurling viewers into one chaotic ride-along after another. It’s a relentless onslaught of blown hydraulics, shredded wings, and hurling bodies. Death arrives swiftly and randomly, much like the real air war.
Just as the basics of staying alive start to feel repetitive, the series embraces the Bloody Hundredth’s nickname by getting bloody. Mangled bodies, excruciating burns, and disturbing trauma Anchor individual missions with gut-wrenching sacrifice. By the time our ragged heroes get some breathing room, we’re as exhausted yet committed as they are.
It’s only once the unforgiving pace loosens its grip that Masters of the Air slides from merely recreating air combat to revealing the men trapped within it. Buck and Bucky emerge as endearing if somewhat generic wingmen, but it’s the supporting stories that offer the richest rewards. We gain fierce compassion for the bomber crews while sharing their growing unease with the aerial onslaught.
Rather than forcing stale tropes onto the Hundredth’s complex journey, Masters of the Air puts in the turbulent hours needed to earn its payoff. Just like the heavy bombers, it takes time to turn around, but once on target, delivers some explosively human moments. Where its direction occasionally meanders, the authenticity of its unhurried buildup anchors the series with seldom-seen honesty.
Finding Humanity in the Clouds
In the chilling abyss of high-altitude combat, it’s easy to lose sight of the humans strapped inside those shuddering bombers. That’s why the beating heart of any war story remains its characters. Masters of the Air enjoys mixed success on that front, with some wingmen earning our stripes more than others.
Early on, the show struggles to give its key pilots distinct identities beyond the odd nickname. Our two protagonists, Buck and Bucky, feel less like fully-realized individuals than charismatic composites of old-school hero archetypes. Austin Butler and Callum Turner certainly look the golden-boy part behind their aviators, but rarely get a chance to reveal personal dreams or demons. Their portrayal of courage under fire never wavers, yet we’re left yearning for added depth.
Thankfully, their supporting crew boasts ample humanity to spare. Barry Keoghan continues his ascent as one of Hollywood’s most reliably riveting actors, oozing anxiety and grit as the doomed Biddick. Later episodes gracefully promote bit players like the Jewish Rosie into unlikely journals onto whom we latch our hopes.
However, it’s the Tuskegee Airmen who steal the spotlight for the all-too-brief time it focuses on them. Though relegated to extended cameos, the commanding presence of Gatwa and Cook oozes off the screen, injecting a thrilling jolt of diversity and overdue perspective. In a series populated by admirable but uncomplicated heroes, the Red Tails display enthralling charisma and complexity.
Uneven as its character beats may be, Masters of the Air ultimately does just enough to put authentic faces on awe-inspiring feats of courage. While more time with its ace supporting players would elevate the emotional stakes, deft performances still lend rousing humanity.
Navigating Moral Gray Skies
Perched high above fray, it’s tempting for bomber crews to see war as a numbers game. But down below, amidst the storm of falling payloads, dwell delicate questions of conscience central to Masters of the Air.
As the B-17s ventured deeper into the Third Reich, many airmen grappled with growing doubts over target selection. Episodes find typically gung-ho characters questioning the righteousness of bombing urban centers filled with civilians and culturally significant buildings. Yet such thoughtful objections receive little narrative weight. Any misgivings are invariably drowned out by assurances they must “hit Jerry where it hurts.”
Rather than seizing a chance to examine the ugly paradoxes of aerial warfare, the show retreats to the politically safer terrain of condemning Nazi atrocities. While later episodes tour concentraion camps and post-blitz wastelands, it feels less like meaningful commentary than well-worn emotional manipulation. The repeated refrain faults Germans for forcing America’s hand, ignoring how Allied “precision” bombing regularly missed factories to ravage working-class homes.
However, when the legendary Tuskegee Airmen swoop in, they raise the stakes by cutting closer to America’s own moral failings. Their commanding presence sparks thornier questions of whether a country denying human rights at home deserves blood sacrifice abroad. Segregated cockpits also highlight pilots’ psychological breaking points.
While it often pulls up short of sticking the toughest landings, Masters of the Air at least puts some weighty themes in the payload. Its glimpses at the mental toll of extreme trauma, and costs of prejudice also lend humanity to unsung heroes. Uneven as its messaging may be, putting war under a microscope offers valuable perspective between dogfights.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
When you’re the eagerly awaited third entry in one of television’s most acclaimed franchises, expectations stack up quicker than flak bursts. Masters of the Air never escapes the long shadows cast by the masterful intimacy of Band of Brothers and savage horror of The Pacific.
Its bombing campaign revisits many successful maneuvers from its forerunners, relying on a similar blueprint of tracking bonds forged and broken across a grueling campaign. Toggling between homesickness on English air bases and white-knuckle runs across occupied skies, Masters of the Air certainly captures the radical mental whiplash of battle trauma. Raw panic bleeds through cockpit chaos, and the toll of casualties takes a palpable psychological toll.
However, unlike its older squadmates, this aerial sequel lacks the same visceral punch. Streamlined backstories and an overwhelmed ensemble keep us from forging the same heart wrenching attachments. And its polished sheen smooths down the nightmarish edges that made The Pacific so haunting.
What fresh payload Masters of the Air provides comes via previously unseen perspectives. Putting us inside cramped bombers rather than muddy foxholes offers a riveting reverse view of missions, revealing the anxious prep behind legendary rescues like Operation Chowhound. The show also benefits enormously from increased diversity, with the Black airmen of the Tuskegee squadron stealing scenes.
While it never fully escapes prestige comparisons, Masters of the Air succeeds on its own merits as an absorbing addition to the Band of Brothers universe. It may not always achieve the emotional devastation of its companions, but admirably pushes the franchise into bold new territory.
Signing Off from the Bloody Hundredth
After nine hours of flak-filled tours across occupied Europe, Masters of the Air brings its bombing campaign home. As the tattered old bombers rumble one last time across picturesque Dutch tulips, this closing sortie nicely encapsulates the series’ strengths and limitations.
It succeeds tremendously as an immersive historical document, flooding the screen with fanatic attention to technical authenticity and little-known details of aerial warfare. Cockpits feel pleasantly cramped, uniforms correctly creased, hardware expertly weathered – it’s a stunning replica guaranteed to wow aviation enthusiasts. Casual viewers may occasionally find themselves lost in the machinery, but moments of poetic human beauty emerge just often enough between bullet-holes.
Yet for all its respect of reality, Masters of the Air never fully reconciles with the moral ruin landscapes left in its heroes’ contrails. It proposes thought-provoking questions about strategic bombing but pulls up short of forcing uncomfortable answers. Our guides remain valiant but shallow archetypes seemed airbrushed by an older generation’s myth-making. such challenging ambiguity, this aerial epic carries a set of blind spots as big as the bursting payloads of its B-17’s.
What ultimately crosses the finish line is a series that soars confidently if not always gracefully into rarified airspace. It emerges as overlong, uneven, yet utterly captivating when locked on target; a ships’ chorus of winding characters, piercing moments and sensational set-pieces that nearly justifies towering expectations set by its pedigree.
Anchored by such astonishing technical verisimilitude and country-spanning ambition, Masters of the Air style sometimes outstrips substance – yet nonetheless provides heavy firepower for the discerning war history nut. Casual followers should appreciate getting an Iconic guided tour through the bombed-out crucible that birthed modern airpower, even if emerging without life-changing revelations some hoped might lurk amongst flak bursts.
Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air valiantly pushes the envelope of war cinema to dizzying new altitudes, chronicling remarkable true stories in sublime historical detail. But its glossy veneer shields viewers from the messy moral realities left smoking below. Still, for armchair historians eager to become intimately acquainted with the air war's unsung heroes, few shows offer a more comprehensively authentic flight into the fiery crucible of combat.
- Breathtaking aerial combat visuals
- Strong attention to historical and technical authenticity
- Captures high-stakes drama and terror of bombing raids
- Great performances by Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan
- Fascinating lesser-known details of air war against Nazis
- Uneven character development
- Glosses over moral issues in strategic bombing
- Pales in comparison to Band of Brothers and The Pacific
- Rote dialogue and some flat supporting characters
- Fails to fully deliver on prestige expectations