MASTERS OF THE AIR I
AppleTV+ I January 26, 2024
Starring: Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Anthony Boyle, Nate Mann, Raff Law, Barry Keoghan, Josiah Cross, Branden Cook, Ncuti Gatwa
Directed By: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Dee Rees, Timothy Van Patten, Cary Joji Fukunaga
Masters of the Air follows the men of the 100th Bomb Group (the “Bloody Hundredth”) as they conduct perilous bombing raids over Nazi Germany and grapple with the frigid conditions, lack of oxygen and sheer terror of combat conducted at 25,000 feet in the air. Portraying the psychological and emotional price paid by these young men as they helped destroy the horror of Hitler’s Third Reich, is at the heart of Masters of the Air. Some were shot down and captured; some were wounded or killed. And some were lucky enough to make it home. Regardless of individual fate, a toll was exacted on them all.
FULL SEASON REVIEW: By Darren Zakus
RATING 4 out of 5
Masters of the Air is top notch television that explores the aerial combat theatre of the Second World War with exhilarating aerial sequences, excellent writing and an incredible ensemble cast that makes for a must watch television event.
Executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have brought to audiences two of the most celebrated war miniseries of all time with Band of Brothers, following a division of soldiers on the ground during the D-Day landings, and The Pacific, following soldiers in the Pacific theatre of the war fighting against the Japanese. Completing their trilogy of World War II based miniseries and taking audiences to the one theatre of the war that the previous two miniseries had not focused on, the latest AppleTV+ series takes audiences to the skies and tells the story of the 100th Bomb Group, a B-17 Flying Fortress unit in the Eighth Air Force made up of American airmen that was nicknamed the “Bloody Hundredth” due to the many casualties the unit suffered during its missions, from the American entry in the war in 1941 and up to its conclusion in 1945. In a matter of only nine episodes, the filmmaking team has crafted a truly memorable miniseries that not only features the highest level of storytelling across the various departments of the production, but is an emotional and exciting series that has an incredible story to tell while paying tribute to the valiant efforts of those who served in the 100th Bomb Group.
While featuring perilous aerial combat missions throughout the series, the series’ writing manages to capture not only the missions of the 100th Bomb Group, but a larger view of the Second World War. While each episode features an aerial sequence, the writers capture the day to day operations of the aerial base that the 100th Bomb Group is based out of in the United Kingdom, what the lives of the airmen were like, what these pilots and men would do if they were shot down in enemy territory and the conditions they would be subject to if they were captured by the German forces, and the British local reaction to the Americans being stationed in their country. In doing so, there is lots of historical information conveyed to the audience about what made the American bomber planes different from other country’s air forces during the war, their technological advances that helped the Allied forces win the war, and the conditions and hardships faced by those who served during the war. It helps to create a fascinating watch for the audience, with each episode focusing on either an important mission or critical moment during the war to deliver an all encompassing retelling of the group’s endeavours. At the same time, the writing honestly captures the personalities, spirit and strength of the individual men who served in the 100th Bomb Group and fully brings to life the incredible individuals they were. This allows the series to capture a true sense of brotherhood and camaraderie amongst the men that not only bonds them together as a unit in their efforts to help bring about a conclusion to the war and to survive, but the audience to them to create the emotional heart of the series.
Audiences have seen aerial combat sequences captured before in film and television, but Masters of the Air features some of the best sequences of its kind ever captured on film. The directors transport the viewers into the cockpit of the plane with the men of the 100th Bomb Group and put you in the middle of the fighting. It’s a nerve wracking experience that will make your heart race as you watch the planes try to achieve the objective of their missions, sometimes with success and sometimes without, but every combat is filled with terrifying bloodshed. Brought to life by outstanding CGI, practical effects, LED panels through on set virtual production to create the airspace outside the planes, and building World War II era planes to give the actors a fully immersive set to interact with, you will be holding your breath during each aerial sequence as it is unpredictable as to which characters will survive, which planes will be shot out of the sky, and if their mission will be successfully completed. The aerial sequences rival the masterful filmmaking that we saw in Top Gun: Maverick, capturing the danger of the Second World War in brutal and intense storytelling that the audience is expecting to experience from this miniseries.
Leading the series in two of its main roles are two of the biggest young stars in Hollywood currently: Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan, both of whom are excellent as Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven and Lieutenant Curtis Biddick respectively. Butler and Keoghan each lose themselves in their characters, helping to bring to life these two real life pilots from the war, but the series belong to Callum Turner and Anthony Boyle as Major John ‘Bucky’ Egan and Lieutenant Harry Crosby respectively. Turner, fresh off The Boys in the Boat, is great in the lead role of Bucky, bringing a calm intellect to one of the higher ranking pilots in the 100th Bomb Group. His performance captures a longing for home that silently sits in his eyes, while he risks his life to achieve not only his mission, but puts his life on the line to ensure that his men survive. It’s a performance that can only be described as heroic, helping to confirm Turner’s status as an excellent leading man. Boyle has a far more encompassing role as Crosby, who starts off as one of the plane’s navigators but eventually gets promoted and works on the base helping set paths for the entire unit’s missions. Through his character, we see a more holistic view of the war, which also leads to a more emotionally charged role for Boyle as he finds himself responsible for hundreds of lives. With voice over using Crosby’s own words from his memoirs, Boyle instantly captures the audience’s heart with his performance and helps deliver some of the most emotionally powerful moments of the series. While Butler and Keoghan are already established stars, the work from Turner and Boyle should make them in high demand by the time this series concludes in March as they are both exceptional from start to finish. The rest of the principal cast is great, including Nate Mann, Rafferty Law, Bel Powley, James Murray, and Freddy Carter, but as their characters do not make their first appearance until later in the series, it is Turner, Boyle, Butler and Keoghan’s performances are the ones that make the largest impression on viewers.
Visually, the series looks outstanding. The production and costume design makes it feel like you are watching recorded footage from the 1940s as the sets and costumes capture the time with impeccable detail. From the air base and AirForce offices, to the prisoner of war camps behind enemy lines, there is not a single moment of the show that does not look excellent. Supplementing it all is Blake Neely’s musical score, reuniting with Spielberg and Hanks after previously scoring both Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Neely’s work not only captures the intensity and harrowing nature of the aerial combat sequences with epic music to help the audience’s heart race faster, but the theme he composed for the quieter moments and moments of triumphant as the 100th Bomb Group completes their missions is rousing and will lift the audience’s spirit to match the energy on screen.
Audiences have a standard when it comes to projects set during the World Wars, after watching so many marvellous films set during this time period. But not only does Masters of the Air meet this standard, it does so with outstanding filmmaking across every department that fully utilizes long format television storytelling to create a truly incredible miniseries. With heart pounding aerial combat sequences that perfectly recreate the dangerous and perilous missions of the Bloody Hundredth that will take viewers on a nerve wracking ride, Masters of the Air is truly exceptional television that tells the story of the 100th Bomb Group in great detail and features fantastic performances from the entire cast, and notably Callum Turner and Anthony Boyle, that makes this one miniseries that audiences cannot afford to miss.