‘Masters of the Air’ review and reactions
When Band of Brothers exploded onto the scene in 2001, audiences were mesmerized by Easy Company’s courage, torment and humanity. The Pacific followed in 2010 as a companion piece centered on the 1st Marine Division’s battles in the Pacific theater — Guadalcanal, Okinawa and raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Now, Executive Producers Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman return with Masters of the Air, retelling the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group’s brutal encounters with the German Luftwaffe.
Harrowing doesn’t begin to cover it.
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Here’s the official synopsis:
“Based on Donald L. Miller’s book of the same name, and scripted by John Orloff (Band of Brothers), Masters of the Air follows the men of the 100th Bomb Group 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. 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.”
The mission of the B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II Europe was to fly deep into enemy territory to drop payloads on targets. Early assumptions predicted that unescorted heavy bombers could protect themselves against enemy fighters — this would prove to be tragically untrue, as both high-altitude anti-aircraft artillery and enemy fighters managed to tear allied bombers apart. According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, “During 1943, only about 25% of Eighth Air Force bomber crewmen completed their 25-mission tours — the other 75% were killed, severely wounded, or captured.”
This is the setting where Masters of the Air takes place.
The series takes a leaf out of the Band of Brothers casting playbook, filling its flight crews with up-and-comers like Elvis’ Austin Butler, who leads the cast as Major Gale Cleven alongside talent like The Eternals’ Barry Keoghan, Fantastic Beasts’ Callum Turner, and Doctor Who’s Ncuti Gatwa.
If they seem young as hell when you’re watching, it’s because the real pilots who flew those missions were so very young. I couldn’t help but imagine my own grandfather, a B-25 Mitchell pilot in World War II, who was only 20 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he left for the Pacific Theater. Masters of the Air does not pull punches when it comes to bringing the frigid cold, the impossible visibility and the violence of those missions to the screen. In every sortie, I stared aghast, wondering just what the battle tacticians were thinking.
There’s also a swagger that these aviator-jacket-boasting flyboys have earned; their skill in getting their birds in the sky and keeping them there, quick-thinking during combat, and resilience is something we can only hope no other generation must endure. The cast rises to the occasion with ease, doing honor to the real men they portray.
Just don’t get too attached to them — all gave some and some gave all.
Masters of the Air premiered on AppleTV+ on Jan. 26, 2024 with episodes one and two and will feature nine episodes total over its weekly release schedule.