Masters of the Air | Review by: Benjamin Garrett


After giving us two limited series following WWII ground campaigns across Germany and the Pacific, producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have set their sights on the skies. Masters of the Air takes us 30,000 feet above the battlefield, with a spectacular first hand look at the 100th bomb group, and their integral role in winning the war. 

This nine part limited series takes us inside various bombing campaigns throughout the war, focusing on a handful of pilots, navigators and aerial gunners during the brutal battles they fought in the air. The series balances epic flight combat sequences with personal drama, showing us the physical and psychological hell these soldiers went through during their deployment. In many ways, this does feel like a worthy companion to Band of Brothers and The Pacific, but a lack of proper narrative focus and a somewhat repetitive structure hold it back from true greatness. 

It feels strangely torn between needing a few more episodes, and having a few too many. There’s a lot that happens throughout these nine chapters, and the series often glosses over key story elements in order to advance the plot. At the same time, though, there’s quite a bit of filler, with a handful of subplots that ultimately lead nowhere. I can’t help but feel this time could’ve been better spent connecting the dots, to give us a more detailed account of the incredible campaigns these men experienced. For example, it isn’t until the second last episode that we’re introduced to the Tuskegee Airmen - a group of African American soldiers who piloted fighter planes alongside the bombing crews during their raids. Sadly, they only really get highlighted in this one episode before fading into the background in the finale. 

The gritty, practical filmmaking that made Band of Brothers so spectacular is exchanged for a VFX heavy experience here. I won’t lie and say I didn’t miss that harrowing, grounded look and feel, but there was really no other way it could’ve been done. No, it isn’t the best looking CGI out there, but it’s effective, and the aerial sequences themselves are gorgeously put together. The series does an exceptional job of placing the viewer inside the planes, capturing the chaos of sky-bound combat in remarkable fashion. Seeing the scale of these attacks, as well as the magnitude of destruction and loss is awe-inspiring. 

Outside of these incredible sequences, some of the best moments come from quieter, dialogue driven scenes  between characters. One of my favourite scenes was a conversation between a German interrogator and a downed pilot, having a seemingly innocent chat about baseball. As viewers, we know it’s anything but innocent, as the interrogator is there to extract vital information. The pilot knows this as well, and their tense yet relaxed confrontation is just as exciting to watch as any of the action scenes. 

The cast all deliver strong work, even if I wish we could’ve spent more time with some of their characters. Austin Butler is the biggest name attached to the series, and while he is quite good, I was far more impressed by Callum Turner and Nate Mann. They both deliver charismatic performances, but are also able to aptly convey the stresses and burdens taken on from surviving so many campaigns. Mann isn’t introduced until episode five, so it’s a bit of an adjustment trying to connect to a characters cast in at the midway point. However, he does a damn fine job bringing a relatable level of humanity and emotion to the role. 

Masters of the Air is a high flying visual spectacle with stunning aerial action and impressive production design. There’s a bit of turbulence when it comes to its disjointed narrative structure and some repetitive sequences, but fans of Spielberg and Hanks’ previous collaborations will find plenty to enjoy. 


Review by: Benjamin Garrett 

Popular Posts