World War I rocked. It’s not like the population of Europe was actually decimated, or the world thrown into political upheaval that it’s never fully recovered from. Millions of men didn’t really claw through the rest of their lives, battling the scars left by poison gas and shell shock. No, the real story of WWI is one of teenage heartthrobs strutting around in designer-made period costumes, and flying brightly decorated airplanes through dazzling explosions that don’t hurt main characters. Or at least that’s the impression you get from Flyboys.
Actually, if you were to watch films made during WWI, you might think the same thing. WWI fighter pilots were made celebrities and national heroes. In reality, the airplane contributed precious little to the outcome of the war, which was won on the ground. But there’s nothing entertaining about watching a man starve and freeze in a mud-hole until he’s blown to bits by a shell fired by unseen enemies. So let’s crank the propellers and fire up Flyboys!
For all my cynicism, this is a genuinely entertaining movie. The story of Americans who volunteered for the French military, it has every cliché in the book. James Franco stars as Cocky Young Guy who joins up because he thinks it would be fun to fly airplanes. Martin Henderson plays Grizzled Veteran. “Let me guess: you’re here because you thought it’d be fun to fly airplanes.” They have all the standard dialogue.
Veteran: You realize if you die here, your family name dies with you.
Young Guy: Psh. I don’t plan on dyin’.
Veteran: None of the guys in the squadron cemetery did either.
Young Guy: Psh.
The two then fly deadly missions together. In between them, Young Guy woos Indigenous Girl (Jennifer Decker) while he should be training. She starts counting the planes every time his squadron flies out and flies back. Eventually, he has to save her from some German foot soldiers. To do this, he steals a plane from the squadron hanger. He is therefore sent up for military discipline, until his French commanding officer (ever notice how there’s never a French guy in a movie that’s not played by Jean Reno?) conveniently looses the paper work and slips him a medal.
Meanwhile, Veteran, an aviation progeny with over 20 kills, is driven to fly extra missions to hunt down the Germans that killed all of his friends. He is haunted by the specter of his last remaining adversary, Smirking Face with no Dialogue (Gunnar Winberg). In their eventual confrontation, the Face kills him, so who goes toe-to-toe with the Face at the climax? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.
The cast of war movie cut-outs is rounded out by Philip Winchester as War Hero’s Son Who Can’t Fill the Shoes (from Lincoln Nebraska, I might add), Abdul Salis as Angry Black Guy, Tyler Labine as Racist Guy, and Michael Jibson as Religious Guy. Together they fly through all the standard scenarios, involving daring dogfights, civilians in need of rescue, and eeeeevil Germans. The fuselage of this movie is riddled with clichés from nose to tail, but it’s one of those movies that show you why the clichés exist – because they work! It’s easy to thrill to the dogfights and lose yourself in this one until you forget your troubles. Yes, you’ll predict everything that happens in the movie, but you’ll still care about the characters (even if you forget their names). I could say that this film is an insult to the millions who suffered and sacrificed during the Great War, but that would be a cliché in itself. Rent it tonight, make some pop corn, and see what you’ve been missing out on.