Apple TV+ might not yield an annual content output at par with competitors like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but the streaming platform does dabble in some ambitious epics. The latest example is Martin Scorsese’s period thriller Killers of the Flower Moon, which will exclusively stream on Apple TV+ after concluding its theatrical run.
Masters of the Air is another notable case in point, building anticipation ever since its first teaser trailer dropped early in November. Slated for a January 2024 release, the World War II-era miniseries takes inspiration from Donald L Miller’s non-fiction book of the same name and dramatizes the heroic pursuits of American aviators during the war.
So viewers can expect a lot of aerial action, emotionally intense performances and a fact-based retelling of the ill-fated 100th Bombardment Group of the US Air Force.
Continuing the successful trend of Band of Brothers and The Pacific
Roping in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks as executive producers, Masters of the Air will serve as a companion piece to the HBO war miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) and its follow-up The Pacific (2010). Considering how both of the aforementioned titles drew universal critical acclaim and multiple Emmy wins, Masters of the Air carries a lot of promise.
Even if HBO isn’t involved this time, Spielberg and Hanks’ participation seems reassuring. Both the director and his regular acting muse have never shied away from showing their fascination and admiration for World War II narratives. This is most evident from their collaborative epic Saving Private Ryan (1998).
In fact, Band of Brothers also found them taking turns to direct a few episodes. While they are just executive producers this time, the duo’s participation could ensure that Masters of the Air continues the legacy set by its praiseworthy predecessors.
Talented ensemble with two Oscar nominees
Much like Band of Brothers and The Pacific, Masters of the Air boasts a stellar ensemble. With the action focusing on several young US Air Force recruits in the 1940s, the cast is filled with exceptional new-age actors. Austin Butler leads the cast, playing the charming Major Gale Cleven, another real-life personality to add to his filmography after his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Elvis Presley in Elvis.
Butler isn’t the only Oscar nominee in the cast, as he’s accompanied by Barry Keoghan, who earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2023 for The Banshees of Inisherin. Other high-profile names attached to Masters of the Air include Callum Turner (famously known as Theseus Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts movies) and Ncuti Gatwa (Eric in Sex Education and the Fifteenth Doctor in Doctor Who).
Anthony Boyle, who gained initial fame as Scorpius Malfoy in the Harry Potter theatre production The Cursed Child, also features prominently along with guest stars like Polish actress and singer Joanna Kulig (Cold War) and British actress Bel Powley (The Morning Show).
Realistic visuals in the aerial battles
The other war shows produced by Spielberg and Hanks boasted special effects that were impressive for their time. However, Masters of the Air is bound to take the visual style a notch higher. As is evident from the merely two-minute-long teaser, Masters of the Air is filled with some realistic aerial action.
This includes thrilling dogfights in the day, haunting nocturnal airstrikes and even the miraculous landing of a heavy aircraft in an open field. 2022’s summer blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick set a high standard in filmmaking for aviation-themed action productions. But the challenges are higher in Masters of the Air, considering the show is set in the 1940s. While the trailer offers only blink-and-miss moments from up in the air, the episodes will surely end up thrilling aviation aficionados.
Diverse line-up of directors
Spielberg and Hanks might not be sitting in the directors’ chair, but Masters of the Air is helmed by some exceptionally talented names. Cary Joji Fukunaga, who masterminded the first season of True Detective and the Netflix miniseries Maniac, will be directing the first four episodes. Fukunaga has also previously proven his worth with big-budget action pieces, as could be seen in the James Bond caper No Time To Die.
For the fifth and sixth episodes, Fukunaga will be passing the baton to the duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Both creative collaborators have proved their versatility in terms of human drama and entertaining action as they progressed from comedy dramas like Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind to the MCU blockbuster Captain Marvel.
As for the next two episodes (including the penultimate one), Dee Rees will lend her filmmaking expertise. Earning multiple Emmy nominations for the biographical TV movie Bessie, Rees earned further fame for her Oscar-nominated period drama Mudbound. In this Netflix original, Rees carefully touched upon the impact of PTSD among two soldiers who served in World War II. It will definitely be exciting to see how she further interprets wartime trauma in Masters of the Air.
The finale is fittingly directed by Tim Van Patten, the popular TV director behind episodes of many HBO originals including Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and even Masters of the Air’s predecessor The Pacific.
World War II narratives are still impactful today
While some might initially judge Masters of the Air as just another World War II story, the Apple TV+ original might defy expectations, simply because the era-defining war still dominates pop culture. Be it Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Oppenheimer or Edward Berger’s Oscar Best International Feature winner All Quiet on the Western Front, World War II continues to be explored (offering both artistic merit and commercial returns in the process).
Even though Sam Mendes’s ambitious one-take drama 1917 dramatises the First World War, the Oscar Best Picture nominee still proves that the two global battles make for engaging thrillers. While World War-centric movies and TV miniseries are definitely not a new trend, these recent examples play out less as machismo-heavy propaganda and more as humanising case studies of the struggles of war.
Both its predecessors have delved into the futility of war and the emotional fragility of its participants. If Masters of the Air continues this legacy with some fresh reinterpretations, it might just subvert the World War II drama subgenre.
You can stream Masters of the Air on Apple TV+ from January 2024.