Justin does Flyboys

“Some day it’ll just end. Everyone will go home, get on with their lives. Tall grass will cover the battlefields. And all the pilots we’ve lost won’t mean a damn thing.”

The Scoop: 2006 PG-13, directed by Tony Bill and starring James Franco, Jean Reno and Philip Winchester

Tagline: Inspired by a true story

Summary Capsule: American pilots eager to get into WWI sign up with the French to play video games in the sky

Justin’s Rating: Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s half-hearted filmmaking!

Justin’s Review: While it seems as though Hollywood pumps out a new World War II film every other week, World War I certainly draws the short end of the stick from Tinsel Town.  Seriously, how many WWI movies can you count on your fingers from memory?  If you can get up to a full hand without cheating, I’d be very surprised.

The problem is that WWI isn’t as cinematic as WWII, at least not in a way that Hollywood likes.  It was a confusing war from a historical perspective with loads of sitting around in trenches and technology that was only a couple decades past horse-drawn wagons and muskets.  The US didn’t get into the war until later, the Germans looked more silly than evil, and many battles were fought simply through attrition instead of cunning and verve.

So it’s great that Flyboys found an interesting niche of the Great War to explore – the romanticized battle between fledgling, daredevil aviators and their rickety bi- and tri-planes.  It’s loosely based on a true story, inasmuch that this is a blending between the actual tales of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps.  These were French fighter outfits that accepted American pilots who wanted to fight in the war before the US got involved.  They also had a lion as a mascot.

Flyboys’ main selling point as a film is its spectacular air battles, which are of a different variety than Top Gun’s mach-speed jets – when the planes clash in the air, they almost lazily loop toward each other as pilots twist their heads around trying to get a sense of their surroundings.  Machine guns go fwip-fwip-fwip through the skies, and these marvels of wood, canvas and metal are quickly reduced to rubbish thousands of feet above the ground.  There’s even a big battle surrounding a combat zeppelin – the “Death Star” of the movie, if you will – that really caught my attention.

And thank God Flyboys had all that, because the rest of the film was dangerously close to losing my attention and respect altogether.  All of the characters have one, and only one trait, which reduces them from a name to “oh that’s the religious guy”, “that’s the rich fattie”, and “that’s the black boxer”.  They’re so see-through as to be acceptable material for sheer nightgowns and teddies, which does not do the movie any favors when it asks us to care whether they live or die or come together as a unit.

Flyboys wants us to take it seriously, with loud, bombastic music that tries to conjure up echoes of Saving Private Ryan and (oddly enough) Titanic, but it’s pretty much impossible to do so when there’s no real edge to the film, no grit and despair.  Oh, sure, the characters do their prerequisite moping about those who are lost, and there are several tragic and fatal incidences, but that’s juxtaposed with an atmosphere at the air base that could accurately be described as “summer camp”.  Seriously – their instructor (Jean Reno) is just about the most lovable, laid-back military guy in the world who is more likely to ruffle their hair affectionately than kick their butts and bark at them to grow a pair.

And for all the moaning about the horrors of war, you can’t help but think that (a) all of these guys volunteered, and (b) life at the base and in their gaudy mansion is a billion times better than any of the grunts who had to live and fight and die in the trenches.  Yeah, it’s horrible you had to fly a plane today and get into roller-coaster escapades with the Germans, but at least your insides aren’t dissolving thanks to a hearty whiff of mustard gas.

There’s also a completely unnecessary love story based on no actual historical character whatsoever, and doesn’t even culminate in a satisfying payoff.  When a second-rate war movie like this is pushing north of two hours, I think the love story should be the first to get cut.

Flyboys is worth seeing just for the oddity of a WWI air combat film, of which we probably won’t see to many more in our lifetime, but it doesn’t earn its wings as a great movie – or even a good one.

"Wait a minute... this isn't the Dayton Air Show!"


  • Filmmakers attempted to use lightweight reproductions of WWI aircraft, but grounded them after an accident.
  • The first movie to motion capture planes.
  • The real Lafayette Escadrille actually had a pair of lion cubs as mascots. One was indeed named “Whiskey,” as in the film. The other, appropriately enough, was named “Soda.”
  • James Franco earned his pilot’s license in preparation for this film.

Groovy Quotes

Eddie Beagle: [after shooting down a German plane with his hook hand] Beware the hook!

Reed Cassidy: Some day it’ll just end. Everyone will go home, get on with their lives. Tall grass will cover the battlefields. And all the pilots we’ve lost won’t mean a damn thing.

Reed Cassidy: Plane catches fire you got three choices: You can burn with it all the way to the ground; You can jump several thousand feet; or you can take the quick and painless way out.

Eugene Skinner: So how many planes do you have to shoot down to get back in father’s good books?
Briggs Lowry: Just mine.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Top Gun
  • The Last Battalion
  • Iron Eagle

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