This is yet another war movie coming out of Hollywood, but this time it leaves the dramatics and contemplative issues aside, and focus on the action pieces. With its prologue flashing across the screen that we're expecting to learn about the heroes of the war, you know the mood is set for some wham-bam pyrotechnics and stunts.
Movies set in WWI are different in the sense that it's the first massive war on a near global scale, which uses various weapons for the first time, and these weapons, though standard of today, were considered weapons of mass destruction for that time with its ability to inflict mass casualties. Weapons like machine guns, tanks, planes, and even chemical warfare unleashed into the trenches are hallmarks of WWI. Flyboys, as the title puts it, turns the spotlight on a group of mostly American volunteers into the French Lafayette Escadrille, a flight squadron. With the plane a relatively new piece of technology in those days, you can trust us humans to find methods to turn technology into killing machines.
If you're a fan of flight simulators of old, then Flyboys is right up your alley. For me, I've become an addict on a game called the Red Baron running on an old PC of mine, and I spent countless of hours, just like those pilots in the movie, deciding my affiliation, and flying various missions from the comfort of an armchair. And Flyboys probably took a cue, and what we have were awesome aerial combat, and beautifully modelled aeroplanes employed in missions ranging from bombing, to air defense, and even the attack on German zeppelins. However, after a while, the stunts become pretty ordinary, almost like Star Wars set in WWI, especially with the fleet's style of head to head engagements, except for the ace pilots where specific moves were developed just to show why they're top gun.
And this movie does show shades of other similar movies, with the obvious one being Top Gun in the first half, where the motley crew of combatants undergo training at a flight school. It's kind of interesting to observe how training those days are conducted, since the technology and training techniques were still at their infancy. You won't get bored though, as it's almost breezing through flight school with everyone graduating because the life expectancy of a fighter pilot is between 3-6 weeks. They're falling out of the skies like flies.
The other familiar element, is the romance bit. Yes, besides flying, pilots do have a life, and with movies, it just cannot do without a beautiful love interest. An accident allowed James Franco's Blaine Rawlings to meet Jennifer Decker's Lucienne, a French woman he develops feelings for, but she is hesitant to reciprocate because such budding relationships during war sometimes do not last, more so when he's part of a high risk, high death unit. So what does a pilot do? Why, set the example for Ben Affleck to follow in Pearl Harbor - take the lady up to the skies! See the tactic? Tried and tested I tell you!
James Franco once again plays the brooding lead, and alternates between angst and cockiness with aplomb. Girls will probably watch this movie to squeal each time he appears in uniform. Here, he's your sensitive leader, one who galvanizes his men, as well as shower tenderness on his love. Naturally, he's the recognizable star amongst the rest, besides a ground role for Jean Reno, so he's the ace (or becoming to be one), trying to learn from the guru with the most kills, Reed Cassidy, your expected and seemingly cocky pilot (wait! Aren't pilots all?)
There's a theme I like which the movie explored, and frequently mentioned, and that is the way battles are fought. In olden days, there is always honour, and men fought honourably, according to a moral code of conduct. Which brings us to wonder, do you prefer to fight fair, i.e. should someone lose a sword, either lose yours or allow him to pick his up? Or do you attack enemies on parachutes by shooting at their chute? Battle without honour or humanity just to win the fight, is what Rawlings have to come to grips with, and by the end, you will know which is the path he will take.
If there's a gripe I had, it was the excessive nodding. It's an acknowledgement that you're good/bad/gonna get screwed, and while the first few might have raised some goosebumps, this particular thingamajig went on and on and on, it just turned our plain hilarious. Do something - nod, downed a bogey - nod, crap in the pants - nod. OK, so I exaggerated on the last one.
All in all, it's an aviation action movie fan's wet dream. If games are to be believed, then the German planes have better specification and maneuvered better, but if you believe what the movie said, then it all boils down to the pilots. These flyboys deliver.