‘Masters of the Air’ Series Review – Spielberg and Hanks’ new WWII story

If there are two people you can trust with World War II, it’s Steven Spielberg and Tom HanksSaving Private RyanBand of BrothersThe Pacific, and even Greyhound are all great films and series depicting land and sea combat during WWII. This time though, Masters of the Air takes viewers on a thrilling and emotional journey through the skies. The series has a fantastic cast, led by rising stars Austin Butler and Callum Turner, as well as terrific production design, direction, and score. The series has flaws but does its job and shines a light on some heroes whose story deserves to be told.

The Plot of Masters of the Air

Based on Donald L. Miller’s 2007 book by the same name, the series follows the 100th Bomb Group, a heavy bomber unit in the Eighth Air Force stationed in eastern England during WWII. It also focuses on the friendship of Major Gale “Buck” Cleven (played by Austin Butler) and Major John “Bucky” Egan (played by Callum Turner) as they serve together during the war.

Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air
Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

The Pros and Cons of Masters of the Air

The biggest con I have is the series’ pacing, especially in the middle. After the first four episodes, the series starts to drag a bit. While I appreciate the story being told and highlighting the POW camps, it was stretched out to fill in more time/episodes for the series. Masters of the Air is a miniseries, so it didn’t have to be nine episodes; six or seven would have been sufficient.

This could also be from the series changing directors as it progresses; the first four episodes are directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, five and six by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, seven and eight by Dee Rees, and the series finale by Tim Van Patten. If the series had fewer episodes, they could have had one, maybe two directors who were on the same page the entire series. This is crucial for a miniseries to be effective as opposed to a series like The Mandalorian where different directors can play in a sandbox like that.

The visual effects were good overall; there were times when you could tell the B-17s were CGI, especially when the sky was full of them. That being said, the cockpits and the interiors of the planes looked good. This leads to a big pro of the series: the production design. WWII has a distinct look that we’ve seen across film and television, and Masters of the Air nails it. 

Blake Neely does an excellent job with the score for the series, especially the opening theme. I didn’t skip the opening for any episode because the theme is stirring and hopeful. He also worked on The Pacific and Greyhound, so he understands how WWII music should feel.

Our anchors for the series are Austin Butler and Callum Turner as Majors Clevan and Egan and they are certainly up to the task. What I appreciated most was that they seemed to be playing the character the other one should have been. Callum Turner as Egan is wild and drinks a lot while Austin Butler as Clevan is more cool and reserved; I would have thought Butler would play the wild character and Turner the reserved one.

A vast supporting cast, including Barry Keoghan, Anthony Boyle, and Ncuti Gatwa

The supporting cast throughout the series is vast, with too many names to mention in a single review, but there are a few names I want to highlight. The first is Barry Keoghan as Lt. Curtis Biddick. Biddick is a great character, a true New Yorker who, at one point, gets into a bare-knuckle boxing match outside of a bar. Keoghan nails the thick New York accent and is always fun to watch on screen.

Barry Keoghan in Masters of the Air
Barry Keoghan in Masters of the Air. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

The next cast member I want to highlight is Anthony Boyle as Lt. Harry Crosby. Boyle is still relatively new to film and television, but he burst onto the scene with his role as Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Crosby begins the series as a navigator with airsickness but works his way up the ranks and becomes a crucial figure in planning attacks. Boyle plays the part well, and you see Crosby become a man with purpose throughout the series.

The series saves its secret weapon until the last two episodes: Ncuti Gatwa as Lt. Robert Daniels of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 99th Fighter Squadron. After a breakout role on the Netflix series Sex EducationGatwa stepped into giant shoes by taking over the role of The Doctor in Doctor WhoGatwa exudes charisma in every role he plays, and Lt. Robert Daniels is no exception. While he doesn’t have as much screen time as I would like, he makes the most of it and leaves a lasting impression on the series.

Ncuti Gatwa in Masters of the Air
Ncuti Gatwa in Masters of the Air. Image courtesy of Apple TV+.

Final thoughts on the miniseries

Overall, Masters of the Air is a great companion piece to Band of Brothers and The Pacific and does its job of highlighting pilots during WWII. Austin Butler and Callum Turner lead a terrific cast with exceptional supporting turns by Barry KeoghanAnthony Boyle, and Ncuti Gatwa. It’s not a perfect series, but the production design, direction, and score help make up for the flaws. It’s a series worth watching, especially if you are a big history buff or love a good war story.

Masters of the Air is now streaming on Apple TV+.

You might also like…

Monarch Season 1 Review

‘Monarch: Legacy of Monsters’ Season One Review

Steve martin Documentary Review

STEVE! (martin) a Documentary in 2 Pieces’ Review: More Than Funny

This is a banner for a review of Doctor Who Special 4 - The Church on Ruby Road with Ncuti Gatwa.

Review: ‘Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road’ – Ncuti Gatwa helps usher in a sparkling new start