The first few months of any given year are commonly seen as a dumping ground for movies that studio executives don’t seem to hold too much hope for, such as stand-alone non-franchised action thrillers, horrors that just about missed the Halloween window, one or two rom-coms to mark Valentine’s Day, and prestige-adjacent dramas that weren’t nutritious enough to qualify as functional Oscar bait. In fact, there are more such periods peppered throughout the year, like the tail end of Summer when major blockbusters have already taken their crops and low-expectations affair come out from under the counter-programming umbrella, or the first weeks of autumn between the awards season fully winds up and when it is still a bit early for genre movies to make the most of these sweet Halloween dollars. But Q1 is where it’s at – the savannah of dad cinema, where Liam Neeson is the apex predator. The Liam King.
But there’s a new cat in town and his name is Gerard Butler. Well, to be completely honest, he has been making occasional incursions into the Q1-dad-movie-savannah for a while now with a few dumping ground movies like Den of Thieves or London Has Fallen, but with his newest feature, Plane, he is ready to challenge The Liam King for supremacy in the field of thrillers aimed at middle-aged men who are sick and tired of C-Tier comic book movies and can no longer countenance witnessing their nostalgia tarnished and paraded like a cheap effigy at a political rally with each subsequent legacy sequel making its way to the big screen come blockbuster season. Men like yours truly.
I’m done with conveyor belt franchise fare for which I need to do extensive homework to be able to enjoy. I am done with seeing my childhood heroes dragged out of retirement for one last hurrah only to be killed off on screen, undermined by politically appropriate youngster characters defined merely by their phenotypes, or both. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but the likelihood of a blockbuster coming out of the left field and swiping me off my feet has become extremely low. The modern brand of franchise-based engineered escapism no longer does it for me, which is why I honestly look forward to these dumping ground months. In fact, the reality of living in the UK makes the beginning of the year even more interesting for someone like me because the vagaries of release scheduling make it so that we get to see most of the prominent awards contenders released at the same time as your disposable Liam Neeson vehicles. So, if you play your cards right and have some time on your hands, you may be able to go and see The Fabelmans and Plane on the same day; which, quite frankly, is probably the way to go. Cut through the richness of those numerous snooty prestige features, is what you want to do.
And, I must admit, Plane allows you to do just that with style and panache. It’s just the kind of movie to brighten up the landscape of sombre dramas, as it offers only one thing – unbridled entertainment of the disposable kind. Let’s be clear here: this Jean-Francois Richet-directed movie about Gerard Butler emergency landing a plane in the middle of nowhere and squaring off against a band of bloodthirsty separatists to save his passengers does not aspire to breaking new grounds in action filmmaking. This isn’t The Bourne Ultimatum or The French Connection. Plane knows its place just as most of Liam Neeson thrillers do. It’s here to entertain with guns, blood, simple-yet-relatable character motivations and the often-forgotten-but-fundamental idea of taking itself seriously. And it does exactly that – no more, no less.
Truly, what is there to say? I don’t think I can in good conscience praise the movie for even a modicum of originality, artistry of its craft, or thematic depth smuggled somehow into the script. I mean, if you really push hard, you may be able to squeeze out an ersatz conversation about some inter-generational truisms or politics, but it won’t be very deep. By the same token, you could probably extract a political interpretation out of Invasion USA, and you may also be able to sustain a conversation about it just to have fun, but I wouldn’t be gunning to write a book about it. The situation is similar here. The context of the movie, its characters and their plight, the villainy of its antagonists are all pared down and monochromatic on purpose. Plane isn’t here to challenge your worldview, but rather to remind you that movies used to be simple. In fact, ironically, by virtue of being a counter-programming to the slew of nostalgia sequels, requels and other what-have-yous, Plane plants its flag as an epitome of organic nostalgia – a film of the kind that no longer brings box office revenue, a blockbuster of my salad days that nowadays is more likely to bypass cinemas altogether and end up fly-tipped at the far end of the Netflix library where it will soon be completely forgotten by the public at large.
But it will be cherished by dads the world over as a verifiable miracle of a movie that somehow tricked the gods of the box office and ended up projected on something bigger than your 65-inch OLED screen with that rather expensive curve to it. Plane is a movie that needs a big screen just as much as the big screen needs more movies like Plane to cut through the custard of superhero movies, eat-the-rich satires, elevated horrors and identity politics subterfuge smuggled into prestige dramas. It’s a simple movie that – if it were prone to self-mockery – could easily function as a South Park episode. It’s a festival of tried-and-true genre tropes, character stencils and clichés that adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Why? Because it takes its daft simplicity seriously and puts its entire heart into making sure that folks who splurged on a ticket at a time when buying strawberries may require a credit check can forget about the grim world around them for 100 minutes and hang onto Gerard Butler’s shoulder as he crashes a plane, kills baddies, rescues the passengers and flies away in the very plane that he crashed just earlier without anyone in the cinema even raising an eyebrow.
Because that’s what escapism is all about – suspension of disbelief and artistic honesty combined with a modicum of self-seriousness and a pervasive penchant for good old-fashioned gun violence. I guess what I am trying to say is that Plane is a solid movie that really needs your help, especially if you have already developed an allergic reaction to spandex.
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