Plane makes it clear that it isn’t reaching for new heights but it doesn’t wing it either, delivering perfectly acceptable entertainment.
It’s a weird thing, these movie titles. All you need to do is take the most mundane word, slap it on a poster, and suddenly it looks and sounds much more important than it is. See also: Cars, Us, It, Scream, Up, etc.
Directed by Jean-François Richet, Plane follows Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler), the pilot of the commercial airliner Trailblazer 119. After flying through a severe storm, he’s forced to make an emergency landing in the Jolo islands, an area run by anti-government militias. With the passengers’ safety on the line, he has no choice but to accept the help of convicted murderer Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), who was being transported on the flight. After that, lots of guns, lots of blood, lots of scenes with sweaty buff men.
Let’s face it: this is far from the most interesting or original premise for an action movie. But I actually don’t hold it against Plane too much because it made it clear from the beginning what it was. The very first scene we see with the protagonist is him talking with his daughter, and the very first scene we see with the main side character is him pulling out a picture of his family. From that moment, I knew that I was watching a Liam Neeson dad movie. I know Liam Neeson isn’t in this film, but I know what I said.
These are the action movies with a bearded dad protagonist whose character basically boils down to “I have a family.” Laugh at it all you want, I also rolled my eyes the moment I saw the film very clearly play the daughter card, but it is a genre that has stuck around for a reason. After all, while we may laugh at how pedestrian the motivation is, nobody wants to see a family lose their father just on a base level. It appeals to the most basic level of empathy most audiences would have. Unless you actively want to see a devastated family, in which case, I won’t judge. Out loud.
And this simple characterization can help the director too, because now they only need to allot a minimal amount of screentime to get audiences mildly invested and turn their focus onto the action. As long as they provide basic competency in action, a reasonably interesting premise, and a story that doesn’t leave you scratching your head in confusion or anger, the movie can be satisfying.
It also cuts down the need for further characterization outside of the main cast. Villains don’t need to be complex or memorable, because with these sorts of movies, the real villain is the situation itself. It’s the ticking time bomb, the speeding bullet, or the hostage at gunpoint. That is the true antagonist the hero is up against, and the human villains are just there as fodder.
Liam Neeson is probably the most famous – or depending on how you look at it, infamous – example of this trope, but Gerard Butler has had his fair share of “dad movies” as well. After all, his Has Fallen trilogy also provide the barest of character while putting most of its effort onto its premise and action. And Plane is yet another entry in this collection. It’s why a general description of this genre up there basically serves as a review of the movie itself.
And to give credit where credit’s due, this is actually one of the best dad movies out there. I was surprised by how this film handled tension in its action sequences at times. The opening action sequence with the plane landing has a very good sense of pacing and escalation, as opposed to most movies that just have a plane explode in fire and VFX budget and cut to the stunt double in the wreckage. And while the choreography isn’t John Wick levels of clean or Bourne levels of intense, it didn’t nauseate me either and simply served its purpose well.
I was also mildly surprised by how focused the film was. There is no unnecessary drama such as survivors infighting, drawn-out mistrust, or incompetent officials. There are elements of that, but when the situation gets dire, characters put aside their personal feelings and act to survive, and I appreciated that. It shows the director wasn’t going to waste my time and instead show me more of Gerard Butler choking people to death with his glistening pecs.
So, all in all, this all sounds like the makings of a perfectly competent, reasonably entertaining action movie. And it is. But there is one element of Plane that stuck out as a low point, and it concerns Mike Colter. His character provides a bit of greyness to the movie, as he is a murderer. Torrance has no choice but to work with him, both to keep an eye on him and also to use his strength, and this serves as another source of tension. How far is he willing to work with Torrance for survival before he decides he’s done enough? It could also provide some interesting grey area for Torrance, in that he has to put his trust in a felon.
At least, that’s how it would have been, had the movie actually focused on that. But Plane gives next to no proper screentime to Gaspare outside of action scenes. There is only one scene where we get something close to a backstory and a look into Gaspare’s personality, and even that scene just breezes by without the characters properly reflecting on it. There is a certain choice he makes near the end of the film that I thought played on the greyness I mentioned. But with so little information about him, it leaves as much impact as my fist would on Mike Colter’s abs. I said I don’t mind these types of movies only giving basic characterizations, but with Gaspare, we get even less than that. And he ultimately ends up as purely action fodder without anything for us to feel invested in.
And obviously, while the movie is pretty good for a dad movie, it still ultimately is still a dad movie. That means while I had a fun time, it also won’t be very memorable. In fact, if you ask me next month about this film, I probably would have forgotten that I even watched it. I still feel positive about the movie, but that’s only because I had set my expectations at a certain level to begin with, and that isn’t exactly a glowing remark in the movie’s favor.
There is certainly an audience to these sorts of movies. I am also one of them. Sometimes I just need to unwind after a long day and watch angry men bust some heads, and Plane serves to fill that niche well. It’s just that this feels like it would be better for streaming or DVD, rather than a $10~20 theatrical release. In fact, this would be perfect to spend time on a long flight. Oh, the irony.
Plane is now available to watch in US theaters. The film will be released in UK cinemas on January 27, 2023.