FLYBOYS is one of those very rare things, like the silent classic WINGS or the popular George Peppard hit, THE BLUE MAX - a film about pilots in The Great War! Unlike its aforementioned predecessors, though, FLYBOYS relies heavily on CGI for its flying sequences, which can only be expected from the same producer of the Sci-Fi extravaganza, INDEPENDENCE DAY.
The film deals with the real-life Lafayette Escadrille squadron, a formation of American pilots who fought with the French air force before their home country joined the conflict. As can often happen with war films, FLYBOYS also falls into the trap of stereotyping many of the characters. For example, there is the pilot who joins to escape crippling debts, the rich boy trying to prove himself to his overbearing father, the underage recruit and the Negro battling for acceptance among his white colleagues.
For the first half an hour, action is restricted firmly on the ground as the new recruits complete their basic training under the watchful eye of their French commander, Captain Thenault - a superb but underused Jean Reno. As few combat films deal with training in this period, though, it proves quite an insight in this aspect!
Then the squadron finally becomes airborne for the first of several exciting aerial encounters with a Jasta of experienced German pilots flying the famous Fokker Dr. I Tri-plane, the one in which Manfred Von Richthofen scored his last "kills". Prominent in this squadron is a pilot known as The Black Falcon, a ruthless but deadly efficient flyer who causes more than a few problems - and casualties - for the Lafayette Escadrille. He fights brutally, likes to see the faces of his defeated victims and thinks nothing of machine-gunning grounded pilots. He is the long-standing nemesis of the Lafayette's leading ace, Cassidy, who seeks him at every opportunity.
Much of the film's budget has gone into creating the CGI effects and for the most part they are great, using new motion-capture techniques (as explained in one of the featurettes) for the aircraft and even a mighty Zeppelin airship which makes an appearance!
Problems? Well, a romance between James Franco's Rawlings and a young French woman detracts from the action and takes up a fair amount of screen time, while the CGI effects on occasion allow the planes to achieve feats which were surely impossible for such fragile craft. Furthermore, excluding the Zeppelin and a Gotha bomber the Lafayette squadron intercepts, all the German fliers seem to have the Fokker Dr. I Tri-planes. True, some pilots flew them but surprisingly the historically much more numerous Albatross Bi-planes are never seen at all and the film seems to assume that the Americans meet the same German Jasta every time they patrol the front line!
There is a small selection of special Features on the disc including an audio commentary, two brief but informative featurettes and six deleted scenes - none of which, rather disappointingly, include aerial footage.
Although certainly not the best or most realistic film about The Great War, by treating FLYBOYS as what it really is - an action picture - viewers should be entertained as long as they do not expect a compelling, true-to-life history lesson!