Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Air Force One Is Like Catnip For 1990s Blockbuster Fans Like Myself

You know what strain of blockbuster cinema I love? 1990s disaster movies! Chalk up my fondness for this subgenre partially to nostalgia, I distinctly remember spending my early teen years huddled over a small TV where I watch VHS copies of Armageddon, Volcano and Independence Day. More often than not, these films had cornball dialogue out the wazoo and broadly-drawn out characters...so why couldn't I get enough of them? Well, the heavy presence of explosions didn't hurt, but I also was drawn to the optimism that permeated so many of these movies. In the face of asteroids, aliens or whatever kind of disasters faced our planet, these movies depicted an array of human beings coming together to help one another and the human race. There's something noble and irresistibly hopeful about that.

Air Force One doesn't qualify as a disaster movie, it's much more of a Die Hard clone than anything else, but it totally has both the same spirit of hopefulness and endearing goofiness as those types of films. As the title implies, Air Force One takes place on the airplane designated exclusively for the President of the United States, here appearing in the form of James Marshall (Harrison Ford). Marshall's just overseen the capture of the dictator of Kazakhstan (very nice!) and is preparing for a quiet plane ride home with his family. That does not turn out to be in the cards since the plane is quickly hijacked by terrorists, led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman) bent on freeing that newly captured dictator that the U.S. recently brought to justice. 

The terrorists all think Marshall fled the plane early on, but guess what, he's still on board and now sneaking around the plane trying to figure out how to get all the passengers being held hostage into safer hands. Air Force One is a product of the 1990s through and through, from the fact that a fax machine helps saves the day to its big honking cell phones, but it's an enjoyable product at that, even if, like many of these 1990s blockbuster, it tends to run on the long side. It's not like that's a problem that evades all modern-day blockbusters, but it was definitely prominent in this era of blockbuster cinema where something as simplistic as Armageddon ran for nearly two-and-a-half hours!

Even if the length could certainly be trimmed, at least Air Force One makes sure its runtime has a healthy dose of fun throughout. Interestingly, little of that actually comes from the action scenes, which are fine but never really exceptional. The ticking clock element stemming from its heightened premise is what really gets one engaged with Air Force One. Though it uses the story skeleton of Die Hard, Air Force One isn't content with just doing the tired-and-true as it makes heavy use of all the possibilities of setting a hostage thriller in an airplane. This results in plenty of entertaining nailbiter sequences that could only happen in this setting with these characters, a sharp contrast to the more derivative suspenseful set pieces that plague, say, the weakest Die Hard installments.

It's also a welcome surprise how carefully executed Wolfgang Peterson's directing is. Though he's helming a goofy summer blockbuster, Peterson isn't afraid to go with some more elaborate and thoughtfully crafted camerawork that shows off a strong visual eye that especially come through in the more intimate scenes depicting Marshall just trying to navigate around this plane without being spotted. The bigger set pieces tend to make use of more generic camerawork to be sure, but throughout the other parts of Air Force One, one can clearly see that Wolfgang Peterson is not sleepwalking behind the camera and that level of effort is also felt in some of the performances in the cast.

Gary Oldman especially sinks his teeth into one of his many blockbuster villain roles. Though nowhere near as fun as his work as the nefarious baddie in fellow 1990s blockbuster The Fifth Element (an admittedly high bar to clear), he's still quite enjoyable in the role and ensures that his part doesn't just come off as a Hans Gruber clone. Playing opposite Oldman in the role of the protagonist is Harrison Ford, who doesn't really dredge up much unique personality to differentiate this part from his other exasperated middle-aged action hero roles. However, versatility is a trait Ford doesn't really need with the good qualities he does have. Just try and not be stirred up by his convincing authoritative presence on-screen, especially when the camera does an extreme close-up accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's rousing score. All Ford is doing in the shot is looking off in the distance, but he's still got enough presence to make you wanna salute Air Force One's take on the POTUS. Such a bombastic shot doesn't just show off how much Harrison Ford draws you in, it also shows off the kind of unrestrained grandiose tendencies that make Air Force One and other 1990s blockbusters of its ilk so much fun to watch!

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