Part of a recent influx of movies about heroic servicemen, Flyboys tells the story of WWI fighter pilots from America who volunteer to fight for France prior to the United States’ entry into the conflict.  These young men learn to operate frighteningly primitive machines merely three years after the invention of the airplane.  Unfortunately, given this foundation of heroic courage and sacrifice, Flyboys achieves only mediocrity.

The men who form this crude air force fill a variety of American war movie stereotypes: the Texas cowboy, the virtuous farmer, the pious Christian, the yuppy socialite, and the obligatory racial minority.  Together, of course, they work through their differences to conquer their common enemy.  I was impressed by the way the characters genuinely care for one another in stressful and tragic situations, but they lack authenticity as individuals.  For example, the squadron leader is a lone wolf who works tirelessly with no apparent motivation besides bitterness.

Flyboys also centers on a romance between the main character, Rawlings (James Franco), and a French woman he meets at a brothel.  She turns out not to be a prostitute, and he pursues a relationship despite the fact that neither speaks the other’s language.  The brevity of their refreshingly chaste interaction compromises the credibility of their love, but their relationship allows Rawlings to test his courage when he puts himself in danger to rescue her from the German army.  

Overall, Flyboys is an entertaining film that unfortunately lacks a deeper purpose.  I struggled to grasp the men’s motivation for fighting beyond combat for its own sake.  The clearest indication of this point is perhaps the leader’s funeral, which was secular and unemotional at his request.  My lingering thought was that without something he loved enough to die for, his death was meaningless.