Why are all the best presidents the fake ones from movies? Bill Pullman in Independence Day, Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. They are all great. One of the best among them is Harrison Ford in Air Force One.
Air Force One is a 1997 action film staring Harrison Ford as President James Marshall. Now, not much is known about Marshall’s politics, other than a speech he gives at the beginning of the movie where he will not “allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right.” Which is pretty vague, but that doesn’t really matter. That’s not what this film is about. This isn’t some lame politically charged movie. This is an action movie. While flying home from a summit in Russia on Air Force One, the plane gets taken over by “communist radicals.” So… pretty awesome premise, right?
This movie is ‘90s action perfection. It hit all the big tropes! First, our hero is basically an unstoppable machine despite being an old man completely outnumbered by terrorist with guns. Sure, in one scene he has to dress his wounds but that hardly holds him back later in the action. Also, our hero’s wife and child are in danger and need to be saved. Which, you can throw a rock and hit three action movies with that exact plot. But audiences love that stuff. Some other tropes of the genre that are featured are: Just when all the bad guys are dead… TWIST there is a double agent! (I won’t spoil who.) Ford says a bad ass line right before killing the bad guy. The bad guy does that thing where he gives a speech to the hero about how the two of them aren’t so different after all. The bad guy also monologues about his plan for long enough to allow Harrison Ford to cut the rope tying his hands. The bad guy’s aim is worse than Stormtroopers’ except when shooting at unnamed characters. There are a couple heroic “jumping in front of a bullet” moments. Oh! I almost forgot, the biggest troupe of all, the bad guys are communists!
The ‘90s were really a simper time when it came to actions movies wasn’t it? I mean, you could tell who the bad guy was simply by seeing who spoke with a Russian accent or was played by Gary Oldman. This movie was brave enough to do both. With Gary Oldman playing this movie’s Russian terrorist to perfection. But more importantly then this film’s bad-ass villain is its bad-ass hero.
Harrison Ford’s President Marshall, who is established to be a Vietnam war veteran, is our hero. He is taking back his plane and saving his family… and all of America while he’s at it. I mean… this movie is literally just Die Hard but instead it stars Harrison Ford and takes place on Air Force One…. And that’s cool as hell. Is this a nuanced political drama about the complexities of being President of the United States? No. Its about Harrison Ford kicking butt 30,000 feet. That’s what audiences wanted in the ‘90s. And quite frankly, its what I wanted on a lazy Sunday afternoon while browsing Amazon Prime. I got exactly what I wanted. As much as I love high concept action films like spy thrillers or science fiction movies. Sometimes, all I want is something simple that can be explained in a short sentence. Die Hard on a plane. I love being able to turn my brain off while watching a movie. I don’t care if the bad guy’s plan makes no sense. I don’t care if the physics aren’t right when a missile explodes next to Air Force One. Sometimes, all I want, all any of us want, is to turn our brains off and shove our movie snack of choice into our mouths by the handful.
Now, I won’t lie. This movie has aged. Some of the CGI is… pretty bad. Like, noticeably bad. Towards the end of the film, spoiler, some people fall out of the plane and… oh boy… it is laughable. Also, there is a scene where a lot of tension is built up around whether or not a fax machine will work. Which, maybe in 1997 that had people on the edge of their seats but here in 2020 it just made me laugh.
Ultimately, this movie is a fun ‘90s action ride. This movie won’t challenge your world view. It won’t leave you with a lot to think about. But is that really what you want? If you are hungry for that ‘90s camp. This movie will probably satisfy you. You got Harrison Ford being a hero. You got Gary Oldman being the bad guy. You even have Glenn Close as the Vice President of the United States. What more could you want? I give Air Force One (1997) 6 ½ weird CGI planes out of 10.