Gerard Butler’s Plane, and cinema’s most incompetent fictional airline 

gerard butler in plane
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Plane provided another action vehicle for Gerard Butler this year. But do spare a thought for the passengers aboard Trailblazer Airlines Flight 119…

NB: The following contains mild spoilers for Plane.

Anyone who’s taken even an occasional plane journey will have had their share of bad experiences. From dreadful in-flight meals to cramped seating, flying on commercial airlines is far from a glamorous experience. Unless you happen to be able to afford to fly business class, plane trips are often marked out by claustrophobia, unfeasibly small fizzy drinks tins, and a melange of disturbing and unplaceable smells.

All of this pales in comparison, however, to the horrendous ordeal experienced by the passengers of Trailblazer Airlines Flight 119. In the starkly-titled Plane – the latest in Gerard Butler’s series of sensibly-budgeted action thrillers, released in January this year – said passengers are subjected to baffling planning decisions, patchy service from its glaringly sparse flight crew, and an incident so calamitous that the airline is forced to send in a platoon of mercenaries.

The first red flag, really, is the name of the airline itself – Trailblazer. Let’s face it, if there’s one thing you don’t want to blaze a trail, it’s a commercial aeroplane. Then there’s the pilot: Brodie Torrance, played with the usual gruff charisma by Butler.

Read more: Plane review | Gerard Butler sticks the landing

Leaving aside for a second that Brodie shares his surname with the murderous dad from The Shining, the film later reveals how he ended up working for a “third-tier” airline like Trailblazer. During an altercation with a passenger an unspecified period of time earlier, Brodie traded punches and eventually choked the passenger until he passed out on the floor. None of the passengers aboard Flight 119 were party to this information – if they were, they probably would have thought twice about getting on the plane in the first place.

The events of Plane take place on New Year’s Eve, with Brodie tasked with piloting an aircraft of just 14 passengers on an overnight flight from Singapore to Tokyo. It’s at this point that someone from Trailblazer makes the frankly bizarre decision to send the plane straight through the middle of a storm – a shortcut, Brodie’s told, which will save the airline about $12,000 in fuel. (“It’s airline protocol,” the unnamed decisionmaker later says – a quote that would probably come back to haunt the company at any inquest into the disaster.)

Brodie’s protests fall on deaf ears, and you can probably gather what happens next: Flight 119 hits a cataclysmic lightning storm, the plane’s circuits are fried, and the craft is forced to crash-land on an island somewhere in the Philippines. By this point, Flight 119’s already skeletal staff of three has been reduced to two – air hosts Bonnie (Daniella Pineda) and Maria (Amber Rivera). Of the pair, only Bonnie seems to remember that her job is to look actually after her passengers – if I were her, I’d be looking for a job at a more reputable airline once I got back on home turf.

Gerard Butler, seen relaxing with his Flight 119 crew before take-off. Credit: Lionsgate.

Maria, on the other hand, is so seldom seen for the rest of the movie that we almost thought that the filmmakers had forgotten about her entirely. While Bonnie’s later shown tending to wounds and ushering terrified passengers back onto the plane as bullets whiz by, Maria’s nowhere to be found; she’s later seen cowering near the cockpit, shouting that the doors won’t close properly.

Fortunately for Trailblazer Airlines, some of its weirder decisions work out in its favour. Brodie, a former RAF pilot, keeps a cool head in a crisis and is able to land a fragile aircraft (an MD-80, apparently – we just looked it up) on a dirt road surrounded by jungle. Because he’s secretly Gerard Butler, Brodie is also extremely good at hugging people to death and firing machine guns – which is handy, because the lush island he’s landed in is absolutely heaving with terrorists who like nothing more than to take wealthy travellers hostage.

Even the presence of an actual murderer among Flight 119’s passenger list – played by Luke Cage himself, Mike Colter – proves to be a master stroke. Colter’s character, Louis Gaspare, was once an ex-soldier in the French Foreign Legion, and turns out to be even better at killing people than Gerard Butler.

Mike Colter stars alongside Gerard Butler in Plane (2023)

Mike Colter as Louis Gaspare. It turns out that every flight should have at least one potential murderer aboard, just in case. Credit: Lionsgate.

While everything goes sideways in the Philippines, bosses at Trailblazer HQ are left to ponder what exactly went wrong. In steps David Scarsdale (an always-welcome Tony Goldwyn), a former Green Beret and apparent fixer for the hapless airline. He does the audience’s job and starts berating Traiblazer’s executives for their dreadful decision-making (“That’s one hell of a storm – what idiot sent them through that?”), and generally trying to sort things out. He tells someone (presumably in marketing) to write press releases for “every scenario”, from a crash landing with no survivors to a hijacking. We can only imagine how long it’d take to write 1,500-word releases covering all of those possible outcomes.

Better yet, Scarsdale’s military connections means he knows a bunch of rock-hard mercenaries who can head into the terrorist-controlled island of Jolo and help extract Flight 119’s stricken passengers.

plane (2023)

For heaven’s sake, don’t fly through that storm, Gerard. Credit: Lionsgate.

Zooming out from all the gory action, then, Plane is really about how a varied bunch of former military-types manage to save the most incompetent airline in the world from its own unforced errors.

Not long after Plane’s release in January, it was announced that Mike Colter will return in a sequel, simply entitled Ship. Presumably, Trailblazer Airlines – having spent millions in compensation to Flight 119’s surviving passengers – went spectacularly bust between movies.

Trailblazer plane

Actually, we’d rather not. Credit: Lionsgate.

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