Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

I hate it when this happens.

I mean, here we have this elegant World War II drama which has this solid feeling of authenticity (I’m not enough of an expert to speak for all the details — and there is at least one I’m skeptical of — but the general impression is convincing).

Which then breaks down into total absurdity before it’s done.

Sad, really.

Certainly the start is promising: a young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) shows up just as a B-17 is ready to take off on a routine transport flight, carrying last minute orders assigning her as Flight Crew on the mission — orders which we know she forged.

She has a mysterious box with her, which she does not want anyone else to handle.

The Captain sticks her in the ball turret, perhaps the most dangerous job on board.  However, she spots something moving in the clouds, which she believes to be a Japanese reconnaissance plane far beyond its normal patrol range.  Not that she can get the Captain to believe her.

But then she spots something far, far worse…

So far, so good.  We have a tense set up, the perils of war, secrets and mysteries.

But then it all starts going wrong.

I’m tempted to quibble about that ball turret.  It was my understanding that the only way to get into one was from the outside, while the plane was on the ground.  A lot of ball gunners died because, if the plane had to make a belly landing, there was no way to get them out.

However, I’m not sure which planes had this problem, or whether the B-17 was one of them.

Nor am I going to be too harsh on Chloe’s remarkable marksmanship.  The defensive guns on a World War II bomber proved so ineffective that most of them were taken off the B-29s.  Let’s face it, it’s really hard to hit another aircraft in combat, no matter how much lead you throw at it.

But then, I’m not sure you’d know that from watching old John Wayne war movies.

It is also true that they used women and civilian pilots to ferry planes to the combat zones — and yes, it could be a very dangerous job.

But we know the film has gone completely off the rails when she climbs out of the damaged turret and clings to the underside of the plane while it is in flight.

While Japanese planes are shooting at them.


Some numbers might help here: the top speed of a B-17 is 287 mph.  If someone is attacking you, this is the speed you are going to be flying, if the plane is working right.

Category 2 Hurricanes, which can uproot trees have 95 to 110 mile an hour winds, while a Category 5, which would basically destroy everything in its path, go faster than 156.

And a skydiver in a head-down position maxes out somewhere between 150 and 180 and can’t go any faster.

Or in other words, if you try crawling over the underside of a B-17 in flight, you’ll get ripped right off the plane.

Right away.  Not after you’ve been crawling around  back and forth for several minutes.

Oh, and you definitely won’t get blown back into the plane by a passing explosion.

Seriously.  This happens.

You almost (I repeat, almost) don’t notice how absurd it is when (spoiler) a tiny girl grapples hand to hand with a vicious monster strong enough to cling to a B-17, while a bunch of big guys just sort of…stand around.

Doing nothing.


They’re even supposed to be part of that “Greatest Generation,” back in the days when men were taught to protect women.

At least Chloe, who was Hit Girl in a certain crudely named superhero parody some years back, obviously knows how to fight and has the action chops for the part (unlike most of the tiny girls we see on the big screen tossing men three times their size around) and her motive is one which has traditionally inspired women to incredible feats.

But it just isn’t enough to save Shadow on the Cloud from its own absurdity.

Which is a shame: the film looks and sounds great, it has an exceptional cast, a convincing recreation of a B-17 bomber, some stirring wartime action, and a great mythical monster.

Oh well.  File this one under “Missed it by that much.”

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