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Idris Elba in Hijack (Photo: Apple TV+ / Design: Archi Banal)
Idris Elba in Hijack (Photo: Apple TV+ / Design: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureJuly 24, 2023

Review: Hijack is the year’s most thrilling action show

Idris Elba in Hijack (Photo: Apple TV+ / Design: Archi Banal)
Idris Elba in Hijack (Photo: Apple TV+ / Design: Archi Banal)

You’re going to want to book a seat aboard Apple TV+’s high-intensity plane drama, writes Chris Schulz.

This is an excerpt from The Spinoff’s weekly pop culture newsletter Rec Room. Sign up here.

Idris Elba ambles through Dubai Airport in slacks, sneakers and an open jacket. He’s holding nothing more than his passport, a boarding pass and a gift bag for his wife. With the effortless cool that’s carried him through several decades worth of movies, TV shows, Bond rumours and Coachella DJ stages, Elba exudes the kind of quiet confidence I can only dream of pulling off. I could watch him walk like this for hours.

Yet Elba’s Sam Nelson is clearly late for his flight. As he makes it through his boarding gate just in time, he comes to the aid of a passenger running even later than him. “Miss, how bad can it be?” he says, flashing his movie star smile at a flight attendant. She lifts the barrier. The man makes it through. Elba chalks up another win. In the background, Sam Cooke’s ‘Trouble Blues’ predicts rough skies ahead.

This chill doesn’t last. How could it? Hijack, Apple TV+’s intense new action series, is called Hijack for a very good reason. Pretty soon, five gun-toting gangsters have taken control of Nelson’s six-hour flight to London and are terrorising the plane’s 200 passengers. By the end of the first episode, the pilot is no longer in control of his plane, the co-pilot’s had her nose smashed in, the Wi-Fi’s been turned off, and a border agent appears to be in very big trouble back home.

Nelson is at the centre of it all. As a business negotiator trying to get home to his family, Elba’s perfect for this role. Like Liam Neeson in the Taken trilogy or Keanu Reeves in John Wick, at 50 he’s at the exact right age and stage of his career to play the guy who doesn’t want problems, but will step up if it comes his way. On this flight, there are plenty of trouble blues that will require his special set of skills to sort out.

Hijack isn’t a demanding TV show. This isn’t a multiverse epic requiring you to dive into the forums. There aren’t going to be seven seasons and a spinoff. It’s a minimalist story that wrings all the tension it can out of a pretty simple setup. Over seven episodes, classic TV cliches are used: goodies and villains switch sides, Elba plays off all of them, and every episode ends with the kind of cliffhanger that leaves you gasping and desperately pressing play on the next one. Suddenly, it’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up for work in five hours. It’s thrillingly addictive.

They used to make this kind of TV all the time. In the early 2000s, Kiefer Sutherland’s stalled career was revived by playing Jack Bauer in 24, an action series told in real-time. I still remember the feeling that theme tune – a series of bleeps getting faster and faster – used to give me every time I hit play on another set of borrowed boxset DVDs. Homeland, a natural successor, took that format and gave it a prestige TV makeover. When the peak TV era came in, action shows fell away. Punching someone straight in the face felt like a low blow up against The Sopranos or The Wire.

Right now, just like Sutherland’s career, the humble action show has been given a reboot. They’re everywhere at the moment: Prime Video has Jack Ryan, Citadel, Reacher and The Terminal List. Netflix has The Witcher and the Extraction film series. Neon has Steven Soderbergh’s excellent Full Circle, and the UK crime saga Gangs of London. Sutherland’s returned to the genre he helped pioneer with Rabbit Hole, which debuted on TVNZ+ recently. Even Arnie himself has fired up his pecs again for Fubar, a Netflix series that marks Schwarzenegger’s first proper TV role.

But none of those shows were set almost entirely on board a passenger flight. That’s the ace up Hijack’s sleeve. Most of us have had some kind of shake or shudder during a long haul flight. Anyone who’s ever flown into Wellington knows how scary landing a plane can be. Hijack will throw your nerves into a tailspin so be warned: you may not want to catch a flight for a while once you’re onboard. If you do need to, cue up ‘Trouble Blues’ and attempt to channel your inner Idris Elba. If my plane was taken over by hijackers, I’d want someone that cool in a seat close by.

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