Hijack Review: Idris Elba Does His Best Gerard Butler

Apple TV+'s real time plane action drama Hijack is a fun vehicle for Idris Elba to do his thing.

Idris Elba in "Hijack," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Photo: Apple TV+

This Hijack review contains no spoilers.

Who remembers the last time we got a gripping airplane thriller with an intense script and a charismatic lead actor? Well, hopefully, many of you since Jean-Francois Richet’s B flick, Plane, starring Gerard Butler, has only come out at the beginning of the year, and it was a surprisingly enjoyable ride. Apple TV+’s latest 7-part miniseries, Hijack, aims to ride a similar, if more high-level, wave, and for the most part, it does it with utter confidence thanks to its sharp writing and a surly Idris Elba as its lead.

The hook for Hijack to attract viewers is a plot that unfolds in real-time (each episode covering about an hour of a 7-hour flight from Dubai to London) featuring an accomplished, mostly British cast, including regulars like Neil Maskell, Max Beesley, and Ben Miles. Of course, the main appeal of George Kay and Jim Field Smith’s miniseries is its nail-biting high-concept premise of the hijacking itself, which begins as a carefully constructed masterplan and ends by going off the rails as we get close to its final hour. Elba plays Sam Nelson, a skilled business negotiator who instead of trying to become a hero offers to work with the bad guys to execute and achieve their mission without any casualties.

Hijack largely succeeds because it dances around clichés with finesse. Sam isn’t your typical, easily likeable protagonist. His personal life is in shambles which carries over to his general demeanor: He’s morose, sulky, and keeps to himself. The very reason he’s on this flight is his inability to take no for an answer, which might help him in his work but tends to derail his close relationships. Sam is going back to London to make up with his estranged ex-wife, who’s already planning her future with another man. It’s evident from the beginning that she wants nothing to do with him, but he boards the plane anyway, knowing his marriage is long gone. That stubborn insistence is what helps him keep his cool and negotiate with a bunch of pale criminals.

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What Hijack lacks in action makes up for in wit. The writers are deft enough to keep us guessing about the criminal group’s intentions (whether they’re terrorists or not) and provide a little more than surface-level backstories for some of the passengers who end up in (or near) the line of fire. Keeping the panic, fear, and desperate reactions grounded and realistic, the series is astonishingly competent in delivering a very plausible scenario. Although the show is kind of the TV equivalent of a summer blockbuster, it makes us invest just enough emotion to relate to every hostage and feel the weight of terror they’re all subjected to for several hours.

Due to its long-form structure — seven episodes is a lot for a simple premise like this and could’ve been easily cut down to five — Hijack doesn’t rush things to escalate. But once they do, the series switches gears and raises the stakes rapidly. As soon as we fasten our seatbelts, there’s no stopping the tension-filled and turbulent atmosphere, and the people handling (and affected by) the hijacking on the ground become major players just like the ones on board. However, after carefully balancing the screen time between sky and land in the first half, the scale begins to tip over toward unnecessary drama and incompetence rather than thrill and consistency. As the situation turns more heated, the decision-makers in their fancy offices become a little too clueless and oversimplified, given their high positions and the knowledge they should possess. Thankfully, though, the tension in the air barely decreases due to their slight incompetency.

However, the fewer the surprises — although there are more of them than you’d expect — the more the show turns into a Gerard Butler-esque B movie where the “suspension of disbelief” switches from lightly recommended to highly necessary. The good news is that despite the stupidest moves and most implausible gimmicks, the series’ entertainment factor remains mostly intact, even if the villains and heroes shift beyond the realism the show confidently maintained for its vast majority. Regardless, thanks to Elba’s charismatic, no-bullshit lead performance, a strong supporting cast, and a twisty, well-orchestrated plot, Hijack is captivating and good television you won’t regret investing your time in.

The first two episodes of Hijack are available to stream on Apple TV+ now. New episodes premiere on Wednesday through August 2.


3.5 out of 5