You know the man, you know the legend, you know the shoe, but do you know the story of how the shoe, and the legend, became one? Air has got you. About six years ago, this film writer was walking along Oxford Street when he noticed the biggest queue outside a shop he’d ever seen. Hundreds of people – teenagers and adults alike – standing patiently for the doors to fly open and to be let inside to be some of the first to grab a new collector’s item. That item was a new pair of Air Jordans. Limited to one per customer, fans were trying to persuade strangers to join the queue and get them a second pair for a reward, just so they had a spare. Or, of course, to resell them. The point is, Air Jordans, even to this very day, are such a must-have in people’s lives that they queue for hours to get their hands on the latest design. However, back in 1984, such an invention was only a pipedream.

Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is a sports executive tasked with helping Nike’s basketball division find their next big player to sponsor so they can compete with the giants at Converse and Adidas, who have snapped up the best of the best including rookie Michael Jordan, seen as the sport’s next big thing. Undeterred by the looming monoliths at the rival brands, Vaccaro believes Jordan’s talents are unlike anything ever seen before and plots an idea: to have him become the face (well, feet) of Nike and design a shoe for him to wear exclusively. CEO Phil Knight (a permed Ben Affleck), marketing executive Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), and field rep Howard White (Chris Tucker) think Vaccaro is mad but he may have an “in” to convince him to join: Jordan’s mother, Doloris (Viola Davis).

Up front, it’s probably best to say this isn’t Jordan’s story (someone will surely tell that one day). He’s part of it, of course, but smartly Affleck and Co keep him in the background, only seen from behind or with his face obscured by others but his presence, as ever, is still integral. If anything, this is Vaccaro’s story, his long-running career in the industry changing the life of many but his greatest achievement was still in front of him. A mighty risk to bet the house on one player, a rookie at that, Vaccaro’s enthusiasm and desire to “tackle his Goliath” is brilliantly portrayed by Damon with his usual everyman persona, the driving force that makes the film work. Flanked by Davis, Bateman, Affleck and Chris Tucker (always good to see him doing his thing), and Chris Messina, it’s an ensemble of the highest order and each of their talents and skills raises the film out of by-the-numbers territory into an exciting, welcoming slam dunk.

For Affleck, now five films deep into his directorial career, Air shares much with those that have gone before but this is a different beast, both a showstopper and a crowd-pleaser and it’s a joy to watch. Beginning with a typically buoyant montage of 1984’s highlights (Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, the Olympics, Apple Macintosh, MTV) accompanied by the very apt Money For Nothing by Dire Straits, we are propelled back in time and we never forget it throughout with Affleck’s incisive, propulsive direction almost bopping along to its 80s soundtrack. This is a film of different artistry to Gone Baby Gone, for example, but working some of those other muscles to such a brilliant degree that it’s hard not to be swept up in the pleasing aesthetics of it all. Truly, it’s like walking on air.