Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Blue Angels, in IMAX

There is most assuredly a heated rivalry between Naval aviators and Air Force pilots, but when it comes to recognition and popularity, the Navy’s aerobatic flight squadron, the Blue Angels have the overwhelming advantage over their Air Force counterparts, the Thunderbirds. Those blue planes with the yellow trim are just so cool looking. Yet, their sporty paint jobs serve a practical purpose, because the yellow wing-tips should line-up when the Angels are flying in the classic diamond formation. Getting the squadron to that point takes a lot of work, as viewers see in Paul Crowder’s documentary, The Blue Angels, which opens this Friday on IMAX screens (before releasing on Prime Video the following Thursday).

There have been Blue Angels films before (including one written by Frank Herbert), but this was the first time civilian camera planes were allowed inside their flight performance “box.” The aerial camera team previously shot
Top Gun: Maverick, so they had credibility. (Plus, Maverick co-star Glen Powell, who also appeared in Devotion, signed on as an executive producer.) The Blue Angels are even more selective than the Top Gun school at Miramar, but pilots only serve one three-year tour (although some have been brought back), so new team-members come into the squadron every year. As the documentary opens, Captain Brian Kesserling (“Boss”) and the rest of the Angels help train new right wingman Christopher Kapuschansky the formations and flight plans that make up the Blue Angels’ exhibition shows.

Crowder does a fantastic job explaining each pilots’ role in the formation. Kesserling (#1) and the second senior pilot, Major Frank Zastoupil (#4) fly in the front and back slots of the diamond, while #2 and #3 fly the wings. Meanwhile, #5 and #6 are considered “soloists,” but they also perform the spectacularly close passes, before joining with the diamond formation to form a delta.

You can get a decent layman’s understand of the Blue Angels’ routines, but the real attraction of the film are the gorgeous aerial shots. Aerial photography directors Lance Benson and Michael FitzMaurice did some amazing work. There is a reason why this film is on IMAX screens. Even when pilots are talking about their training, Crowder usually shows us cool shots of the jets in action. We also see some scenes of the pilots on the home front. These humanize the pilots, but they are not exactly revelatory.

Crowder’s film has plenty of eye-popping sequences, but it forthrightly acknowledges the Blue Angeles who were killed in action (including four who died in combat, while attached to the squadron). This is a dangerous assignment, but they clearly believe it is worth the risk. Frankly, nobody in the documentary says this, but I will. Hopefully, the Blue Angels are in the heads of every Russian MiG when they fly into international airspace. Obviously, the Blue Angels have much more advanced and specialized training than the average Naval aviator, but presumably they all started with the same basic flight training.

The Blue Angels is exactly the kind of film so many people are hungry for. It is a big (literally) sympathetic profile of the U.S. military, featuring some totally crowd-pleasing flying scenes. You have to wonder why it took so long for a film like The Blue Angels to hit theaters, considering the monster box-office of Top Gun: Maverick. As the son of a late Naval aviator, I am impressed with the authenticity and the execution. Very highly recommended, The Blue Angels opens this Friday (5/17) in IMAX theaters, including the AMC Lincoln Square in New York. Go Navy!