Review: Air Force Documentary The Blue Angels Chronicles Intense Training, Family Stress of Elite Pilots

Executive produced by the likes of J.J. Abrams and Glen Powell, the documentary The Blue Angels follows the path of current members, veterans, and potential recruits of the Navy and Marine Corps flight squadron whose existence is meant to display the greatest the military flying world has to offer. Pulled from the ranks and serving a three-year terms before being rotated out, the members of the Blue Angels are put through some of the most rigorous flight training imaginable, all of which is shown in this impressive, if fairly standard-issue, film. Through a series of interviews, we learn about the challenges of the training and show seasons of this flight demonstration squadron, as well as the ins and outs of the team-building and passion needed to carry out their dangerous maneuvers on a regular basis.

The film just finished its one-week run in IMAX theaters, and I can certainly see the visual benefits of such a presentation, but it still works on smaller screens, mostly because the enthusiasm, pride, and fear comes across quite clearly. Directed by accomplished documentary editor Paul Crowder (whose work can be seen in the upcoming Jim Henson doc, Idea Man), The Blue Angels doesn’t shy away from the most dangerous elements of these demonstrations, including the 27 pilots and crew members who have died in crashes. Admittedly, it’s difficult to watch the movie and not wonder if the risk is worth it, which is a question best left answered by the pilots themselves. Nothing about being in this program is mandatory, so they all clearly want to be there, if only to enhance their flying skills.

The film even takes the time to dive into the impact being a part of the program has on family life, since the aviators must move to Pensacola, Fla., for three years, putting a strain on spouses and often young children. The film may come across a bit too much like a promotional tool or straight propaganda for the Air Force, but there are some moments when that clearly isn’t the case. If for no other reason, the assignment allows each participant to learn how to take constructive criticism and use it to improve their performance.

There is a group within the Blue Angels called Flight Surgeons who do nothing but look for the smallest mistakes in the routines and call them out in daily group meetings in which footage is analyzed and scrutinized. The training process is the most interesting part of the journey, and thankfully the filmmakers seem to agree and give us plenty to obsess over. Whether you are here for the spectacle of it all or for the technical details of the experience, there’s something in The Blue Angels for everyone.

The film is now streaming on Prime Video.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.