The Blue Angels showcases breathtaking aerial feats and a ruthless pursuit of perfection

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The US Navy’s elite aerobatic squadron gets the full-length documentary treatment in The Blue Angels – streaming on Prime Video. Daniel Rutledge gets airborne with these aerial artists and daring pilots.

Paul Crowder’s cinematic love letter to the US Navy’s premier aerobatic demo squadron aims to soar high above the clouds. It serves up a hearty helping of American patriotism and breathtaking aerial feats as a visually stunning document of extreme human and technological excellence.

Rather than being sent on global combat missions, the Blue Angels instead tour North America performing airshows to drum up jingoism and promote the military, and this film emphasises the men and women who don the blue and gold more than the airshows themselves. This narrative approach makes sense—you can just watch airshows on YouTube if that’s all you’re after. The Blue Angels certainly does deliver gorgeous footage of jets flying mere inches apart in high-speed formations, with the dizzying aerobatics captured with a visual fidelity that is often spectacular. But it also asks—beyond the ultra-modern aviation tech—how are such feats achieved?

Through a relentless pursuit of perfection. This documentary showcases a lot of the intense training, with highlights including brutal exposure to G-force and a scene where the pilots sit in a room and mentally run through an entire airshow with each other, verbally and physically, all the while with their eyes firmly closed. It emphasises the almost superhuman level of timing and synchronicity this team share with each other. Their camaraderie and life-dependant trust in each other is also well portrayed, including through quirky, supremely American gestures, rituals and sayings they love busting out.

It’s moving seeing the first-ever female pilot earn a spot on the team and to learn of the concerningly large number of Blue Angels who have died in plane crashes over the years. Even when you’re in one of the most elite aerobatics squadrons in the world, even when you spend at least a whole year training with the best trainers the US has to offer, flying jets like this is still an extremely dangerous feat to pull off.

Being released so shortly after the megahit Top Gun: Maverick positions this documentary as a sort of real-life counterpart. But of course the obedient, professional Top Guns of the real world are nothing like the loveable old renegade Maverick, and what we see of the Blue Angels doesn’t quite have the dramatic oomph of that lega-sequel. Despite what the fictional movies tell us about rule-breaking rogues being the best of the best, it’s good having a big dose of reality demonstrate what it actually takes. Try acting like Hudson does in Aliens in any real military in the world and you’d last about five seconds.

The clean-cut style makes this documentary an easy, inoffensive movie to watch with pretty much anyone from grandparents to little kids. It’s an earnest, sweet look into the lives of aviators that will be inspiring for many younger viewers who respond well to stories of childhood dreams being turned into reality through hard work. And for more cynical adult viewers, there is joy to be found in the pure spectacle of such wildly impressive aerobatic stunts.