Review: ‘The Blue Angels’ (2024), starring Brian Kesselring, Christopher Kapuschansky, Scott Goossens, Frank Zastoupil, Cary Rickoff, Julius Bratton, Monica Borza and Amanda Lee

May 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “The Blue Angels” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Content Services)

“The Blue Angels” (2024)

Directed by Paul Crowder

Culture Representation: The documentary film “The Blue Angels” (filmed mostly in 2022) features a predominantly white group of U.S. military people (with a few African Americans, Asian and Latin people) talking about the Blue Angels, an elite group of military plane pilots who tour the country for entertainment shows for the public.

Culture Clash: Being a Blue Angels pilot involves grueling physical demands and sacrifices in the pilots’ personal lives.

Culture Audience: “The Blue Angels” will appeal primarily to people interested in military pilot documentaries that have stunning aerial visuals but viewers should not expect to get a “warts and all” inside look at the Blue Angels.

A scene from “The Blue Angels” with Brian Kesselring (center) in a meeting (Photo courtesy of Amazon Content Services)

“The Blue Angels” is more of a glossy promotional video than an insightful documentary. This movie excels in giving viewers entertaining aerial views of the Blue Angels in action. The personal profiles of the individual Blue Angels are nice but bland. This documentary is for people who watch “Top Gun” movies mainly for the action scenes in the air, not the drama on the ground. It doesn’t try to pretend to be a groundbreaking documentary, so in that sense, “The Blue Angels” is a movie that is exactly what it appears to be.

Directed by Paul Crowder, “The Blue Angels” (which was filmed mostly in 2022) might attract some viewers who know that J.J. Abrams and “Top Gun: Maverick” co-star Glen Powell are among the producers of the documentary. (Abrams and Powell are not in this documentary.) The movie’s concept is simple: Show what happens in the year of the life of the Blue Angels, a team of elite military pilots and supporting staffers who travel about 300 days a year to do entertainment shows for the public. There are about 165 Blue Angels in any given year.

Formed in 1946, the Blue Angels are famous for their specialty of doing high-flying airplane stunts in precise synchronicity. Most of the Blue Angels are in the U.S. Navy, but there are small numbers of U.S. Marines who are able to become Blue Angels. In addition to entertaining the public (at the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron shows), the Blue Angels are involved in charities and educational work, which includes Blue Angels members visiting schools and hospitals.

The Blue Angels who are the most prominently featured in the documentary are Brian Kesselring (flight leader, #1); Christopher Kapuschansky (right wingman, #2); Scott Goossens (left wingman, #3); Frank Zastoupil (slot pilot, #4), the only U.S. Marine for the 2022 Blue Angels flight pilots; Cary Rickoff (lead solo, #5); Julius Bratton (opposing solo, #6); Monica Borza (flight surgeon); Alexander P. Armitas (incoming flight leader); and Amanda Lee (incoming pilot). Also featured in this “Blue Angels” movie are Blue Angels retired veterans Greg Woolridge and Gil Rud.

The documentary doesn’t give viewers much insight into the lives of the individual Blue Angels who get the most screen time. “The Blue Angels” mostly shows them at work, such as some of the training classes, group meetings and while they are flying in the sky. Some of them talk about the excitement and the monotony of training; what inspired them to become a Blue Angel; and to the physical challenges of the job.

For example, a huge risk of being a Blue Angel (or any job that involves piloting an air vehicle at high altitudes in high-velocity speeds) is getting a rush of blood to the head that can cause unconsciousness. There is also the risk of miscalculating certain angles and turns, which could be deadly mistakes. There is a brief tribute to the Blue Angels who died on the job—particularly Jeff Kuss, who died in an accident in 2016 and who was a beloved colleague of many of the people featured in this documentary.

The last third of “The Blue Angels” offers glimpses into the selection process of who will be the pilots for the 2023 Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron and who will be the flight leader replacing Kesselring, whose term as flight leader ended in 2022. Lee is shown becoming the first female pilot for the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron during this selection process. (In 1975, Rosemary Mariner of the U.S. Navy was the first woman to fly a U.S. military tactical jet.)

Although many of Lee’s colleagues congratulate Lee for being the first female pilot for the Blue Angels’ Flight Demonstration Squadron, there is absolutely no candid discussion of sexism as the reason why the Blue Angels took this long to let a female pilot join their Flight Demonstration Squadron. Those are unpleasant but realistic details that this documentary completely ignores. No one in the documentary comments on these obvious sexism issues, probably because the filmmakers didn’t ask about these issues.

Brian Kesselring (who grew up in North Dakota) has a few very wholesome scenes showing him at home with his wife Ashley Kesselring (who is a major in the U.S. Navy) and their kids. As a basketball player in high school, Brian Kesselring says he dreamed of becoming a Blue Angel, but he mistakenly thought he might be too tall for the job. Like the other Blue Angels in the documentary, Brian Kesselring has a pleasant personality and says generic things. He comments on what it means to be a Blue Angel: “You’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing a whole bunch of people.”

There is really nothing unflattering shown about these Blue Angels, which is why the documentary looks too much like a public relations tool. The flying sequences are the best part of the movie and are the main reasons to see this documentary. Sure, a few of these Blue Angels talk about their fears and insecurities about failing in this job or about being away from their loved ones for long periods of time. But if you believe everything in this documentary, these Blue Angels are unrealistically “squeaky clean” and everyone on the team is like a family that gets along with each other. It’s really too good to be true.

And just like the “Top Gun” movies, “The Blue Angels” documentary has a very good selection of soundtrack songs to go along with the high-voltage action. In “The Blue Angels,” standout soundtrack songs include Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” and the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Viewers who watch “The Blue Angels” should expect only to get a very selective peek into the behind-the-scenes dynamics of this military operation. The movie’s real appeal is what the Blue Angels do best when they’re flying in the sky.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Blue Angels” in select U.S. cinemas (exclusively on IMAX screens) on May 17, 2024. Prime Video will premiere the movie on May 24, 2024.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix