Movies That Hate You: Firefox

At the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, the Russians develop a superfighter called the MiG-31 Firefox.  It has capabilities far beyond any US or NATO aircraft, and carries a thought-controlled weapons system.  NATO has decided to steal this aircraft, and send Captain Buckholz to recruit Mitchell Gant, who is considered to be the best pilot that could fly the Russian MiG.  The trouble is, Gant has retired, and has been suffering from PTSD from a mission where a young Vietnamese girl died in a napalm attack before his eyes.  Reluctantly, Gant accepts the mission.

He takes on the guise of Leon Sprague, who is an international drug smuggler.  He is followed by the KGB, and eventually runs into the real Leon Sprague, who is murdered shortly thereafter.  Gant assumes a new identity, thanks to his compatriots, and continues his travels.  At the metro station, Sprague is cornered by a KGB agent who sees through Gant’s disguise.  Gant kills him and his compatriots escape.

Gant is then given a new identity as a Russian delivery person, driving with a Russian insurgent.  After driving 600 miles, Gant departs from the van, and meets with Dr. Semelovski.  He drives to the Russian testing area, where Gant meets the Baronovich family.  They explain the Firefox systems to Gant and provide him with a GRU Officer’s uniform.  Gant infiltrates the base, speaking fluent Russian, and sees the Firefox plane for the first time.

He goes to the shower and confronts Colonel Voskov.  Gant subdues him, but spares his life.  He ties up Voskov and waits in the shower for the signal.  The diversion takes place, but Gant has a PTSD attack, and he misses his chance.  Russian Intelligence deduced the plot and kill Baronovich and Semelovski.  It would be during this calm that Gant would appear in full flight gear and steal the Firefox out of the hangar.  Kontarsky, leading the security detachment, tries to stop him, but fails.

The First Secretary of Russia contacts Gant and threatens him with his life if he does not return, but Gant rebuffs him.  He then turns over tactical control to General Vladamirov, who formulates a plan to shoot down Gant.  The plan is implemented, but fails.  Vladamirov tries a blockade of sorts, but Gant has now acclimated himself with the Firefox’s thought controlled weapons and wins.  Gant manages to make his refueling point: an iceberg with a submarine sticking out of it.

Colonel Voskov, now freed, flies the 2nd Firefox and catches Gant quickly because of this craft’s ability to refuel in the air, whereas Gant can only refuel on the ground.  Voskov attacks Gant, and the two fight a pitched battle in the skies.  Gant is at a disadvantage; his missiles are the standard Russian missiles, whereas Voskov’s missiles were designed for use on the Firefox.  Gant avoids an attack by going into a flat spin.  He manages to recover, and Voskov acknowledges that the debt he owed Gant (for not killing him earlier) had been repaid.  Gant, realizing that he still had the rear defense system, tries to fire, but he does not think in Russian.  Once he remembers, the rear defense port fires and kills Voskov on the first volley.

With no more enemies to worry about, Gant sets course for the United States.

Review and Analysis:

This is a very dated movie.  In the 1980s, America’s psyche was still languishing due to the defeats their military suffered from Korea and Vietnam.  The embargoes by OPEC and the hostage crisis in Iran also took their toll.  The election of Ronald Reagan held the promise that America would not suffer fools lightly ever again.  Reagan and the military turned their attention towards the Russian threat and attempted to outspend them at every turn.  And movies like this were spawned to highlight the Russian Threat.

“Godless” Communism at Work, Again:

Since the 1950s, one of the memes that were peddled was that the Soviets were evil because, among other things, they did not believe in God.  When the “Red Scare” took hold at that time, the Pledge of Allegiance was had a line change, from “One Nation, Indivisible” to “One Nation, UNDER GOD, Indivisible” as a means to reinforce this meme.

During the time period, it became easy to portray the Soviet Russians as being evil incarnate because of such a popularized belief.  Pretty ironic since Russia and its satellite countries are mostly Christian and Catholic denominated, although they also have a sizable population that worships Islam.

The reason for this is because one of the underlying themes of this movie was that the Russians really hate Jews.  Maybe not to levels seen since the 1930s in Germany, but enough that the Russians were going to kill the scientists after the Firefox was completed.  Maybe one has to be a student of history of Jews in Russia, but this does not seem to make much sense, especially in the context of the movie.

And, no, this is not the browser:

Although geeks and nerds will often joke about the Firefox browser and its confusion with the Firefox movie.  The Firefox browser, however, took the Internet by storm, and has become the non-bundled browser of choice.

The Motives of All Parties Involved:

Dr. Semelovsky and Natalia Baronovich. I should point out that the actors for Semelovsky and Natalia's husband aren't Russian.

The Russian Jews (Baronovich and Semelovski) are portrayed as being heroic because they are helping the Americans get this superfighter despite the personal risk.  However, if you stop and think about it, their motives are somewhat selfish.  They seem to happily design and build a super-fighter for their homeland.  If the Russians hated Jews as much as they harp on in this movie, one wonders why the Baronovich family or Semelovski would even work under such conditions.

The implication throughout the movie was that Kontarsky was going to take the Jewish scientists into custody after the Firefox had been successfully tested, either to be sent someplace far (like Siberia) or simply killed.  So, in retaliation, they work with the Americans to steal a working prototype of the Firefox plane.  Call me cynical, but if the Russians offered to send the Baronovich family and Semelovski to a paid vacation resort home, disappearing out of Russian society and away from the prying eyes of the world’s intelligence community, one wonders if they would even bother contacting the Americans in the first place.

The Americans want to steal the plane because they have nothing like it in their own arsenal.  The big fear was that the Soviet Union would be able to mass produce the Firefox and dominate the skies above Europe.  The combat ceiling of the craft makes it able to intercept and shoot down even the B-52 Stratofortress.  It’s faster than any aircraft in the sky at that time (including the US SR-71 Blackbird and YF-12 Blackbird Fighter concept).  It is also invisible to radar systems and hard to track using Infrared tracking systems.  But since the only American involved in the human intelligence portion is Mitchell Gant, any other “assets” were considered to be expendable.  So that means all the Russians not involved, the Russian Jews, and the sympathetic Russian compatriots are nothing more than pawns in political intrigue.

Based on Real Life Events:

This movie is loosely based on the actual Russian MiG-25 Foxbat fighter.  Developed in the 1970s, the Russians boasted of Mach 3 speeds, supersonic turning capabilities and a combat ceiling of over 70,000 feet.  This sent the US scrambling to catch up, leading to the development of the F-15 Eagle and the AIM-54 Phoenix missile system for the F-14 fighter.

In 1975, a Russian pilot defecting the United States stole a MiG-25 fighter and landed at Tokyo’s International Airport.  The US quickly scooped up the plane and examined it in detail.  While the MiG-25 was an exceptional plane, they found most of the claims being made somewhat overblown (it CAN make Mach 3, but it cannot carry any firepower doing so).

We’re Not Supposed to Worry About:

Leon Sprague (left), with Pavel. In less than a minute, Leon will be taking a long swim in a nearby river.

Leon Sprague’s death, because he was a drug smuggler.  But, the intelligence community uses Sprague as a forward cover for Mitchell Gant.  Why such a maneuver was necessary, one can only guess.  It would seem that they planned on killing Sprague to “cover” Gant’s tracks – which doesn’t work, anyhow.

Nor, are we to keep track of all the Russians Gant and the Russian Military powers kill.  The pilots aboard the recon jet never had any chance whatsoever for survival, but Gant kills them to cover an escape from 3 heat-seekers.  He also kills the pilots of two naval choppers…just because.

This is the last time Boris (in background) will be with his wife. And it's not his fault.

And, Boris Glasenov dies in KGB custody from torturous interrogation, because Mitchell Gant assumes his identity.  He was not part of the resistance movement in any way, and leaves behind a widow, and kids.

But Gant gets away from the Russians with a multi-billion Ruble fighter plane that is, in essence, stolen property.

Who’s the villain of this story again?

Side-Whitefacing:

Blackfacing, Redfacing, and Yellowfacing are not the only problems that Hollywood has.  There has been a casting failure for decades, where American actors and actresses are not cast in the roles of villains.  Instead, that job falls to European actors in cases where it would not be deemed “acceptable” to cast a Man (or Woman) of Color as the villain.

Kenneth Colley, probably glad he doesn't have Vader for a boss anymore.

And, on top of this, roles for Russians are rarely played by Russian or Slavic actors/actresses.  If the role is supposed to be sympathetic, the role is usually given to a British actor.  If the role is one of an antagonist, the role will probably go to a German or Austrian actor, who will most likely attempt to fake a Russian accent.  The only Russian actually played by a Russian is Mrs. Baronovich.  Her husband is played by a British actor (Nigel Hawthorne).  The main Russian antagonists are played mostly by German and Austrian actors, although there are some British actors there.  Colonel Voskov, for example, is played by Kai Wulff, who spent most of his Hollywood career playing cardboard cutout villains for American prime-time action shows in the 1980s.  The other is Colonel Kontarsky, played by Kenneth Colley, best known in America for his role as Admiral Diett from the Star Wars franchise.

Your best Russian pilot is...German?

The Only Good Thing About this Movie:

Two fighters flying in the sky in an American movie and no techno is playing in the background?

The final battle between Mitchell Gant and Colonel Voskov in the two Firefox fighters takes place with no dialog or banter between them, and there is no “pulse pounding” techno soundtrack playing in the background.  This movie was made before Hollywood decided on added more White Noise to the background of movies, and while Firefox is rather dated, this is one anachronism that helps Firefox as a movie to watch.

The Broken Record:

No people of color in this movie whatsoever.  No women of color, no Black women.

In Conclusion:

Firefox the movie is a romp during the halcyon days when the US considered itself to be righteous and good fighting the evils of Soviet Communism, which threatened not only Political and Personal Freedom, but Religious Freedom as well.  However, with about 30 years of history from the time of the movie’s release, it would seem that Firefox, as something other than a typical Hollywood American Action Thriller, falls flat.  The effects are typical of the era.

The Side-Whitefacing doesn’t help this movie, and the pseudo-religious motivations of the Russians and the spiteful retaliation by the Russian Jews make the movie somewhat less enjoyable.  This movie also marks one of Clint Eastwood’s last mindless action thrillers before he starts making movies that deconstruct the action hero (like Unforgiven).

Also bringing the movie down is the only female role of the movie.  She was supposed to be one of the scientists who works on developing the Firefox fighter, but since she is the wife of Dr. Baronovich as well, she spends the movie looking lovingly at her husband.  Thus, she does nothing on her own initiative.  This was, however, typical of the 1980s action movies.

If you want to root for something, then let it be for the score by Maurice Jarre.  It is very understated and even handles the change from Spy-vs-Spy to Top Gun very well.

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6 Responses to Movies That Hate You: Firefox

  1. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Star Wars: A New Hope | Loose Cannon

  2. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Iron Eagle | Loose Cannon

  3. “And, on top of this, roles for Russians are rarely played by Russian or Slavic actors/actresses.”

    It’s sort of understandable. Many of the Slavic actors were, well, behind the Iron Curtain at this point and not exactly able to leave easily. Also, a director is going to prefer someone he or she can direct without using a translator.

    You can also find a surprising number of Western actors of Slavic origin in some form – Helen Mirren is half-Russian, while Yul Brynner was actually born in the USSR.

    It’s better these days of course.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Part one is certainly not true.

      Start with this article.

      This is the money paragraph:

      Even with this great number of Russians and their descendants in Hollywood, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, a rather curious situation developed. Russian roles in films were given to Croats, Poles, and Arabs. In all anti-soviet action films, Russian was spoken with bad mispronunciations. Even to this day, many in the U.S. consider the Egypt-born Omar Sharif to be the best Russian actor. This general trend of several past decades is discomforting especially because many actually-Russian actors, such as M. Barushnikov, O. Vidov, N. Andreichenko, S. Kramarov, and B. Sichkin, lived in Hollywood at that time.

      That was the kind of situation that I referred to. Especially given that Firefox was released in 1982. The thing is, some of the actors in Firefox are actually Russian. The “starring” roles, however, are not. This is a common Hollywood failing, by the way, and not just with Russian/Slavic roles.

  4. I was referring to Slavic nationals rather than Slavic-Americans, but your point is very valid and I stand corrected. The fact that I’ve never heard of these actors says something and it’s not a nice something.

    Many of the Slavic actors that we do see on Western screens today usually were born in the West or left their countries of birth at a young age. It’s also worth thinking about how many CIS characters in Bond are actually played by CIS nationals.

  5. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Die Hard | Loose Cannon

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