While on routine patrol over disputed airspace, an American F-16 flight is attacked by MiG-23s. Colonel Masters manages to shoot down a MiG before his partner is hit and is forced to return to base. He is then shot down by one of the MiGs.
Across the world, a young boy named Doug with an affinity for listening to music leaves his house on an Air Force base and heads out to a burger joint and meets his friends. Unfortunately, as his girlfriend was pulling into the same drive-up place, she is harassed by some of the local neighborhood bullies. They attempt to goad him into running a race called “The Snake.” At the same time, Doug’s younger brother shows up with a letter from the Air Force Academy, which rejected Doug’s application. The local bullies taunt Doug over the PA system, and Doug agrees to fly The Snake.
When Doug arrives at the airport, he finds an older black man working on his plane. He seems to know what Doug is going to do, and cautions Doug about what happens. The two teams discuss the rules, but one of the city locals sabotages Doug’s plane. The race begins, and Knotcher cheats by taking a shortcut. Doug responds by making risky maneuvers and the sabotage that Knotcher did makes Doug’s plane smoke badly. Doug manages to beat Knotcher in the end and Doug attacks him after he lands the plane.
One of Doug’s friends rushes to the airport and tells him that his father has been shot down and he heads back to the base. After meeting with his mother, Doug storms to see Colonel Blackburn, who explains to Doug what occurred that day, and laments that no one is willing to use military action to bring him back the US. His mother consoles him, and his friends try to cheer him up.
Back in the un-named Muslim Country, Colonel Masters is held on trial, as the Leader of the Tribunal threatens to kill him. At the prom, what was supposed to be a good time turns to turmoil when one of Doug’s friends inform him that his father will probably be executed. The next morning, Doug decides to take his mind off of things by sneaking into the F-16 simulator. When he finishes, he finds the older black man who fixed his plane was waiting outside.
Doug strikes up a conversation, and we learn that he is a Colonel currently serving in the Air Force reserve. Doug attempts to cajole him to helping him rescue his father, but ends up insulting his sensibilities. The Colonel sets him down.
At his high school graduation, the speech given by the valedictorian makes Doug reminisce about flying with his father, who admonished him for his childish antics. After the ceremony, Doug’s mother gives him the bad news: Colonel Masters will be executed in a few days.
Back in the un-named country, the Leader comes down to offer Colonel Masters an agreement to sign a confession and be spared. Masters, however, defiantly refuses.
Back at the base, Doug gets the crew together and concocts a plan to rescue his father. All of his friends, Air Force brats themselves, take advantage of their knowledge and their parents’ sensibilities to procure intelligence, fighter specs, and armament types. Gathering all of the information, Doug heads over to the Colonel’s house. Doug is rather panicky, but the Colonel is level-headed about it; the Colonel had been working on a plan of his own. Also, the Colonel thinks better when he is listening to his own music.
After a brisk run and shower, Doug and the Colonel head out to a restaurant, and we learn that the Colonel had met Doug’s father in the middle of a misunderstanding. Doug’s father, however, treated the Colonel with respect, and he has never forgotten it.
Back in un-named Muslim Country, Colonel Masters is being assaulted by one of the guards, while the Leader once again asks for the signed confession. The Leader admires Colonel Masters for his courage.
The next morning at the Air Force base, Doug and Chappy (the Colonel) take off in a trainer Falcon. Doug hot dogs most of the maneuvers until Chappy forces Doug to turn off his music. At the training range, Doug misses the targets on his run, and Chappy orders him to return to the base. Doug, however, decides to turn the music back on and destroys all of the targets in short order. When they return back, Chappy and Doug’s friends work out the final details of the plan.
When Doug fails to go to sleep before the mission, Chappy shows him an album of those he served with who died in combat. After some reassurance, Chappy and Doug share a light moment.
The next morning, the operation begins, and Chappy’s training allows Doug to successfully slip through the Air Force’s tight security protocols. They refuel their planes at all of the checkpoints, and reach their planned deviation point. They reach the country which is holding the American pilot, and they commence their attack.
They attack the runway and destroy it, but not before several interceptors take off. Doug destroys one, and the other 2 MiGs escape. Chappy and Doug pursue the MiGs and run straight into the anti-air defenses of the base. Chappy is hit by the fire from the guns, but is still functional. The MiGs return, and Doug and Chappy shoot them down. However, the damage from the AA guns finally overcomes Chappy’s plane. Doug climbs above the combat zone and plays a tape that Chappy made for him. Doug resumes his attack and bluffs that he is leading a larger strike force.
When the Muslim Colonel attempts to bluff Doug, Doug destroys the oil field. With that, the Colonel moves Colonel Masters to the runway. When his Defense Command confirms that Doug is the only one attacking, the Colonel orders his sniper to kill Colonel Masters. The shot hits Masters, and Doug’s grief turns to anger; which leads to Doug destroying many of the remaining ground defenses. The Colonel orders his troops to finish off Masters, but Doug drops a firebomb that creates a wall that is nearly impassible. As the Colonel’s troops unsuccessfully attack through the firewall, Doug rescues his father. After they take off, they are attacked by a second MiG squadron.
Doug manages to shoot down several more MiGs, and then he is confronted by the leader, Colonel Akir Nakesh. A heated dogfight takes place, and Doug emerges victorious in the end. Unfortunately, that battle emptied Doug’s complement of missiles, and more MiGs have appeared. When all hope seems lost, a flight of American F-16s have appeared to save Doug and his father. The flight leader also reported that they were unable to locate Chappy.
At Rammstein AFB in (West) Germany, Doug is escorted to the waiting room for the Military Tribunal, when he is reunited with Chappy, who ejected over the Mediterranean and was picked up by an Egyptian trawler. They both enter the Tribunal Room and are charged with violations of the National Security Act. The charges are held in limbo on the condition of their silence. Colonel Chappy Sinclair, however, protests the decision, and comes up with an alternative – allow Doug Masters into the Air Force Academy.
Back home, Ted Masters, Chappy Sinclair, and Doug are treated to a hero’s welcome. Friends and family are reunited as the town celebrates their return back to the United States aboard Air Force 3.
Review and Analysis:
Strap yourselves in, this review’s going full broadsides.
This movie is the end result of wanting to make a statement about a real-life situation and getting everything wrong in the process. As I stated in my Top Gun review, the 1980s were filled with Latin American and Middle Eastern rogue states like Val Verde and Gamibia. In this case, the actual name of the country, like in Top Gun, was never given an actual name. This movie also shows how dated it really is with references to places like West Germany.
Anti-Arab Sentiment, Anti-Muslim Rhetoric, and Conflation:
One of the ways this movie slaps cultural relations with Arabs and Muslims is the conflation that all Arabs are Muslim – and all Muslims are Arabs. In the scene that first establishes the kind of country Ted Masters is in, we hear a chant that is supposed to vaguely resemble the kind of chant heard in some circles of the Islamic faith.
What Country Was This Supposed to Be?
Libya. During the time that this film was created, there were several incidents that were blamed on Libyan agents, including a number of plane hijackings and bombings in Europe. The incident where Masters is shot down is supposed to an allusion to the first Gulf of Sidra attack, where Colonel Gaddafi warned the United States that his forces would respond to any incursion inside what was termed “The Line of Death.” This led to the Reagan Administration provoking the Libyans by stationing carriers off the coast and conducting military exercises. The end result was a shooting match and subsequent demonization of the Libyan President.
The Politics Were Ignored:
Colonel Blackburn’s lamentations about not being able to just use military force to go in and bomb the ever-loving crap out of them was supposed to tell the audience that the State Department was just filled with Weak, Paper-Pushing Pansies Who Need to Just Stay Out of the Way While REAL MEN Do What Needs to Be Done. This was part and parcel of the movies in the 1980s, where Black, Brown, and Yellow peoples were killed wholesale to salve America’s ego from the humblings they received in the 1960s and 1970s in East Asia, Iran, and from the OPEC embargoes. In this case, in this case, it was from the Arabs and Muslims of this unnamed country whom had the absolute gall to defend their territory from American incursion.
Colonel Nakesh points out that as military pilot, he was always aware of his position in the air, and where he was going – and that Colonel Masters, as a pilot, was also similarly aware of his position.
Colonel Blackburn stated that Col. Masters and his wingman were flying what was called “Freedom of Navigation” exercises, but as this movie demonstrates, they never explain why this was the case. This is a case of American Exceptionalism in Action, backed up by massive military might. All one has to do is look at the reaction of the United States when another nuclear power attempts to do what they themselves have done time and time again to note how hypocritical such thinking is.
In using the hostage situation of Colonel Masters as cover, an American civilian and a USAF Reserve pilot destroy the following:
- 6 MiG-23s in Air-to-Air Combat
- At least one squadron of MiG-23s on the ground
- 2 AH-1 Attack Helicopters
- 2 Anti-Aircraft Missile Trucks
- 3 Anti-Aircraft Fixed Guns
- Much of the Military Communications Infrastructure
- An Oil Refinery
- The Airport Control Tower near the Capitol
While movie wants us to cheer for the Americans, one can’t help but wonder if the destruction and devastation on this scale was even necessary. This attack crippled both the defensive capability and economic stability of this un-named Middle Eastern nation, and considering the UN’s response to the United States’ first attack on Libya, it is highly unlikely that an attack on a scale that Iron Eagle portrays would be any better received.
And Who is the Bad Guy:
It’s this guy.
Take note of his appearances throughout the movie. He is the only member of the enemy who gets lines other than ones concerning his present job. Image is everything in Hollywood, and his appearance was supposed to be like 2 different leaders of Islamic states. Given the time frame, one wonders whether this film was also supposed to act as propaganda against both Muslims and Arabs in general.
When Akir Nakesh first appears, his style of dress is similar to that of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was the President of Libya at the time.
Then, when he appears when Colonel Masters is rotting in the Gamibian jail, he takes on this look:
And it just happens to look like another leader who happens to be Muslim – Yassir Arafat.
The reason why this is important is because at the time that this movie was made, both men were vilified and portrayed as evil in the American media of the 1980s in a desperate attempt to create an enemy so that defense contractors can spend lavish amounts of taxpayer dollars on expensive boondoggles for the military. Akir Nakesh, as the Defense Minister of Gamibia, is supposed to personify that enemy by holding a policy of attacking American aircraft in “international waters,” and holding public trials where the All-American Air Force dad is “sentenced unjustly” to death. And the motivation for Akir Nakesh is that he really hates America for their embargo of goods to their country.
And Yet, They Take the Time to Add American Stereotypes:
Larry B. Scott, who spent the 1980s playing the Token Black Kid in movies like The Karate Kid, Revenge of the Nerds, and Spacecamp, takes the same part in this movie. Of all the kids in the Eagles (the club that the Air Force Brats created), Larry’s character contributes nothing of significance to the team AND we learn nothing of his family connection to the Air Force. We know that he has a dance partner for the prom, he cracks jokes, and can fly a plane.
And What of the Women?
Find me a woman of any age that isn’t cast in an emotional or subordinating role in this movie. I’ll translate War and Peace to Klingon while I wait.
There are a host of body image issues with regards to roles in Hollywood, and which body types are allowed to shown, appreciated, nurtured, and protected from harm (or retaliated for by moral rightists).
As such, I post the picture of Hazel (the Air Force Computer Operator) because she is the only woman in this film with face time that is actually shown as a member of the US armed forces. But she does not have the accepted body type that Hollywood promotes (skinny, blond, “top-heavy”) so she is given a pretty sad role to play in this film.
Like much of the 1980s and some of the 1990s, women in male-dominated (and the few female dominated) action/adventure movies are either unable to pull themselves together or are simply placed in the film to remind viewers that there are, in fact, women around.
This, however, is not true for women of color. The young woman who dances with Larry Scott’s character during the prom is only shown for the one scene, has no lines, and literally walks off the set after the dance number is finished. We don’t see her before that scene; she is never referenced by Larry or anyone else, and then she is never seen again, even when everyone gathers at the tarmac to greet the Masters’ men and Col. Sinclair.
It amazes me that there seems to be a need to cast actors whose nationality is thousands of miles and hundreds of generations removed only to be suntanned or spray-painted on later. This is normally the case for Hollywood productions when major speaking roles are involved. In many ways, this is worse than Firefox‘s side-whitefacing because in this case the British actor not only dons a new accent, but he is then spraypainted into this:
Not that actually casting someone from the same region would have made this film any better philosophically, but this would be one less strike against an already problematic film.
Cashing in on Role Parodies:
Looking at the role of Charles Sinclair, it doesn’t look like this role suited Louis Gossett at all. It is as if the writers has someone else in mind, but quickly realized that they needed credibility if this movie was going to have a chance.
Coming off of his movie stealing performance in An Officer and a Gentleman, Louis Gossett found himself with more offers for roles. But, as the case has often been for Black actors of Louis’ ability, he has to parlay his talent to give the movie he is in a dignity that would be sorely lacking without it. Mr. Gossett has to perform this several times, notably with Martin Sheen and Dolph Lundgren as the “main” stars of the film he co-stars in.
Lance LeGault, who spent most of his career at that point playing men with impulse control issues, was forever typecast as a stickler for Military protocol thanks to his role as Colonel Decker from “The A-Team.” He ports that role into this one, lock, stock, and Sidewinder missile.
As much as this movie promotes the use of military might when things don’t go way is emphasized, the makers of this movie could not get the US Air Force to co-operate in the making of this film, which is part of the reason why the F-16 fighters are painted in military-style camouflage. Instead, it was off to Israel for both the F-16 planes and the enemy “MiG-23,” which was nothing more than a dressed up Israeli Air Industries KFir Fighter.
In many of the war stories from the 1950s to the late 1980s, there were warplanes from both the Axis (Germany and Japan) and Allied (US, Britain, France) powers that were mothballed and/or sold as surplus. Many of these planes ended up as props for movie studios to use in their movies. However, newer fighter jets are usually sold for parts or scrapped when they reach their operational limits, and their expensive costs to maintain and fly them keep them out of the hands of all but the most wealthy civilians.
More often than not, the Militaries of the world have PR departments that handle requests for the use of their personnel, equipment, and facilities by movie studios. Each military branch usually has a policy of what kinds of movie plots are acceptable and which ones are rejected. Iron Eagle provides a pretty good look as to how the military can sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees inside. The US Air Force has a standing policy not to cooperate on a film in which the theft of an Air Force plane is involved, which is what Iron Eagle does. The other thing that the USAF did not like about the plot of the film was that their personnel were presented as either incompetent or abetting the theft. All-in-all, Iron Eagle does not give a positive portrayal of the US Air Force or its personnel.
Coincidental Racial Interpretation:
Remember this scene from the movie?
Watch the scene in the movie and listen closely to Slappy.
Then, watch this scene:
When Chappy suggests that Doug deepens his voice like “Slappy,” Doug not only does so (which was supposed to be the point of the joke), but he also uses stereotypically uneducated “Black” English to boot. At no point during Slappy’s conversation with Chappy and Doug did he ever talk like Doug’s imitation. The joke taken to its conclusion is almost one step removed from this, and I am not kidding about its implications.
Faceless Enemies, Faceless Victims:
In keeping with the “Americans Are the Only Lives That Matter” theme which this movie promotes rather shamelessly, the people of this unnamed Arab/Muslim country aren’t given names, roles, lives, or motivation, other than to kill “innocent” Americans.
While we are supposed to marvel at America’s superior technology and at the prowess of Doug’s gifted talents, we aren’t supposed to pay attention to the men Doug kills in the name of getting his father back. The movie does not look at the unintended consequences of Doug and Chappy’s actions nor the subsequent rug sweeping that the US Government (all the way up to President “Ray-Gun”) performs. One wonders what kind of reaction they would have had to knowing some American kid killed their family members.
And, yes, this is how wars get started. And this is how violence begets more violence. Because if Doug, Chappy, General Edwards, Colonel Blackburn, and the rest of the Americans show such a callous disregard for non-American lives, why should the survivors show any such compassion afterwards?
Or, in reality, Doug SpecialPilot. He flies a bombing mission in which his loaded down F-16 manages to outfly MiG-23s carrying much less armament. Whereas father Ted is shot down by a regular Gamibian pilot, and Chappy is shot down by an anti-aircraft gun, Doug destroys everything and everyone in his path without a scratch, and this includes “ace pilot” Colonel Akir Nakesh.
Iron Eagle is nothing short of a propaganda film dressed as a children’s movie. It makes a fictional recreation of the first US/Libya Gulf of Sidra attack, only this time, “Libya” manages to shoot down American aircraft (instead of the Libyans being outnumbered, outgunned, and hopelessly outclassed) AND “Libya’s” claims of protecting their territory from American incursion are treated as the rantings of an evil country that just hates America.
The life of Ted Masters, the All-American Air Force dad, is the only one we’re supposed to show concern for. As I have noted in review after review, what would normally be a valid counter-charge to the dominant viewpoint is instead allowed to be co-opted by the antagonist of the film, whose goal of killing the designated victim allows the audience to dismiss these concerns as the rantings of a madman. The Air Force brats are given little to do except as Doug’s flunkies and Yes-Men, and to comfort Doug when the un-named Arab/Muslim country takes Ted prisoner.
Colonel Sinclair’s motivations to join Doug are suspect, as it seems as if the scene was added to show that Ted Masters is not some typical White KKK racist type. Perhaps that was needed to buttress the vitriol Ted displays while in the Arab prison. Otherwise, Sinclair was about as effective at his job as Morpheus was in The Matrix; which is to say: Not at all.
Women and girls did next to nothing worth noting in the film, and Women of Color were virtually absent. The villainy was brownfaced (again), and any actual men of color other than Young Black Token (Larry Scott) and Foley-Ported-Over (Gossett) were disparaged, had no voice, or were fodder for Doug’s righteous indignation disguised as bomb runs.
This movie also gets The Gas Face for Illegal Use of a Queen Song. A song about unity and equality gets turned into a bombing run theme…twice. But for a movie that was supposed to be about a young kid who would do anything to get his father back, it spends more time trying to demonize Muslims and Arabs than anything else. The phenomenon is not new; it’s been hiding under the radar of Anti-Russian/Communist Rhetoric of the 1980s, but the movies were more concerned with demonizing Asians (for defeating America during the Korean and Vietnamese Civil Wars) and Latinos (as being the forefront in growing drug plants that get turned into coke/heroin/etc. – the War of Drugs). The attacks on September 11, 2001 made it acceptable to hate Muslims and Arabs out in the open. And the result is a movie like “300” (even when the whole thing is a lie).
Avoid Iron Eagle. Lou Gossett’s performance is nowhere near enough to salvage this film, and Basil Pouledouris, who normally composes memorable works, does a poor job here. The script is laughable, and villains are not that great. When a film like this is beaten silly by Top Gun, then one should know just how bad this film is. One should not have to stomach racism, bigotry, chauvinism, and American Exceptionalism to enjoy a movie, and that is what Iron Eagle boils down to.