Monday, April 6, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “Hell’s Angels” was Howard Hughes’ aerial epic.  It is the tale of two brothers who become fighter pilots in WWI.  There is love triangle involving a loose woman.  One of the brothers is naïve and pure and the other is cowardly and unpatriotic.  The movie is best known for its Zeppelin bombing London scene and the huge swirling dog fight after the explosion laden bombing of an ammo dump.

                “Top Gun” is Hollywood’s answer to what fourteen year old boys want in a war movie.  "Maverick" is sent to Top Gun school to become a top notch fighter pilot.  He is in competition with a hot shot named “Ice Man” who believes you win dogfights through discipline and adherence to basic principles of air combat.  What a chump!  Maverick is more of a fly by the seat of your pants rule-breaker.  (Note the nicknames.)  This personality trait gets him in trouble with the higher ups, but his bosses recognize brilliance when they see it.  You want this guy with you if there ever is a non-mock dogfight (and stick around because there is one!).  Did I mention there is a love story involving the school’s resident MiG expert?  Relax, the expert is a hot woman!

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quantity

Hell’s Angels  =  14 minutes
Top Gun  = * 20 minutes 

*  I included the mock dogfights

Top Gun                 9
Hell’s Angels         8


                “Hell’s Angels” started as a silent movie and has a plot appropriate for that era.  There is a love triangle involving two brothers that is interesting due to the fact that two of the people involved are despicable.  The movie sets up a classic redemption scenario then adds a twist.  It’s not predictability that mars the film, it’s the ridiculous disregard for common sense and what is possible.  Lot’s of very unlikely things have to happen to reach the conclusion.  Thankfully all anyone remembers are the groundbreaking dogfights.   C

                “Top Gun” was designed to please all the demographics except war movie fans.  The plot is predictable and is principally about redemption.  As though coming back from causing the death of Maverick’s best friend is not enough, the screenwriters throw in a vague back-story about his disgraced father.  The movie bookends two encounters with black-painted MiGs (no reason for a 1980s movie to defy the black = evil rule).  In between we get a lot of locker room dramatics and faux dog fights.  There is a lame and extremely unlikely love story for the ladies.  F

Hell’s Angels         15
Top Gun                 14

THIRD QUARTER:  Realism and Accuracy

                None of the plot devices in “Hell’s Angels” are realistic.  The two brothers have a German friend who they ironically meet in the Zeppelin attack.  The German sabotages the bombing of London because he apparently loves his friends’ country more than his own.  The Zeppelin crew sacrifices itself like lemmings.  The femme fatale ends up on the Western Front because it was a target rich environment.  The two brothers know how to fly a captured bomber without even a tutorial.  In fact, the whole bombing of the ammo dump segment is laughable with collateral explosions worthy of a modern movie.  The sole redemption for realism is the swirling dogfights, but even there the tactics are shaky.  D

                “Top Gun” may seem realistic to your average moviegoer, but anyone with any knowledge of naval aviation will do a lot of eye-rolling.  To the knowledgeable, there are plot devices that are ridiculous.  This begins early when the pilot considered the best in the unit has a panic attack doing what he was trained to do.  Worse is the introduction of a MiG expert in the form of a hot female instructor.  I hope I do not sound sexist when I say that character was silly.  The death of Goose was physically impossible.  For a movie that was heavily vetted by the Navy, it is odd that they allowed a scene trashing their ejection seats and helmets.  On the other hand, the segments involving the Fighter Weapons School seem within reason.  The mock dogfights, although enhanced for dramatic purposes, are believable.  D

Hell’s Angels         21
Top Gun                 20

                Monte is a ladies’ man and it’s a curse because he can’t help but sleep with his saintly brother’s girlfriend.  Monte and Roy ride in a motorcycle and sidecar.  They party hard the night before their suicide mission.  There is a head on crash.  B

                Maverick not only rides a motorcycle, he owns one!  He loses his best friend because he is a glory hound.  Kudos for combining two clichés.  The pilots party hard and bring back the WWI movie singalong.  Maverick woos a local girl.  In addition, we get the generic tropes of the main character earning redemption and overcoming a crisis in confidence.  D

Hell’s Angels         29
Top Gun                 26


                These two movies are 56 years apart and although the match-up is Old School versus MTV School, the basic plots could have replaced each other without the audiences being confused.  “Hell’s Angels” is overrated, but it does have history going for it.  It was the first significant sound air combat movie.  “Top Gun” has the distinction of being the first air combat film to have a thundering rock sound track.  “Hell’s Angels” was made to please Howard Hughes and “Top Gun” was made to please John Hughes’ core audience.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The nationality of the MiGs is vague but I have always assumed they were Middle Eastern. I do not have proof of this but the scenario seems suspiciously similar to the 1981 Gulf of Sidra Incident where two Libyan Su-22s fired on some F-14s and were subsequently shot down. The Su-22s were painted jet black. Just kidding. I am aware of no shooting confrontations between American jets and Soviet jets at any time.

  4. I've read a few sites speculating that the villains were from South Yemen, which was a Soviet client at the time. That at least would match the setting, as they mention being in the Indian Ocean. North Korea might fit, too.

    1. Thanks. South Yemen makes sense, but I still think its Libya.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.