Armstrong (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Respectable but redundant

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Documentary film “Armstrong” tries to present the life and career of Neil Armstrong, the most prominent figure in the Apollo Space Program. While its attempt is admirable, sincere, and, considering the 50th anniversary of that monumental moment, timely, the documentary does not tell anything new besides what I have watched and learned from many other numerous movies and documentaries about the NASA space programs during the 1950-60s, and that is rather disappointing in my trivial opinion.

At first, the documentary alternates between the final stage of the Apollo 11 mission and Armstrong’s early life. Born on August 5th, 1930 in a small rural town in Ohio, young Armstrong was a shy, quiet, and introverted kid who became quite interested in aviation as playing with a toy airplane, and he even got a flight license first before getting a driving license. After experiencing his first solo flight, he became more determined to pursue aviation engineering, but then he came to enlist in the US Air Force when the Korean War broke out in 1950, and he soon became one of the best jet pilots in his military unit thanks to his cool, unflappable professionalism shown during many combats.

After the war, Armstrong began to study at the Purdue University in Indiana, and that is where he met his first wife Janet, to whom he finally proposed only after his graduation. Not long after he moved to Edwards Air Force Base in California, he and Janet eventually married, and he continued to focus on his work while Janet took care of their two children. As a test pilot, he flied many different test jets including North American X-15, and we hear about how calmly he handled a sudden emergency situation during one of those risky mission of his.

Review: ‘Armstrong’ examines the man behind the moon landing

Like many other top-notch test pilots during that time, Armstrong was subsequently drawn to the ongoing space programs in NASA, and, again, he demonstrated his exceptional qualification as an astronaut. Without any complaint, he strenuously and diligently devoted himself to many hours of tests and training sessions, and he proved that he indeed had the right stuff during a very perilous and terrifying situation which could have led to the first space disaster in the history of NASA.

In the meantime, Armstrong and his wife had to go through a difficult personal moment. Their little daughter Karen was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the middle part of her brain stem, and she eventually died at the age of 2 in 1962. As a father who dearly loved his daughter, Armstrong was quite heartbroken by his daughter’s death, and it is suggested that he never got over that tragedy although he and his wife later have their third child Mark, who incidentally serves as the writer of the documentary.

After the successful outcome of the Gemini Space Program, NASA moved onto the Apollo Space Program, but a terrible incident happened in 1967. Three astronauts were killed during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission, and that was certainly a devastating blow to everyone in NASA, but they kept moving on while learning a lot from that disastrous incident.

As the Apollo Space Program showed more and more progress, lots of attention was paid to who would be chosen for the Apollo 11 mission, and Armstrong was eventually chosen as the commander of Apollo 11. Along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, Armstrong constantly focused on the preparation for what would be a historic moment for the humanity, and the enormous efforts from them and many other employees of NASA eventually culminated to July 16th, 1969, when the launch of Apollo 11 finally happened.

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Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin embarked on the Moon landing, and, as all of you know, the rest was history. After safely coming back to the Earth along with Aldrin and Collins, Armstrong found himself getting lots of attention from the media and the public, and he was not so comfortable about that, but he did whatever he was expected to do along with his two colleagues because, well, that was a part of their job.

After that glorious moment of his life, Armstrong slowly went back to his usual introverted mode while also trying to spend more time with his wife and children. Not caring much about how he was regarded by others, he went his way as usual, and then he gradually found a route to the next phase of his life. After teaching engineering in an university for a while, he became a board member of the board of Taft Broadcasting, and then he soon came to join the boards of many other companies including Eaton Corporation, and he also served on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Although he and Janet eventually divorced in 1994, he subsequently married again, and he became more comfortable with being himself in public during his later years.

Overall, “Armstrong” is a fairly watchable documentary, and director David Fairhead did a good job of mixing archival materials, interview clips, and the reading of Armstrong’s personal letters and records by Harrison Ford, but I must point out that the overall result feels rather reluctant mainly due to what we recently saw and observed from “First Man” (2018) and “Apollo 11” (2019), which did a better job of presenting Armstrong and the Apollo 11 Mission. Sure, I enjoyed the documentary to some degree, but I did not feel particularly amazed and enlightened, and that is all.

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