This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, and as such, filmmakers are clamoring to get the opportunity to pay homage to the landmark historical event. The third film to be released this year about the moon landing (after NEON’s Apollo 11 and PBS’s Chasing the Moon), David Fairhead’s documentary Armstrong takes a more personal approach to the topic, exploring Armstrong’s life leading up to, during, and after the mission.
The Space Race is truly one of the most interesting periods of American history, and there is plenty of story to be told. While it would be easy to compare Apollo 11 and Armstrong, it is more appropriate to look at them as two sides of the same coin. Although there is some overlap between the two movies, each explores a different aspect of the story in depth, and as such, serve as the perfect complement for each other.
One of the main reasons to watch Armstrong is that it gives you insight as to who was behind the Apollo 11 mission rather than what was behind it. Apollo 11 does a great job of making you admire the complexity of space travel in terms of mathematics and science, and Armstrong makes you realize the level of willpower and dedication that these astronauts had in order to complete their job.
If you didn’t already admire Armstrong before watching this documentary, you surely will by the time the runtime is over. Last year’s biopic First Man did no favors to the astronaut’s image, portraying him in a colder light, and this film effectively counters that image, instead showing him as a humble hero. One can’t help but admire his bravery and the sacrifice that he was willing to make in the name of exploration.
Additionally, the movie uses Armstrong’s story as a way to pose interesting questions about the ways in which society perceives people who work for government agencies such as NASA. Chief among them is the question of what makes a hero. Is it the risks that Armstrong took that made him a hero, or was it his dedication to the scientific endeavor? Is Armstrong even a hero? The film proposes that he would not see himself in that light. It is interesting to think about these questions.
The pacing of the movie is quite nice. Clocking in at a few minutes over an hour and a half, the film is a solid length for a documentary and manages to keep your attention for a majority of its runtime. Every once in a while, when the movie does begin to explore already trodden ground, your interest can start to fade but is soon rekindled by an interesting or unique personal story.
On a technical level, the film is certainly quite well-made, even if it isn’t particularly revolutionary. The presentation of the content is relatively straightforward, through a combination of interviews, archive footage, and readings of Armstrong’s writings read by actor Harrison Ford. There is enough diversity in the presentation of the content to make up for the lack of innovation.
Armstrong may not be the best documentary on the topic, but it is still interesting and fills some of the holes left by other movies. Any person who is interested in American history, particularly as it relates to the space program, should check out this film as soon as possible.
Armstrong opens in theaters and VOD on July 12.