First Man: First-Class Setting, Second-Class Characters


First Man, a biographical drama that chronicles the saga of Neil Armstrong on his journey through the 1960s to those famous first steps on the lunar surface. While it covers those famous first steps, it follows a path already trod upon by such films as Matt Damon’s The Martian and Tom Hank’s Apollo 13, albeit running in the opposite chronological direction to the former and going further back than the latter. Unfortunately, it fails to meet the standards of either. 

The high point of this film comes from the director, Damien Chazelle, of La La Land fame. The cinematography of this film is precisely what it needs to be. The camera work perfectly captures the cramped, intense atmosphere of early spaceflight; from the early scenes of the X-15 test flight to the Apollo 11 flight itself, you are fully immersed in the spaceflight experience. This really helps convey the knife-edge chance of success NASA had in overcoming what could have reasonably been called the impossible. An important note: I don’t usually recommend IMAX, as I don’t often see a difference, but this is a film that has to be seen in IMAX to be appropriately enjoyed. 

However, as far as the setting is handled, the story is where things fall flat: more specifically, the characters. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong as the leading man, taking on an interesting angle in his portrayal. Rather than playing the star-spangled American hero, Gosling plays a much more subdued, and arguably more lively, Armstrong. He leans heavily on the tragic death of Armstrong’s daughter to a brain tumor. While this is an interesting take, the portrayal is too subtle. In seeking to demonstrate Armstrong’s distaste for the limelight and demystifying the legend surrounding the first man on the moon, Gosling fails to provide a real channel for the audience to connect on an emotional level. This makes it difficult for viewers to really develop sympathy for the trials Armstrong has to face. 

All in all, three out of five stars 

See it in IMAX, or just skip it.