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Revisiting the Iron Eagle Franchise

The Iron Eagle franchise isn’t talked about much these days and it’s mostly compared to Top Gun but I’ve always has a soft spot for it so I thought it was time for a retrospective on all four movies.

Iron Eagle (1986)

Plot: When Col. Ted Masters’ (Tim Thomerson) plane goes down in an Arab country and he’s sentenced to death for trespassing, his 18-year-old son, Doug (Jason Gedrick), is determined to save him. Unfortunately, Doug isn’t the best fighter pilot — he wasn’t accepted into the Air Force because he needs to listen to music in order to hit a target. So he enlists the help of Col. Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) to borrow a couple of F-16 planes, fly across the Atlantic and start a rescue mission.

I feel like Iron Eagle doesn’t get enough love from people in terms of classic action movies as it really is one of the better action pictures of the 80s. It’s utterly preposterous but so are most action movies which is why we love them.

Jason Gedrick’s Doug is a hothead whose temper sometimes gets the better of him and he will not be bullied by anyone. He is strong willed and at times a bit of a dick but he will do anything for his family so when his father (Tim Thomerson) is shot down behind enemy lines Doug realises he wont get any help from the military so it’s up to him to rescue his father. He meets up with one of my favourite movie characters of all time Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) who eventually agrees to help Doug bring his father home so they concoct a plan to go behind enemy lines.

This is pure 80’s greatness which is something I say a lot lately but watching movies from that period there was just that feeling of optimism and aspiration that we simply don’t see anymore so I’m watching all of these older movies just to get through this year.

Chappy is one of the most inspiring and appealing characters and I’ve always loved the scene where he congratulates the Eagles for being the best flight team he has ever worked with and he wants to shake each of their hands. He is a complete hero but also a good mentor for Doug teaching him things like patience and strategy before embarking on their rescue mission.

Although there isn’t much in the way of action for the first half the final 30 minutes is practically one long explosion. I enjoy watching things blow up and if you’re on this website then I guess you do too and there are few films with more explosions than Iron Eagle.

There are some amazing 80’s tunes like One Vision by Queen which is used to perfect effect during some of the fantastic aerial dogfights. It all just makes for a rollicking good time and it’s just pure feelgood escapism.

David Suchet is always good value as a villain and he is as dastardly as can be as the Minister of Defense; he is totally one note and you know the movie is going to end with an aerial showdown between he and Doug and it doesn’t disappoint.

As I say it’s al very silly and I’m sure in reality Doug’s actions would trigger World War III with both he and Chappy locked up for a thousand years in the Phantom Zone but that wouldn’t exactly be a happy ending so instead Doug is rewarded by getting into flight school and everyone lives happily ever after. Hell Yeah!

Overall, despite being nonsense Iron Eagle is still wonderful escapism with Louis Gossett Jr. giving us one of the best mentor characters of the 80’s. There are some awesome dogfights in the second half and the final 30 minutes are action movie heaven.

Iron Eagle II (1988)

Plot: In the waning years of the Cold War, Gen. Chappy Sinclair (Louis Gossett Jr.) is charged with assembling a joint U.S.-Soviet operation to take out a weapons plant in the Middle East. He has his old buddy Matt Cooper (Mark Humphrey) on hand but is surprised to find himself also supervising a feisty Russian woman named Valeri Zuyeniko (Sharon H. Brandon). Sinclair whips his pilots into shape as they overcome their cultural and gender differences in preparation for their climactic mission.

If you’ve never seen the Iron Eagle sequels, then please look away now as I am about to mention a huge spoiler!

The first time I saw Iron Eagle 2 it took me half of the movie to recover from the opening scene; it basically makes the first film irrelevant as Doug (an uncredited Jason Gedrick) is apparently “killed” in the first few minutes.

The protagonist role now moves to Capt. Matt “Cobra” Cooper (Mark Humphrey) who is really just a rip-off of Maverick from Top Gun. He is generally arrogant and obnoxious and there really is no reason to take to him. Actually the entire American crew are unsympathetic and I found myself rooting for the Russians instead as they at least behaved with some dignity.

Louis Gossett Jr. once again returns as Chappy and he has a bigger role this time around training the Russian and American crews to work together despite their cultural differences. He’s every bit as likeable as he was in the first movie and manages to be far more patient with his team than I ever would be. I find it hard to believe they would get away with behaving like that in reality but this is just a movie so it’s best not to look into it too deeply.

This entry is regarded as superior to the first movie by many and it certainly has more action wasting no time in getting going with the aforementioned aerial dogfight at the start.

Like the first film it’s the final half hour where the action really kicks into high gear and not only do we get aerial battles but we get a ground assault too with Chappy and many of the team trapped so we get shoot-outs, explosions and more to keep things moving.

The music isn’t as memorable this time but there are some good old-fashioned 80’s tunes to tap your foot to.

There is an impressive supporting cast including the always reliable Canadian actor Colm Feore as one of the Russians as well as Alan Scarfe (Griffith from Double Impact!) who plays Vardovsky.

Overall, despite what some might say I still prefer the first movie but Iron Eagle II is still a fun ride with some awesome action scenes especially in the second half and Louis Gossett Jr. is as amiable as ever.


Aces: Iron Eagle III (1992)

Plot: Veteran Air Force pilot Charles “Chappy” Sinclair (Louis Gossett Jr.) is drawn into international intrigue when Anna Morales (Rachel McLish), the sister of a recently deceased friend, asks for his help. Anna reveals that her brother died at the hands of Gustav Kleiss (Paul Freeman), an ex-Nazi who runs a drug ring in Peru and is holding her father hostage. Sinclair enlists a number of his air-show buddies to join the mission, and they depart for Peru to take on the ruthless criminal.

You’d think with a cast that includes Louis Gossett Jr. Sonny Chiba, Paul Freeman (Belloch from Raiders of the Lost Ark), Fred Thompson, Christopher Cazenove and Mitchell Ryan that Aces: Iron Eagle III would be an action classic… and you’d be wrong. It’s not that isn’t fun but it really hasn’t aged well with more bluescreen and less convincing aerial dogfights. Some of them are okay and the final 30 minutes (noticing a pattern here?) have plenty of shit blowing up but it just feels a bit cheap and forgettable.

Louis Gossett Jr.’s awesomeness is never in question but the real badass of this movie is Rachel McLish as Anna who is essentially a female Rambo. She starts off a prisoner of the enemy in Peru but she breaks out and makes her way to America where she eventually teams up with Chappy (Gossett Jr.) to head back to Peru and kick some ass.

Our villain this time is Paul Freeman who rather than working for the Germans like he did in Raiders he is now playing one and as always he makes for a convincing and entertaining antagonist. I also particularly enjoy Juan Fernández as henchman Escovez as he was an memorable villain in Crocodile Dundee 2.

*Spoiler alert* Both bad guys have arguably the best deaths of the franchise with Kleiss (Freeman) getting impaled in a booby trap and in a piece of divine retribution after blowing up a church the bell flies right over and crushes Escovez to death. Thanks Jesus!

It’s like a live action cartoon and none of it should be taken seriously in any way. I do feel that Sonny Chiba should have got to break some necks but his mere presence is what makes this all the more watchable.

The music is rather cheese-tastic but it’s super heroic so it’s hard not to want to salute every damn flag you see.

Tee Vee (Phill Lewis) is a little annoying as the unnecessary comic relief but he isn’t that bad and doesn’t ruin the film.

Overall, Aces: Iron Eagle III is as corny as can be and hasn’t aged that well but there is enough ridiculous action and imaginative deaths to be worth viewing.

Iron Eagle IV: On The Attack (1995)

Plot: Retired from the Air Force, Chappy Sinclair (Lou Gossett Jr.) now runs a private flight school that happens to cater to misfits and juvenile offenders. Desperate to instill discipline, Chappy hires as an instructor his former protégé, Doug Masters (Jason Cadieux), who had previously been shot down by the Soviets. During training, Doug and the youths encounter drug dealers, toxic chemicals and an insidious conspiracy that threatens to ignite a global war.

Hey Sully, remember when I said Doug was dead? I lied! So in the opening scene of this entry Doug (who now looks like Jason Cadieux) actually didn’t die in the second movie… he ejected at the last minute and no one noticed his parachute. How convenient.

It ends up that Doug was captured behind enemy lines but as everyone thought he was dead no one came to save him until politicians eventually made a deal to free him. He is working as crop duster but is found by Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) who wants his help with his new flight school training a bunch of delinquents. Doug reluctantly agrees but is still suffering from PTSD and is angry at Chappy as he thinks he abandoned him. So Doug’s greatest enemy in this movie is himself and his arc is to make peace with himself and Chappy.

Things are never straightforward however, and while Doug is out with some new recruits training they discover some corrupt members of the Air Force up to no good and end up in their crosshairs. They don’t know who to trust or how high up his goes so it’s up to Chappy and company to take out the trash and save the day.

The young recruits start off as a little annoying but they aren’t that bad and never as out of place as say Tee Vee from Part III.

The first time I saw this movie I remember swearing at the screen thinking it was such a cop out to bring back Doug especially with another actor in the role but if you can get over that hurdle then there are a few enjoyable moments. It does feel more like the first two movies with more aerial combat although it has a much smaller budget than the first two films making it all rather forgettable.

I liked the music score which was swelling and heroic and Chappy is still a great character even if we never find out that much about his backstory. I’ve always liked how we don’t waste time with tedious romance side stories and it just sticks to the formula of training, things go wrong, more training then 30 minutes of explosive goodness.

Sidney J. Furie returns to direct after taking a break with the third movie and he is no stranger to action having directed The Ipcress File, Detention and Direct Action (both starring Dolph Lundgren). He understands what makes these movies fun and Iron Eagle feels like his baby.

I still think it’s weird that Chappy isn’t serving multiple life sentences for the amount of laws he has broken over the years; at one point in this movie the trainees escape police custody and tie the Sheriff to a fence but it is never mentioned again.

I thought Dean McDermott made for a decent villain as he has a severe countenance that makes him look like a mean bastard.

Overall, Iron Eagle IV lacks the scale of the first movie with no particularly memorable set-pieces and the fact that Doug was brought back felt like such a cop out taking away any drama from the second movie.  Louis Gossett Jr. as always keeps the movie watchable making Chappy as likeable as ever but it’s not a movie I would watch regularly.


So that was the Iron Eagle franchise; after rewatching all of them I can safely say that the first remains the best in the series with the others all having their moments but never quite reaching the same level of awesomeness.