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Source: Wikipedia

First Man is a solid addition to the canon of Space Movies but you may find it hard to sympathise with Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Neil Armstrong. Armstrong’s core, very personal, story through this film should elicit sympathy. However too much is hidden behind the calm façade of the test pilot.

For much of the film all the audience have to work with is a cold, professional, exterior. This exterior affected how I saw Armstrong in this realisation.

First Man covers a lot more ground than just the Apollo program, in fact it overlaps with the timeline of The Right Stuff by starting when Armstrong was a test pilot at Edwards. It is in a sense very similar to The Right Stuff in terms of covering wider events, the impact of the space program on wives and families, and social opposition to the program[1].

The film starts in the early 60s when Armstrong is shown as a fairly loving father before his daughter Karen dies of a brain tumour before her third birthday.

From there Armstrong proceeds through the Gemini and Apollo Programs as an aloof, reserved figure. There is, or there is supposed to be, a thread of grief that progressively makes it harder for Armstrong to face his sons Eric and Mark as the risks of the space program grow. These risks are brought into sharp relief by the emergency on the Gemini 8 mission[2] and also by the tragedy of the Apollo 1 plugs out test.

I can see what Director Damien Chazelle and writer Josh Singer are trying to do here; it is intended to provide an emotional arc that resolves once Armstrong is on the moon. The problem, for me at least, is that Gosling’s Armstrong was just too cold for me to see it. Claire Foy performs strongly as Janet Armstrong trying to get through her husband’s thick skull, but she can’t carry the film on her own[3].

As for how that arc resolves there is a massively spoilery fact check here on The Wrap that indicates that it might be possible but no one really knows for sure. The bracelet in question did exist, but its whereabouts are unknown and Armstrong did have 11 minutes alone on the Moon.


Technically, First Man is brilliant but with a possible quibble about the sound mixing in the flight sequences. I felt that that the engine/ambient noises were drowning out the dialogue, but that may just be me and/or the set up in the cinema.

One other concern is that First Man dedicates a scene to the hardware simulation of the landing module[4], but erases the contributions[5] of Margaret Hamilton in developing the onboard software for the Apollo Guidance Computer.

Recommended overall, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen[6], but First Man may be a touch cold for some viewers.

[1] I do have to wonder how genuine the early rap protest song was. It felt right, but I obviously don’t know one way or the other.

[2] Which is well rendered on screen, and serves to demonstrate Armstrong’s pure skill as a pilot.

[3] Nor should she have had to.

[4] Partly because it shows how fractious the controls were, and gives Armstrong another action scene as test pilot

[5] Again. This happened in Apollo 13 as well.

[6] I’m not regretting indulging in the Dendy Premium lounge at all.