Eagle Wings is one of the most exploratory films Nollywood has put out, this time with the support of the Federal government. Nollywood has not enjoyed much investment from non-industry players, including the government. In Jonathan Haynes’ 2016 book, “Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres”, he raises the fact that this failure to reinvest in the film industry is a familiar pattern. It is amazing and alarming that Nollywood has been able to achieve international recognition without much external support. Recently, Nollywood started enjoying the patronage of industry players, especially streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and latecomer— the Nigerian government. One can only imagine how further the industry would go if such relationships are sustained going forward.
Eagle Wings reminds us of the 1986 Tom Cruise action classic Top Gun directed by Tony Scott. Both movies are alike in more ways than one. Initially about the military, they both venture to tell their own stories. Top Gun is set around the United States Navy. And Eagle Wings covers the Nigerian Air Force. Tom Cruise is Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun; Enyinna Nwigwe is Nura Yusuf in Paul Apel Papel-directed Eagle Wings.
Prior to Top Gun, Tom Cruise’s career was kicking off, Top Gun only catalyzed it. Following the success of the film, there was a high number of enlistment in the US military service as a high sense of nationalism was birthed in America. This was also because the U.S. Navy keyed into this by selling application forms outside cinemas. Application to the U.S. Navy rose incredibly by 500% after the debut of the 1986 film. Some people foresaw such effects. Actor Scott Baio did not take the role of Maverick because he didn’t like the possible consequences it could have on the US military (at the time). While different military/war movies usually explore the field experiences of soldiers, Top Gun did it differently. In military movies like this, the antagonist is usually another country or a group of terrorists or rebels. In the case of Top Gun, Lt. Tom Iceman (Val Kilmer) is our antagonist, rival to reckless Maverick. Both Maverick and Iceman compete over the course of the movie to be the number one student of the elite piloting school, exploring themes such as loss, trauma, and romance in the face of a competing career.
The drama of Eagle Wings does not take place in the sky like Top Gun. It is set in the daily lives of the Nigerian Air Force officers— their families and losses. Playing Nura, Enyinna Nwigwe is an excellent actor, who also played the role of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in Badamasi (2021). Eagle Wings features other actors like Paul Papel Apel who is also the director, Sadiq Daba, Uzee Usman, Francis Duru, Femi Jacobs, and Yakubu Muhammed.
Whilst Top Gun and Eagle Wings are both films, they have created stages for themselves. Top Gun is set against the elite fighter weapons school aka TOPGUN, Eagle Wings is set against the insecurity in the Northeastern part of Nigeria, the army, and citizens caught in between the conflicts. The citizens do not take the army friendly because they are seen as the same as the terrorists. Eagle Wings is important because it shows Nigerians a glimpse into what the fight against insecurity is like— the toll on the army, internally displaced persons, and people living in such areas. Given the growing divide in the country, the North versus the South and citizens versus the military, Eagle Wings holds up a mirror to the victims and reflects it to the rest of Nigeria and the world who now have the chance to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
On what the possible effects of Eagle Wings might be, the empathy and solidarity that the army is supposed to have are destroyed because of the bad apples among them wearing out the hearts of many through their extra-judicial activities. This doesn’t encourage a lot of Nigerians to join the Army. The government also recently made it hard for any publication to publish the death of soldiers so as not to dissuade Nigerians from joining the army, even going as far as conducting secret burials. The military is often a reflection of the government. Regardless of this, Eagle Wings does a lot in empathizing with communities caught in between the fight against terrorism.
Top Gun has gone on to birth a sequel currently in cinema, Top Gun: Maverick, one of the most lauded films post-COVID, edging over $800M globally. Just released in 2021, Eagle Wings settles for a mediocre ending, slow pacing, laid back generals, recycled aerial shots (understandably due to budget constraints), and half of the time, the main character is outshone by Femi Jacobs. All these are enough to unhinge viewers from the film. However, as a propaganda film for the Nigerian military’s fight against insecurity, this is a bold step in the right direction by the Nigerian government and Nollywood. Going forward, we crave more of this as we continue to tell our own stories well.
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Top Gun is available on Netflix.
Eagle Wings is available on Amazon Prime Video.
Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas.