The 1982 film adaptation of Craig Thomas' 1977 novel, the first real techno-thriller, produced and directed by (and starring) Clint Eastwood. The Soviet Union has developed a new superplane, the MiG 31, called by the Americans "Firefox". It's capable of Mach 6, can't be detected on radar and has weapons launched by thought (but in Russian of course).
There are some differences from the novel,note but Thomas fans like the adaptation and Thomas himself dedicated his sequel book Firefox Down to Eastwood.
Note that there is in fact, an actual MiG-31 (NATO reporting name Foxhound) and that it reached service in the same year as the movie reached theatres. It's far less capable than its movie counterpart: the only thing it can do well is go really fast.
In the novel, when a character points out the Belenko defection, and resultant false alarm, as a reason not to panic about the "Firefox", another tells him that their information is that the plane is seriously as good as feared.
This movie contains examples of:
- Activation Sequence: We see the full start-up of the Firefox from cold and dark to flight-ready twice (Gant is still turning on systems on the plane as he takes off from Bilyarsk!)
- Adaptation Name Change: The drug smuggler whose identity Gant assumed to get into Russia was Alexander Orton in the novel, but Leon Sprague in the film.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: Part of the climatic dogfight involves both MIG-31s flying at supersonic speeds through a canyon.
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Gant is infiltrating the Soviet Union as a common smuggler, in the hope that this will attract less attention from the KGB."If you tip-toe past the dragon, it might just raise an eyelid and sniff at you. But if you awaken it..."
- The Can Kicked Him:
- Gant ambushes the real Firefox pilot, Col. Voskov, in the pilot's bathroom, and then spends as much time as he can hiding in there.
- Earlier Gant suffers a PTSD attack and hides in a public toilet booth to recover. A KGB agent hears him moaning and hammers on the door, demanding his identification papers. The distraught Gant panics and kills him after the KGB man (falsely, as it turns out) claims his papers are not in order.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- A literal example, the rearward-defense pods. Not flares but aerial mines, which he uses to great effect on the second Firefox, destroying it.
- In the hangar scene, the camera lingers a little too long on the second Firefox.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Remember the test pilot he refused to kill while infiltrating the base? It comes back to bite Gant later towards the end when the pilot in question takes the second prototype on a spin.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Gant wears a black flight suit and helmet, the pilot of the second Firefox wears an orange suit and white helmet.
- Composite Character
- In the book, Gant does kill the test pilot at the base, and a different test pilot pursues him in the second prototype.
- Two Jewish mechanics involved in stealing the plane are combined into Dr. Semelovsky.
- Cool Plane: The titular aircraft is pretty much The Cool Plane of Hollywood, with speed, stealth, and maneuverability that leaves pretty much the entire NATO arsenal in the dust.
- Covers Always Lie: The cover makes it look like this is a wacky over-the-top '80s action flick and while that may be true for the second half, the first half is more of a subdued espionage thriller a la the Jason Bourne films.
- Darkest Hour: Gant manages against all odds to get Firefox to the refueling point on dry tanks, and sees only an empty ice floe. He figures he's going down in the Arctic Ocean for the last time, when suddenly he spots the refueling vessel: a submarine.
- Deadpan Snarker: A conversation between the First Secretary and Gant.First Secretary: Are you enjoying your ride, Mr. Gant? You like our new toy?
Gant: Could be improved.
First Secretary: Ah. Your expert opinion, Mr. Gant?
- Dirty Communists: A narration, by a dissident, of a few Kick the Dog moments are awkwardly tacked in just so you know stealing their plane is the right thing to do.Dr. Baronovich: Mr. Gant, you are an American. You are a free man. I am not. There is a difference. If I am resentful of the men in Washington who are ordering my death, then it is a small thing when compared with my RESENTMENT of the KGB.
- Dodge by Braking: A full four years before it was done in Top Gun.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Having identified Gant, Pirabin on the phone with Col. Kontarsky telling him about Gant and both quickly realize why he's here and it's not to do a "close inspection".
- Fictional Document: The exchange of memos between two SIS agents at the beginning, developing the plan to steal the aircraft.
- From Bad to Worse: From the Soviet perspective it certainly is. They’ve built the most advanced aircraft ever. But exploited political prisoners to design it resulting in resentment causing them to conspire to have it stolen by their mortal enemy. Then after an American pilot is able to steal it from their base their backup prototype is destroyed and their top pilot is killed in their attempt to retrieve it. By the end both planes are gone and the scientists who designed it are dead. Even if they have the design schematics it’s doubtful they’ll be able to recreate it. On top of that their enemy now has it. To say that many heads are going to roll is a massive understatement.
- Genre Shift: the first half is a dramatic espionage story. Once the plane is in the air it becomes much more of an action movie, especially the dogfight
- Go Out with a Smile: After watching Gant fly away in the plane they've been working to steal, Pavel smiles, then shoots himself.
- Grand Theft Prototype: The core of the storyline is the theft of the Firefox.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Pretty much every single double agent dies getting Gant to the plane.
- Honor Before Reason: The Soviet pilot has Gant as a sitting duck after he’s forced to use his landing gear to stabilize his plane. But rather than easily finish him off he allows him to live and regroup since Gant had done the same for him earlier.
- Idiot Ball: Gant's explicitly warned to watch his speed going through the Ural mountains to avoid tripping listening posts. What does he do? Opens the MiG-31 up to SR-71 speeds. Everything turns into a blur, but immediately blows the "head-south-go-north" gambit up in his face.
- I Owe You My Life: Gant has a chance to kill Col. Voskov but refuses to kill a helpless, innocent man. In the Firefox-vs-Firefox dogfight later, Voskov returns the favor.
- It May Help You on Your Quest: Before he goes to Russia, Gant is handed an ordinary looking radio. He's then told it's a navigational device meant to guide Firefox to a secret refueling point — and that if he loses it in Russia, he's dead. It doesn't figure in the plot until he's well into his flight at which time he pulls it out and uses it as intended.
- It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Gant is yanked out of his isolated, PTSD-soaked life and thrust straightaway into a spy mission.
- Kill the Cutie: The young Vietnamese girl in the flashback is killed in a bombing, and is also the source of Gant's PTSD.
- Meaningful Name: A Mikoyan Gurevich (MiG) aircraft - stolen by Mitchell Gant.
- MIG is also a Russian word that means "in a moment" and is a slang term for speed, referencing the Firefox's top speed of Mach 6.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Gant manages to escape with the first prototype, but the second prototype is destroyed in the climactic final battle and all of the lead developers are killed helping Gant steal the original, wasting all of the USSR's efforts to build the aircraft in the first place. No mention is made of the blueprints one way or the other, however.
- Oh, Crap!: Col. Kontarsky gets three in a row:
- Once when he and his aide realize Gant is going to steal the Firefox.
- Again when he catches Gant in the plane itself.
- Finally, as the First Secretary's car pulls up, JUST as the Firefox begins taking-off.
- One Size Fits All: Notably averted. The special flight suits that allow the Firefox pilots to withstand the plane's acceleration are custom tailored. Part of the reason why Gant was selected for the mission despite being retired was that he was the same size as one of the test pilots, and thus could steal and use his suit.
- One-Word Title: Also a Portmantitle, and Vehicle Title. Firefox refers to the codename of the plane the plot centers on made by, and the name is made by fusing "Fire" and "Fox".
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When the very stoic General Vladimirov finally has enough of the First Secretary and unloads on him about how his arrogance and stupidity is hurting their chances to get the plane back.
- Applies as well to the First Secretary after getting a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Vladimirov. While such insubordination would normally get one sent straight to the Gulag, or death, First Secretary realizes how dire the situation is for him as well and decides to ignore the outburst and instead focus on the issue at hand.
- The Only One: Gant is pulled out of retirement and sent on the mission because he's the only person the CIA could find who (1) was an expert fighter jet pilot, (2) could speak fluent Russian, and (3) could fit one of the custom-tailored flight suits the Russians had made for the actual test pilots.
- Portmantitle: Also a One-Word Title and Vehicle Title. Made by fusing "Fire" and "Fox".
- Punch-Clock Villain: Dmitri Priabin is just a dutiful investigator doing his job, and his Kick the Dog moments from the book are cut.
- Repeat Cut: The same shot from a different angle is used when the Firefox rolls out of the hangar (this is made clear when looking at the guard rolling away from the plane's landing gear).
- Retired Badass: Mitchell Gant is a former Air Force Major and Vietnam Veteran, now retired and living on a ranch in Alaska.
- Riding into the Sunset: After successfully shooting down Voskov and the second Firefox, Gant, finally in the clear, flies off into the sunset. Roll credits.
- Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum:
- The aircraft's immunity to detection by radar is never explored in the movie, and only touched on in the novel:Baranovich: I understand that the antiradar capacity is not mechanical at all… It is something - perhaps a skin, even a paint, of some kind… so that the radar-beam flows over the surface of the aircraft, and passes on, nothing having registered… but I can’t tell you how it is done… That part of the project has been developed elsewhere.
- In the sequel, Firefox Down, it loses this capability after being retrieved from sinking into a lake.
- The aircraft's immunity to detection by radar is never explored in the movie, and only touched on in the novel:
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Gant, in spades. He's afflicted with PTSD throughout the movie, based on his experiences in Vietnam.
- Shoot the Builder: Downplayed. The scientists building the Cool Plane are destined for a gulag once it's finished, partially because they're dissidents being forced to build it in the first place. They are all slain by the compound's guards in response to the diversion they perform for Gant to steal the Firefox.
- Shown Their Work: A lot of the Firefox flying scenes are laughable by today's computer-generated standards, but the dogfight was excellent. Specifically, Gant is forced to whipstall the Firefox to avoid a pair of missiles, triggering a PTSD episode. Voskov escorts him down, but does not deliver the fatal blow (see I Owe You My Life above). He recovers from the stall by deploying his landing gear, adding drag and slowing him down, and allowing him to pull up.
- Situational Sociability: Gant spends the first half of the movie traumatized and completely out of his depth as he enters the Soviet Union and uses his contacts to infiltrate the base. But the moment he gets in the plane he’s in his comfort zone and his demeanor changes completely. He spends the entire flight, even the dogfight for the most part, cool as a cucumber and completely confident.
- Skilled, but Naive: Gant's an ace Vietnam-era pilot but has no clue about playing spy games. As a result, he and The Mole leave a trail of bodies behind them.
- Soviet Superscience: The titular aircraft itself is far, far beyond anything fielded by the west, which prompted the plan to steal it in the first place.
- Spared by the Adaptation: But only temporarily - in the original novel, Gant killed Voskov in his quarters at the airfield, and the second prototype was piloted by Colonel Tretsov.
- Super Prototype: Two of them, actually.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
- Gant has untreated PTSD and no intelligence training beyond the three month crash course they gave him to prep him for the mission. Between the two he makes a number of mistakes during the insertion phase of the mission, which alerts the KGB that something is going on.
- All the dissidents who help Gant are murdered by the Soviets or commit suicide to avoid capture; no Hollywood-esque heroic rescue for them.
- Title-Only Opening: Apart from the "Alaska" caption.
- Translation Convention: The movie goes back and forth between this and Just a Stupid Accent. It is stated that Gant had a Russian mother and is fluent in the language. When he is speaking to Russians, we are meant to assume Translation Convention because he sounds just like Clint Eastwood speaking English. When the Russians speak back (or are speaking to each other), they have over the top hammy Russian accents. The only time this is justified in the film is when the Soviet premier contacts Gant when he is in the Firefox. As he knows Gant is American, he speaks to him in accented English. It would've made much more sense to leave out the hammy Russian accents in all of the other scenes.
- Underestimating Badassery: For a while, Voskov dogfights Gant by refusing to give him a clear shot for his aerial mines, but then assumes Gant doesn't know to use them and switches to conventional dogfight tactics. At the end of the dogfight, Gant finally remembers how to fire an aerial mine and destroys the second prototype.
- Vehicle Title: Firefox refers to the codename of the Super Prototype Cool Plane the plot centers on.
- Villain Respect: After Gant recovers from his stall during his dogfight with Voskov, the latter flies next to Gant and salutes him before resuming their dogfight.
- Wham Line: When Gant learns the details of his mission.Buckholz: We have three months to train you. It's getting you there that's the problem.
Gant: Oh? Where is it?
Buckholz: Russia. You've got to STEAL it.
- Wham Shot: Our first look at the Firefox itself.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Scientists forced into developing the plane know this is their fate once the project is complete. Rather than go quietly into the goodnight they conspire to have the plane stolen by the US.