Top Gun (1986)

5 May

Top Gun movie image Tom Cruise

Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Top Gun” was one of the highest-grossing films of the 1980s and is considered to be a nostalgic staple of the decade, as it is still being quoted and referenced by movie buffs to this day. And around the time it was released in the summer of 1986, this movie practically ruled the world. The soundtrack (which included Berlin’s Oscar-winning ballad “Take My Breath Away” and Kenny Loggins’ awesome “Danger Zone”) was known by all; lead actor Tom Cruise became a huge Hollywood star; and the film had many quotable lines such as “I feel the need—the need for SPEED!” Also, it was the top-grossing film of the year.

But truth be told, I’ve always found “Top Gun” to be overrated. I was bored by a good majority of the material. There are many reviews of action-packed summer blockbusters from critics that want more human-interest story than high-energy action. This is an unusual case in that the human-interest element of “Top Gun” is a bore, in comparison to the action sequences, which are admittedly top-notch.

To be fair though, I think this had something to do with test audiences feeling there was too much action in the original cut, and not enough of the romantic angle between lead actors Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis. So, in a last-ditch effort to please audiences, Cruise and McGillis were called back to film a couple more scenes, including an overly-stylized sex scene. At first, I thought these scenes were Scott’s attempt to cash in on thematic elements originated from 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman”—not only with an academy of hotshot military men (in case, Navy Fighter Pilots) and their misadventures (in addition to the mystery of a heroic father, the rivalry with a fellow group member, etc.), but also with a steamy, complicated romance between the most eager of the group and an attractive young woman. In some way, I believe they were, but the additions didn’t help much. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were interesting, but while the actors are talented and appealing, they just aren’t given juicy material to work with. Everything is basic and obligatory, without a moment in which you can’t predict what’s going to happen.

But what am I talking about? The film isn’t about the human-interest story, you might say. It’s about the action. Well, when a good chunk of human-interest story demands as much attention, it can’t be ignored for what it is. What it is didn’t work for me at all. But the aerial sequences—Wait. I’m getting way ahead of myself here. For those who don’t know what “Top Gun” is about (so few of you, I’m assuming), I’ll do you a favor:

Tom Cruise plays an ace Navy pilot, whose code name is Maverick. In a terrific opening scene, we see him fly upside-down a few inches above a Russian-built MiG and take a picture of the enemy pilot, before flipping the finger and flying off. That stunt impresses Navy personnel, which leads to Maverick and his co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards), selected for the Navy’s elite flying academy, which engages in numerous aerial dogfights. (The best graduate from the school is labeled “Top Gun,” hence the title.) And this is where many of those obligatory elements come into place—Maverick has a father whose identity is a mystery to him but not to some important people; he runs afoul of a pompous pilot, Iceman (Val Kilmer), who becomes his rival; and Maverick falls for a pretty young woman, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), who is actually one of the instructors.

OK, enough of the plot. Let’s get to the brilliant aerial dogfight sequences. First of all, I should state that creating scene upon scene set in the air can’t be easy to do. It’s a true challenge to pull off, and even if you manage to make it seem convincing, there’s a danger that the audience will be disoriented from dizziness. But these are actually well-choreographed and pretty exciting in the way that we follow these pilots every step (or flight) of the way. You really get the sense of what it’s like to be in one of these experiences. They’re the only reason to see “Top Gun,” which unfortunately hardly has a clue about how a romantic couple might act. The scenes set on the ground needed to be rewritten; as it is, it’s extremely predictable and hardly investing. The scenes between Maverick and Goose have more sexual tension than Maverick and Charlie. (Rimshot)

I was hardly surprised by anything other than the aerial scenes in “Top Gun.” Those scenes are well-crafted and brilliant. But in the scenes set on the ground, in which the characters talk to each other, it really brings the film down. “Top Gun” may be fun to some people, and the scenes set in the air are a good deal of fun. For me, I was wishing for more.

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