Top Gun

There are some films out there that seem to be universally adored, so much so that were someone to come along and start slagging them off they’d automatically be written off as hipsterring, pretending not to like something incredibly popular to appear cool or ironic. Now, I’m fairly sure I’m not a hipster, even though I ride a bike and own a scarf (that I very rarely wear, and even then when its freezing), but I just can’t get behind Top Gun, a film that as far as I can tell everyone else seems to generally love.
It does have some very enjoyable aspects, most notably the score, with Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone being a clear favourite, the script is full of zingers (“Your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.”) and a brilliant cast all on top form, but it can’t get around just how boring most of the film is. Now, this may have something to do with my opinion on aircraft. Every year for at least the past four years, Bournemouth (the town I live in) has held an air festival down on the beach. I live less than ten minutes walk away from said beach, yet I do not join the literally thousands of people who flock to this event on an annual basis. That doesn’t sound too surprising, until you discover that other patrons to this event include many of my close friends, colleagues, and of course my parents. This year was the second time I’ve actually headed away from the city during the long weekend, just to escape the planes and their incessant noise. I’m fine flying in planes, and generally find the flights to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of holidays (I get to sit and watch films for six hours straight!?!?!?!), but I really don’t care about watching planes fly, how they work, what model they are etc. And unfortunately, that plays a large part in Top Gun, a film about the top 1% of Navy pilots being trained to be the best that they can be.
It’s clear during the making of the film that two different markets were established – men and women – and a very broad sense of their tastes was estimated. Two different films were then thrown together to attempt to please both groups, and so it is that we have a film about jet fighter pilots in which half the time is spent on an insipid romance plot between Tom Cruise’s cocky pilot Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell and one of his civilian teachers, Kelly McGillis’ Charlie. It doesn’t really help that both halves of the film don’t fit together well, and are for the most part dull. The flying scenes, especially the training exercises, are devoid of either tension or excitement, and the romance is surprisingly more cheesey than the half-naked, oiled up volleyball scene set to Playing With The Boys. Each scene type goes on far too long as well. I can’t imagine the plane-heads remaining fully engaged through the love scenes, and likewise the romance junkies are unlikely to really care about the flying bits.

So why does it have such a reputation? Well, there’s enough to keep your attention on a Friday night post-pub outing, full of kebabs and an impending hangover, and of course there’s Tom Cruise. After sliding across the floor in a shirt and socks in Risky Business, this is probably the early defining movie for Cruise, and none more so than his seducing of Charlie by serenading her, with the help of an entire bar, to The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. I’ve always questioned the choice of this song, as it’s supposed to be a song everyone in the bar knows the words to, yet I’ve never heard it outside of this film. Maybe it’s more popular in the States. This could also be the film that turned a lot of the public opinion against Cruise (not me personally, I’ve got no issues with the guy), as Maverick is an immensely arrogant, cocky dick, but he plays it so well. Anthony Edwards is also great as Maverick’s married-with-kids partner Goose (he’s married to Meg Ryan?!?), but the film is completely stolen by Val Kilmer, who manages to out-cockiness Cruise as rival pilot Iceman.

This is one of the few films that I think could be possibly improved with the use of 3D, normally something I’m deeply opposed to, but I think an added sense of depth perception could help clarify and enliven the aerial combat scenes, which otherwise feel flat and lifeless. I hate to say it, but this feels almost more like a Michael Bay film than a Tony Scott one, and if it wasn’t for the acting and the soundtrack, there’d be no reason to watch it whatsoever.

Choose life 5/10

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7 thoughts on “Top Gun

  1. I saw this when it came to the theaters. It was an entertaining action film, but nothing more. It's certainly one of the bigger WTFs for me in regards to the book. If I was going to pick an early Tom Cruise film to include it would be Risky Business, not this one."This could also be the film that turned a lot of the public opinion against Cruise" Actually, this was the film that made him a worldwide star and immensely popular. It was only much later when some people started to dislike him for 1. breaking up with Nicole Kidman, 2. not shutting up about Scientology, and 3. acting like a man crazy in love when romancing Katie Holmes.And the song You've Lost That Loving Feeling was a massive hit for the Righteous Brothers in the 1960s, going to number one in both the U.S. and U.K. I think it was picked as the song that was the most ever played on the radio in the 20th century (not sure how they determined that). It was probably a combination of a song that the director liked when he was younger and one they could get the rights to for not much money that put it in the movie.

  2. Phew, I was expecting some backlash on this one! I don't really know anyone who doesn't love this film, but then most of my friends have an engineering background, and I'm the only mechanically-minded guy I know without a lust for machinery, so that could have something to do with it.

  3. Thanks for the info. This was one of the first Tom Cruise films I saw, and I didn't really like him after I saw it for the first time, so personally it turned me against him, but based on his reputation as a really nice guy and his turns in, amongst other things, Tropic Thunder, Magnolia, Jerry Maguire and A Few Good Men, I've come to really like him as an actor.And I'd have much rather Risky Business be picked, as I've never actually seen that film but have always meant to.

  4. I'm with siochiembo and Chip Larry here, I just wanted to pile on! I think the polling sample of your engineer friends is seriously skewed. At least here in the States, Top Gun is only beloved in the sense that it's a guilty pleasure because it's so ridiculous. It is over-the-top Cold War jingoism without a hint of irony or self-awareness, plus some notoriously oblivious homoeroticism. I was reasonably impressed with it when I saw it in the theaters, but I was 12, so grain of salt and all that. It's a competently made movie, and as you point out some of the dialogue has moments of quote-worthy brilliance. The jets-and-aircraft-carriers stuff has a certain gee-whiz wow factor, but obviously if that's not your thing, it's just not your thing. But twenty-five years later, does the film stand up as a universally beloved classic? Not to me, and not to anyone I know, for whatever that's worth.My take on the whole "public backlash for Tom Cruise" thing is this: people didn't dislike him as Maverick in Top Gun, but after that he fell into the trap of seeming to play the same character (cocky young guy living in the shadow of his father who endures a crisis of faith involving his friend getting hurt) over and over again. See Days of Thunder – no wait, you already have seen it if you can imagine the jets in Top Gun as racecars. So because Top Gun was the beginning of that whole trend, people might think that was when he started coasting. Personally, I think the first time through playing the cocky young guy shouldn't be held against him. – Sunny D

  5. Pingback: The War Lover | Life Vs Film

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