Top Gun (1986)

I think it’s safe to say that nostalgia is the only reason Top Gun remains so revered. At least, I hope that’s the only reason, because Top Gun is a really bad movie.

Top Gun was the highest gross film in 1986, as well as the cannon that shot Tom Cruise into super stardom. Since I wasn’t around in ’86 and I have the benefit of hindsight, I can’t fathom how people watched Cruise and didn’t think something was a little off. He has such a creepy intensity that oftentimes I just had to assume he was looking at Kelly McGillis intimately. If I’d judged it by his acting, I could only assume he was about to strangle her.

His character, the forever memorable Maverick, also seems to me like an unlikely character to root for, much less idolize. Maverick is absurdly arrogant and desperately defiant, risking his own and others’ lives repeatedly. The movie lets him off the hook by having tragedy come by way of accident instead of his actions, but that doesn’t change the fact that Maverick is, all things considered, a prick.

The characters remain static, never becoming more than “the goofy best friend”, “the hard-to-get love interest”, “the snarky rival”, and, of course, “the angry bald dude”. All of them spend the entirety of the film telling Maverick to chill the hell out. Maverick spends the entirety of the film telling them to fuck off.

Adding insult to injury is the soundtrack. 80s music is awful enough when it’s varied, but the guy in charge of Top Gun‘s soundtrack seems content with taking two songs and repeating them ad nauseam. “Danger Zone” has never been anything more than a novelty, and the opening bars of “Take My Breath Away” are not some works of genius – neither needs to be heard as much as they are during Top Gun.

There are a few redeeming reasons to watching Top Gun. You’ll probably recognize a bunch of phrases that have become part of popular culture, and there are some amazing flight scenes. In fact, the action scenes in the air are so impressive that I would probably recommend the movie for those alone – the last act, which centers on Cruise’s first real assignment, could stand alone as a great action short film. Had the movie focused even more on scenes with its characters kicking aerial ass and less on superfluous beach volleyball scenes, it might have gained more credibility as a classic 80s action film.

Instead, Top Gun is a Tom Cruise showboat, championing a character you’d never want to work with in your life. The story is flat and superficial, and the acting is hammy, sometimes worse. As an impressive showcase of jet pilot action scenes, Top Gun works exceedingly well. As a movie, Top Gun is really bad.

Final rating: 4/10

–James A. Janisse

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