Review: Top Gun 3D
PLOT: A hotshot naval aviator undergoes training at the Navy's top school for combat pilots, meets the woman of his dreams, suffers a disarming tragedy and combats his own insecurities to become the best.
REVIEW: I suppose it's pertinent to mention that I haven't seen TOP GUN since I owned a crummy recorded-off-HBO copy of it on VHS in the late-80s, enthralled was I by the mesmerizing aerial action sequences. That last time I actually watched the entire thing was probably about 20 years ago, so seeing TOP GUN again - in an IMAX theater, no less - was an intriguing proposition. Forget the bells and whistles of the fancy new post-converted 3D version that Paramount is trotting out in anticipation of the film's Blu-ray unveiling in a couple of weeks (which makes me wonder why they're even bothering with the limited theatrical release) - how does TOP GUN play today after all these years?
Directed by the late Tony Scott, TOP GUN is designed as something of a long music video interrupted by bouts of dramatic posturing and exposition. The film has the benefit of a dynamic Tom Cruise at its center to carry a predictable, frivolous story, but even he can't make this corny ode to fighter jets and the good American boys who fly them very interesting. No doubt helping to usher in the era of sun-streaked visuals and frenetic editing that are now commonplace in loud summer blockbusters (Michael Bay, Simon West et al. certainly took notes), TOP GUN is an entertaining experience, though the "cheese" factor and unintentional laughs are the main reasons why. At this stage of the game, anyway.
Let's look at the plot... There is no plot. The "situation" involves a hot-dogging pilot named Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, who even at the very young age of 23 is one of "the best there is" at his job. Trouble is, he's reckless, a loose canon, just like his father (who apparently died many years ago under mysterious circumstances). His renegade attitude in the cockpit is rewarded with a trip to the Top Gun school aboard the NAS Miramar, where they train the best to be even better and where the Navy hopes Maverick will be brought down to earth a bit. Maverick, accompanied by his goofy co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards, stealing every scene he's in), is soon breaking the rules and flying dangerously at his new location. This dude just can't be tamed, you see.
Maverick eventually falls for one of the school's instructors, a classy lady named Charlie (Kelly McGillis) who it takes Maverick about 5 seconds to wrap around his finger. And then... well, that's about it, really. There's no imminent threat (although we're apparently at war with some unnamed country but that is almost never brought up), there are no real lessons to be learned, no catharsis in the truest sense of the word. Maverick moons over Charlie when he's on the ground, and when he's not, he's on a series of endless training exercises. At the film's conclusion, there's a random encounter with some foreign "bogeys" that come out of nowhere and serve no purpose other than to actually give the movie a climax and its lead character a slice of redemption after he's briefly beaten himself up over some insecurities and guilt.
It's weird watching a movie in this genre that doesn't have a tangible storyline. Nowadays, action movies seem to have too much going on, but here is one where the ingredients are simple: a movie star in the making, flashing that 1000-watt smile of his, some killer planes-flying-around sequences set to rock music, and a rivalry, which comes courtesy of a plethora of macho stare-downs between Maverick and his main adversary in the school, Iceman (Val Kilmer), which are about as intense as a shoving match in a high school hallway. Tony Scott and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer keenly knew that these simple elements were all that were needed to conjure up a product that's all about vibe and motion. A story isn't important when you can insert a zippy fighter jet sequence into the film every ten minutes. Sprinkle in some shots of Tom Cruise soaring down a highway on his motorcycle as Giorgio Moroder's "Danger Zone" blasts away and you're good to go, especially during the coke-snorting 80s.
Trouble is, it's all window-dressing, and a movie this shallow can only coast along for so long before you just want something substantial to happen. When something substantial does happen (the death of a certain likable supporting character), it's such an abrupt inclusion that it feels as if the screenwriters hastily inserted the moment because they just couldn't write another meaningless training exercise sequence. And those flying scenes, while packing plenty of testosterone, get a bit wearying after a while; each one is a montage consisting of: shot of plane zooming through the air; shot of masked pilot reacting; shot of radar screen; shot of plane spinning; repeat. Over and over again.
Yet in its glossy, vapid way, TOP GUN kind of works. That's thanks mostly to its magnetic leading man; Cruise is perfect in the film. That's not to say that he gives a great performance, but the marriage of actor and character couldn't be more spot-on here, and it's rather easy to see why this movie made him a star. Without Cruise playing Maverick, TOP GUN would be a dead duck.
Unfortunately, Cruise has to do all the work himself. Maverick really has no depth, and his love story with Charlie generates zero heat. (Their one love scene is pitifully short and dull.) Maverick's true love is, of course, Goose, but it's more of the "I love you, man" variety taken to the very limit. Overall, however, the movie's infamous homoeroticism is so in-your-face that it's laughable. There are tons of references to "wanting butts" (not the lady kind) and having hard-ons and so forth, but the gay undertones are never more apparent than in Maverick and Iceman's smirking confrontations, when both men seem to be contemplating taking their quarrels elsewhere, and I don't mean outside. By the time they both embrace and say "you can be my wing-man anytime" at the end of the film, it's quite clear that we've gone way beyond subtext. I honestly can't say whether or not Tony Scott meant for TOP GUN to be so overtly sexual, but the reality is that every other scene comes off as pure camp.
Regarding the 3D, the picture looks... good enough. I never got a headache, nor did I think the image appeared compromised in any significant way, which are the things I look for when seeing a movie in 3D, especially a post-converted one. That said, Tony Scott always enjoyed hazy, soft-focused and grainy visuals, so the images don't really pop. The action scenes are crisp, however, and since those are what a lot people are paying for if they choose to see TOP GUN 3D, they might be considered worth the price of admission.