The UnPopular Opinion: Top Gun
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Oh, TOP GUN. You are loved by a large contingent of heterosexual males because of the massive testosterone displayed on screen throughout with a sharp undercurrent of homosexual tension. Sure, the movie spends a little too long lingering on the bodies of buff dudes who say barely masked sexual double entendres to each other. Hell, I could quote Quentin Tarantino's speech about TOP GUN being the story of a man's struggle with his own homosexuality, but I am instead going to focus on what makes this one bad movie and a lowpoint in the careers of all involved.
I will say that I like Jerry Bruckheimer movies, on the whole. I can find enjoyment in his Michael Bay era and even his current run with Walt Disney. Tony Scott is also a filmmaker I enjoy immensely, especially TRUE ROMANCE and then his run of stylized films in the 1990s. Tom Cruise is also an actor who I generally like. But, when all three of these entities converged, they produced two honking pieces of crap: DAYS OF THUNDER and TOP GUN.
Filmmaking Tip: To make your character cool, make them wear sunglasses, constantly.
If you take TOP GUN in just for the aerial shots, it is a masterpiece. There have been very few films that have given us a look at fighter jets in action in such an exhilarating manner. TOP GUN succeeds by giving us clear shots of the planes in action as well as against each other. At no moment do you ever see through the visual effects and think this is all green screen. You truly feel that Tom Cruise was in the air in every shot, making those near impossible maneuvers seem like child's play.
Don't get me started on the music. Both "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away" became huge hits after TOP GUN became a box office smash and I have no problem with either song, until they are played for the hundredth time at the halfway point of the movie. The instrumental score of a movie uses musical cues to set the tone and mood of a scene, but when you use an actual song with lyrics over and over, it just feels amateurish.
But, the moment the action stops and the characters have to interact, the movie collapses. The sceenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr features some memorable one-liners but every other character interaction feels like a superficial conversation written by a high school student imagining how adults talk. Goose and Maverick truly feel like friends who have an unspoken bond between them, but no other characters hold that same level of rapport. Add in the villainous Iceman and you have a bad guy with less depth than Johnny Lawrence from THE KARATE KID. Val Kilmer will forever be associated with TOP GUN, but I would rather watch him in BATMAN FOREVER than this movie. At least as Batman, Kilmer showed some range.
Ooh, Maverick! The whole fist? Mmmmm!
The other focal point of TOP GUN is the romance between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise. McGillis' Charlie is an astrophysicist and quite a catch, just check out the old dude she is seeing when Maverick first spots her in the bar. I mean, what woman would not choose a guy in his early twenties with Tom Cruise's abs when she can hold an intelligent conversation with someone? That wouldn't make logical sense, but this is a Bruckheimer movie after all. So, after the weakest round of foreplay I have ever seen on screen, McGillis ends up falling for Cruise after learning that Maverick is the only man in the world to fly a jet is a very specific way. Actually, he was in a "4G inverted dive with a MiG 28" which is the kind of technobabble that makes the characters sound like experts, but plays more like a cheap way to make the movie sound more authoritative than it is. Come on, guys, leave the expertise to the actual pilots making the aerial scenes so intense and let the characters have some better dialogue.
The sex scene between Charlie (ok, so she uses a dude's name. Still not making gay jokes) and Maverick is one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever watched. Charlie looks like she is waiting for Maverick to stop licking the inside of her mouth while he silently bangs her. Knowing now that Kelly McGillis is a lesbian made me wonder if it was filming this scene that pushed her to exclusively sleep with women. For a manly fighter pilot, Tom Cruise f*cks like a woman.
In fact, TOP GUN seems to have more scenes featuring the pilots staring at each other intensely or superior officers giving orders than it does true interaction. And sweet lord, how sweaty are these guys? They all look like they have been eating habanero peppers between takes. In fact, even when Maverick loses his edge after Goose's death, I never felt that there was any true danger to their roles or their careers. I was reminded of this when I saw THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which features Peter Parker and Flash Thompson hating each other until Uncle Ben dies. At that point, Marc Webb and the screenwriters elected to have Flash show some humanity and relate to Peter's loss. In TOP GUN, when Goose dies, Iceman suddenly becomes a partially decent human being. The rivalry between these pilots feels like a bunch of entitled brats arguing over who has the bigger dick.
In the very end, the pilots are all on the "same team" (not a gay joke) and unite as good members of a unified military would, for the good of our country. There really is an enemy to fight, which leads to the breathtaking (see, they couldn't take mine away!) final battle. After all is said and done, Maverick and Iceman are now buddies ("You can be my wingman, anytime" Really?) abd Maverick gets the girl. All's well that ends well, but the viewer is left wondering why they didn't just fastforward through everything but the flight scenes.
Scott, Cruise, and Bruckheimer all went onto great careers in Hollywood and toyed with a sequel to TOP GUN until Scott's unfortunate death last year. I am sure a follow up would have been a hit with audiences today as much as it was back in 1986. But, the sequel would have had a hell of time matching or even topping any flight sequences in this original, but even the screenwriters of the TWILIGHT franchise could have done a better job with everything else. TOP GUN will remain a curiosity of Hollywood: a movie so bad that it is good, but is still really, really bad.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to email@example.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
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