Movie of the Week 4/14/14: Top Gun


Top Gun is one of the all-time ‘80s-est ‘80s movies, and an early microcosm of the late, occasionally great Tony Scott’s career. Flashy, absurd and obnoxious, it’s also one of my childhood favorites, clearly because as a kid I appreciated blue-hued love scenes and completely oblivious homoeroticism… no but really it was the fighter jets. What better movie to follow up The Graduate with?

Rewatching Top Gun for the first time as an adult, one thing that struck me is how much mileage the movie gets out of what is technically just a massive training montage… which tells you how old I’ve gotten already. But on top of that, I was also struck by how relatively grounded the movie is in comparison to many of its ’80s action brethren. Because while Top Gun is derided as being one of the major stepping stones in the gradual dumbing-down of movies- a process that started with Jaws and Star Wars and has culminated in Transformers– it is a great example of the kind of action movie that has been endlessly emulated but is actually a solid movie on its own (less so than Star Wars, but wayyyyy better than the modern equivalent).

The character arc here (and the emotional dialogue found therein) actually feels real to a point, and much more fully realized than most action films. There’s plenty of good chemistry among the cast, full of classic ‘80s faces, with Tom Cruise providing a great heartthrob-turning-into-movie-star turn (Zac Efron wishes he had a role like this) that actually has an okay amount of emotional depth for something so macho and jingoistic. Not to mention that the action/flight sequences are still thrilling to me, even with the lack of pyrotechnics in most of them. It’s also surprisingly inside-track when it comes to the lingo and technical depictions of dogfighting, and I realized that I’d forgotten about how many things I’d needed to presume from context as a kid, which is actually appreciated in this day and age (I’ve ranted more than once about the military inaccuracies in Transformers, which is a completely pointless complaint but still!).

It’s still not a perfect film though, let’s not kid ourselves. It occurred to me for the first time that Charlie (Kelly McGinnis) is a classic example of the Hot Chick But She’s a Doctor trope, and the humor is at times overly grating and bro-y. And while the emotionality is appreciated, it’s sometimes so earnest that it almost derails itself. [insert discussion about the homoerotic reading of the movie here, which is a funny argument to a point but really who gives a fuck?]

And here’s Shiran’s first reaction:

This was a really good example of why I love our movie-of-the-week tradition, because while I probably would have sought out Blade Runner or Zack and Miri Make a Porno myself at some point, Top Gun is a movie I would have never watched on my own, as it’s far outside my main interest areas. I was happy to see that a movie I had been casually dismissing for years was actually far more emotional, sincere, and tightly written than I expected. For a classic 80s action movie, there was a lot of thought put into every major character, and the narrative felt mostly organic to those characters. But more importantly, I was happy to finally see a movie that was at one point really important to Brendan. Our relationship is great not only because we share a huge amount of our interests, but because we’re also open and excited about sharing our other interests with each other. Watching Top Gun with someone who clearly knew it well and loved it (or at least used to) greatly enhanced both my experience and my opinion.

It’ll be back to Shiran next week, and I can’t wait to see what she shows me to balance out all this ‘80s cheese!


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