Top Gun (1986)

(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) I’ve been re-watching a fair amount of eighties movies lately, and I’m struck by what ages well and what doesn’t. Re-watching Top Gun, I’m most struck by its absence of subtlety. The macho ego is in naked display here, whether it’s flying planes or wooing women, the characters do it without the semblance of sophistication. The entire movie is like this: straight to the point, unimpeded by complexity. The producers (celebrated duo Jerry Bruckheimer & Don Simpson) clearly aimed for that result. The typically American glorification of the military is never far below the surface, and the anti-foreign jingoism isn’t either. Watching Top Gun, it seems almost absurd that it would have worked as well as it did … but it did, and continues to do so today. To be fair, Tom Cruise is a lot of fun in full alpha male mode, and while his banter with Val Kilmer may be on-the-nose, it does feel of a kind with the rest of the film. Kelly McGillis isn’t bad either, and while her character is a prize, she’s somewhat more complex than she could have been. The scene starring the airplanes are nice (although hampered by the production constraints of the time—a Top Gun shot today would feature far more CGI, even if used invisibly) and there are some intriguing real-world details in the depiction of flight officer school. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I enjoyed Top Gun: Its bluntness hasn’t aged well, and seems to belong to an entirely different culture. But it’s certainly a striking film even today, and it has the advantages of its weaknesses. I, on the other hand, will watch Hot Shots! as an antidote.

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