Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top Gun

Top Gun
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer

Is there a movie as inextricably linked with the 1980s as Top Gun?  I think not.  Sure, there are many great eighties classics, but Top Gun takes all the classic, cheesy eighties tropes and one-ups them all.  The soundtrack, the characterizations, the narrative structure… wow, this one is a product of its time.  But y’know what?  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Top Gun is an entertaining movie – whether it intends to be or not. 

Lieutenant “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is a hotshot navy pilot who has qualified for the elite fighter pilot training school.  He clashes with fellow student pilot “Iceman” (Kilmer), who is just as good as Maverick, and just as arrogant.  He hangs out with best friend and co-pilot “Goose” (Anthony Edwards), whose depiction as a family man spells out certain doom.  He falls for sexy and smart flight instructor Charlie (McGillis) because she takes less of his crap than his previous conquests.  And then, somewhere along the way, he fights Soviet MiGs.  Because, y’know, this was the eighties. 

So.  Where to begin.  I’ll go with the easy target first.  When you look up the definition of “homoerotic” in the dictionary, there must be a reference to Top Gun there somewhere.  I mean honestly.  Charlie is one of two women who speak in this film (the other is Goose’s wife, played by Meg Ryan), and every other scene is all about men dealing with men.  And not just “normal” men, either, no, these are men whose machismo is off the charts.  Which of course, lends itself for all kinds of cracks about latent homosexual tendencies.  During one year in my teaching career, I had a quarter of the school’s football team in one class.  These were big, burly sixteen year old boys, very macho, extremely muscular, and I swear to god, I have never dealt with more handsy students than these kids.  Every week, practically every day, I had to tell them to stop touching each other, and I honestly wish I was kidding or exaggerating.  They couldn’t keep their goddamn hands to themselves; every few days, they’d break out in a spontaneous wrestling session, touching, hugging, and flat out groping each other (and, may I add, that sort of physicality in a chemistry classroom is fundamentally unsafe, which made things even more of a headache for me).  This movie completely reminds me of that class of students.  Every time Iceman and Maverick share a scene, I keep waiting for them to kiss – because that’s the kind of chemistry they have.  I mean honestly, Iceman and Maverick… together… alone… in a locker room… no one watching… Maverick is feeling emotionally vulnerable… the slash fanfiction writes itself, for crying out loud.  I haven’t even mentioned the beach volleyball scene, either.

Just kiss and get it over with.

And on top of the ridiculously obvious sexual tension between Iceman and Maverick, when you add lines like “This gives me a hard-on,” “I want some butts!”, “Carnal knowledge… of a WOMAN this time!”, and “They must be close, I’m getting a hard-on,” my husband and I were falling off the couch laughing.  If I were a gay man, I would organize festive parties around watching Top Gun.

Alright, putting aside the all-too-obvious man-on-man subtext, Top Gun is filled with grade-A quality 1980s vintage cheese.  Thing is, though, sometimes I’m in the mood for cheese.  Top Gun reeks of summer blockbuster; easy, crowd-pleasing entertainment that can satisfy all audiences, with a heavy hand of pro-‘Merica nationalism to placate a Cold War era audience.  Is all of that a bad thing?  Hell no.  Easy, crowd-pleasing entertainment is just that – easy and crowd-pleasing.  You want to sit back and make the movie do all the work because you need to turn your brain off on a Friday night after a long week?  Top Gun will pick up the slack and let you relax.  I can understand why this movie was a smash at the box office.  It has that kind of calculated mass market appeal that hits straight at the vein of American masculinity.  No need to think too deeply, sweetie, about why Maverick was only an elite fighter pilot for one week between graduating from fighter pilot school and being offered a position as fighter pilot school instructor – it’s far better if you simply accept the weave-thin plot and go with it.  You’ll have more fun that way.

It’s laughable how many times a character in Top Gun tells Maverick not to do something, and then thirty seconds later he does it anyway.  It’s laughable every time the soundtrack cranks up and we hear “Highway to the Danger Zone” - AGAIN.  It’s laughable how heavy-handedly the film plays up Goose’s family man status so utterly out of nowhere about halfway through.  It’s laughable how randomly the Soviet MiGs pop up in the film – it’s as if the screenwriters realized they didn’t have a true villain, so “shit, let’s throw in some evil enemy dogfight scenes, because why the fuck not – ‘Merica, Fuck Yeah!”  Writing is not the strong suit of this film.

All of this adds up to a particularly not good film, but hell, it’s funny.  I don’t think it’s supposed to be funny, but jesus, it’s funny to me.  Get a cocktail or two in me on a Friday night after a long week, and watching Tom Cruise pretend to be all “emotionally distraught” is right good evening entertainment.  But usually, I’m annoyed by poor quality, not amused by it.  Despite the really crappy writing and the eye-roll inducing soundtrack, there’s fun here to be had.  The flight scenes are exciting and it’s hard to deny Tom Cruise’s star power.  He, Kelly McGillis, and Anthony Edward’s porn ‘stache have charisma enough to carry the movie.  I’m never bored when I watch Top Gun, and honestly, that’s a compliment.  Frankly, I’d rather watch a poor-quality movie that amuses me than a better quality one that bores me.

If you want to take a trip back to muscle shirts, ridiculous facial hair, over-simplified senses of right and wrong, and synthesizer music up the wazoo, Top Gun will get you where you need to go.  It’s some weird, sun-drenched male fairy tale, full of trash-talking arrogant hotheads (and a rather funny sense of physicality) and just enough heterosexual love scenes to appease the ratings board and hide its unintentional homosexual agenda.  

Oh, and I would be remiss to not mention that my husband continually refers to Tom Cruise as “THE Actor.”  He has this weird ingrained notion that if anyone needs to cast a superstar, they go to Cruise – and he’s not entirely wrong.  Top Gun certainly helped to cement Cruise’s status as THE Actor.  (Expect my future reviews to refer to Cruise this way, as this is how he’s commonly discussed in my house.)

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10.  I think.  I’m not entirely sure.  It’s fun, it’s entertaining, but I’m not so sure it’s good.  But heck, *I* had fun with it.  It makes me laugh.  One of the best unintentional comedies from the eighties.


  1. Comment #1: The first time I saw Top Gun, I went with friends to a theater. We smuggled in a case of beer between the three of us. I vaguely remembered airplanes.

    Comment #2: Top Gun is, hands-down, the most homoerotic film I have ever seen, and that includes Satyricon and Brokeback Mountain. There has never been a non-porn scene more charged with man-on-man action than the shirtless beach volleyball scene complete with Kenny Loggins singing "Playing with the Boys."

    Comment #2.5: Is it any wonder that less than a decade after Top Gun, the U.S. military found it necessary to institute the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Seriously, all it needed was an appearance by the Village People.

    1. The best way to watch Top Gun is with lots of booze in hand. It makes everything better.

      See, at least with Satyricon and Brokeback Mountain, the sexual tension eventually leads somewhere. It goes nowhere in Top Gun, which basically means that it just builds and builds and builds until you screaming at the screen "JUST MAKE OUT YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!" Clearly, then, that makes it far more homoerotic.

      Nice point re: US military policy.

  2. Somehow I managed to avoid Tom Gun all these years. I see I need to get to it soon. You make it sound like a ton of fun!

    1. If/when you see it, PLEASE take it with the proverbial grain of salt. This is NOT high art. Sit back, relax, and laugh at the ridiculousness, and you'll have fun too.

  3. Great review! Have you seen the show Archer yet? It's on netflix streaming and like Top Gun, it's good to watch after sitting through a boring drama. That being said, Top Gun made me sign up for Officer school because I wanted to play volleyball with hot guys and fly fighter jets.

    My husband didn't like this movie because 'it was clearly made for girls what with all these shirtless guys.' Lol.

    1. I *haven't* seen Archer, but I've heard a ton of good things about it. I'll definitely have to give it a shot (and hey, netflix streaming, it doesn't get much easier than that).

      The military said they had huge increases in recruitment numbers for several years after this film came out.

      I disagree with your husband - I do not think this movie was made for girls. Hee hee, I think it was made for certain guys.

  4. C'mon, admit it - you like the volleyball scene.

    True story: I saw this in the theater when it came out. When the volleyball scene started and one of the guys flexed, a young woman a few rows behind me let out a little involuntary moan, quickly followed by an embarrassed titter when her friends around her reacted to it.

    I honestly never saw homoerotic scenes in this film back then. I never even heard anyone mention it until the 1990s when the whole "Tom Cruise is gay" thing started. It was then that some people started saying "just look at Top Gun. That proves it."

    Steve mentions this was the most over the top film in that regard that he has seen. I say the same thing about Troy, right down to using the "and I've seen Brokeback Mountain" line.

    1. I've seen Troy, but I'm still going with Top Gun.

      I can understand that, in 1986, Top Gun was simply read as fervent instead of over the top. But NOW?!?!?! I just can't see it any other way.

      Honestly, no, the volleyball scene did nothing for me because it was too. damn. funny. Holy cow, it's funny. I like your story, though, about the theater. I think there would be a lot of laughing if I attended a screening of Top Gun today, but none of it would be embarrassed laughter.