Everyone loved this movie when it came out thirty-six years ago, and now it’s finally getting a long-awaited sequel. But nowadays it seems the only ones who still like this movie are the ones who were there when it first came out, for everyone else, Top Gun is just overly dated with its insistence on flaunting a killer soundtrack and hot lead actor instead of telling a decent story. Maybe this was the movie that helped the Air Force gain hundreds of new recruits because of those who were wowed by the spectacle, but those people were most likely unqualified for the job, seeing how this definitive 1980s action movie is more about the cool jets and Tom Cruise than anything else.
The many scenes that take place up in the air hardly hold up, as they’re all made up of motion sickness, distractingly high ISO settings, and uneven sound quality. Much more noticeable is the lack of consistency in the position of the sun, which makes the lighting inside the cockpits obvious that they were just filmed in a studio with artificial lights. The sunsets are only placed in specific shots to look really pretty, such as one of the three times that Danger Zone is just carelessly thrown in. This really is an ugly film to look at, with such bad color balance that sometimes the screen is half orange and half teal as if those hues were added onto the filmstrip in post-production. If anything about this movie’s filmmaking aesthetic aged well, it would be the way it depicts the common cultural values of the 1980s.
An even worse contributor to this movie’s datedness is its treatment of the sole significant female character, Charlie, who doesn’t even mind if Maverick walks right in on her while she’s in the women’s restroom. She’s there just as a prize to be won in an awfully unrealistic love story between herself and a much more famous actor she has no chemistry with. Then ultimately, their time together reaches its apex in a steamy sex scene lit by low-key blue lights, leaving her hair and makeup still looking perfect the next morning. With this being a PG-rated movie, there’s no way anyone under the age of twelve would feel comfortable watching this scene, especially when their dads are present.
As for those dads, who most likely saw this in its original theatrical run, they could very well still love the reminder of how amazing this looked back then. Inside the control deck, there’s smoke with a color palette limited to inky red and blue with the deepest of shadows, which helps make the whole scene look much more intense in contrast to the openness of the air. While up in the sky, the camera is sometimes put underneath the jet as it takes off, which is great for establishing the feel of flying off into the danger zone. Inside the cockpit, one of the pilots looks at a photo of his kid and his wife before he decides to leave this profession, which gives justification as to why he’s afraid. So there is an effort to keep the tension consistent in the sky and to generate decent conflict whenever two characters are mad at each other.
I will admit that Tom Cruise is a great representative of 1980s manhood, being someone who’s pitted against a circumstance that forces him to alter his ego. This motion picture does admittedly work great as a propaganda piece for the U.S. military, with a keen understanding of flight pilot culture. It can pull off some cool imagery such as the silhouettes against the orange sky, and it’s admirable how the crew made Kelly McGillis look so radiant with their various in-camera tricks, such as lighting her from behind to illuminate her hair. But those successful efforts of appealing to the male gaze are clearly made for a specific generation, any other audience will more likely cringe whenever it tries to be emotional and romantic. Maverick in a particularly awful scene sings badly to Charlie as all the other men around him join in; Charlie at that moment looks really uncomfortable, which isn’t giving a good reason as to why anyone should join the air force, considering it’s more likely full of these sleazy pigs who won’t respect women.
Yet the real reason why this Hollywood classic just doesn’t deserve its status as one is simply because the movie is boring. Yes, even the confusing plane scenes are boring. It doesn’t matter what the editor throws in to try and make people sweat, too much of what’s thrown in should have just ended up on the cutting room floor. One of those sequences includes a pointless montage of men playing volleyball, which features a shirtless Tom Cruise. So many of these scenes aren’t there to serve the story, just to gleam over magazine-cover perfection—the inanimate objects are sexualized as well in the dull opening credits that linger on these wide shots of a jet preparing to take off. On that note, everyone who works at Boeing would be panting their tongues the instant the movie started, but would their attention be sustained? Most likely not.
Do you like planes? Do you like hot music? Do you like hot guys? Do you like hot girls? If you answered yes to any of these questions, just go to a museum, pull up something on Pandora, follow some attention-hungry Instagram model, or do something that will either be more worth your time or will take up a lot less time than sitting through Top Gun. If you wonder whether you’ll become one of those many new Air Force recruits who wanted to join because of this movie, perhaps you should question your motives first. Would you want to give your life to serve in the military just because Tom Cruise’s face was on the front of the branding? Or would you want to do so because something’s screaming inside you to make a difference in your country? With the latter option, you’d be making a far greater national legacy than if you went just because some old movie said you should.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!