Recently I got a hankering to watch Top Gun again. Maybe it's part of the overall 80s nostalgia, but I thought it would be interesting to revisit the film after skipping it for decades.
I admit that I was expecting it to be both cheesy and awful, a schlocky collection of action-film tropes married with bad bad acting and improbably aerial displays.
I'm sure a large part of my antipathy towards the film stems from my great dislike of Tom Cruise and his participation in Scientology. In an age where everything we do is supposed to be dictated by a political/ethical matrix of boycotts and moral exhibitionism, it's easy to fall into the trap of ruling whole classes of artistic endeavors as out-of-bounds.
Because I am reactionary by nature (that is, if you tell me I can't do something, I'll want to do it even more just to defy you), I decided to break the embargo and watch the film. I was also curious how my decade-and-a-half of military service would influence my opinion of the film.
So I watched it.
And you know what? I really liked it. It's a solid film. Some of the special effects are a bit dated, but the aerial sequences are more amazing than I remembered - partly because I now know more about how hard it would be to choreograph and film them.
As to the characters, they aren't the deepest people in the world, but it's a movie that takes place over a matter of weeks. We really don't need flashbacks and a ton of expository scenes. Too many modern films make that mistake, which is why I can't stand them.
In fact, I found the film did an excellent job of sketching out the characters and telling the audience all you need to know about them. As a kid, I totally missed the whole "academy graduate" angle, which is very much a think in the military. Iceman has a ring and flourishes it. Maverick doesn't, and is acutely conscious of the fact. The writers do us a courtesy of bringing it up later in dialog to help explain why Iceman is such a world-class jerk.
And yes, naval aviators are that arrogant. I haven't known many, but they are a cut above Air Force fighter pilots when it comes to ego, and that's saying something.
That may sound like a criticism, but it isn't. The fact is one cannot function in that world without an almost super-human level of self-confidence. The movie actually shows that without it, one can't do the job.
There are some sour notes, most notably Meg Ryan's hair. Worst look ever. However, the soundtrack is brilliant and far better than anything on the radio today. The film is also unabashed in its support of the military, which is a refreshing change.
Basically, it is a movie that knows what it wants to do and does it very well. That's increasingly rare these days.
Even the super-hero movies bog themselves down in PC nonsense or lame character drama. The other day I re-watched Darkest Hour on dvd and while Gary Oldman's performance remains brilliant (as the Academy recognized), the PC trope of having Churchill have to consult with the common people on the Underground to find his courage was even more jarring on the second viewing.
In fact, if we were to compare the two films on being true to the goal of staying within their genre and telling a good story, Top Gun unquestionably takes the trophy.
It is a strange thing for my military service to make me appreciate a Hollywood film more than I did as a civilian, but Top Gun managed to do it.