"Top Gun" Review: One of Life's Simple Joys Is Playing with the Boys
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Top Gun Review: One of Life's Simple Joys Is Playing with the Boys

By TK | Film Reviews | February 7, 2013 | Comments ()


There was a time when Top Gun was viewed as a seminal "Guy Movie." It had planes, and guys in crewcuts, and a rockin' soundtrack. It seemed destined for the "Guy Movie" pantheon, to be on the list that would eventually include Die Hard, Gladiator, Lethal Weapon, Heat and Braveheart. This was before Cruise started having fits of apoplexy on Oprah's furniture, before his Scientology informercials, before KatieBot v.1.2 and the subsequent divorce, before Rock of Ages. Cruise was on top of the world and director Tony Scott (RIP) seemed bound for greatness. Yet time has not been kind to Top Gun, and with each subsequent viewing it gets more and more ridiculous. The dialogue is cheesy, the acting's overwrought, the relationships are goofy and the plot is nonsensical. Basically, I'm saying it's awesome, and that it saved my life after a hangover. This weekend, it can save yours too, at the movie theaters. In 3D. I'm just paying this motherfucker forward, people.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the plot isn't exactly written by a Mensa focus group. Top Gun was written by Jim Cash, the marvelous mind behind masterpieces such as Anaconda and Anaconda: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, and based on a magazine article by Ehud Yonay about fighter pilots. The Dark Prince of Xenu stars as Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a brash, play-by-his-own rules fighter pilot (the plot, it begs for clichés, people. Don't be afraid) who's trying to live up to the murky legacy of his father, who disappeared on a mission years before. He and his navigator/wingman Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) are one of the best pairs in their squad. Using Plots for Dummies as a bible, the top pilot , call sign "Cougar" (note: no one goes by their real names. Even the civilians have call signs. Bartenders, gas station attendants, horses, and hobos probably all have call signs in Top Gun Land) has a freak-out during a non-violent skirmish, because he's not a svelte, big-balled braggadocio like Maverick. As a result, Maverick gets to take Cougar's place at Top Gun, a sort of testosterone-fueled, sweat-soaked school for super pilots.

Upon arriving at Top Gun, he promptly clashes with his instructors Viper (Tom Skerritt) and Jester (Michael Ironside, who hasn't unclenched his jaw since 1978), who see him as a talented but difficult prodigy who is a potential risk to his squadmates. He also grinds up in a completely heterosexual fashion against Iceman (played with uber-coolness by Val Kilmer's teeth), the odds-on favorite to be the best of the best. Finally, he meets, woos and is schooled by Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), the civilian instructor charged with... well, nothing, really. I don't recall her actually teaching anyone anything, or even doing anything other than standing listlessly in a classroom while Cruise uncomfortably leers at her, while Iceman seethes in sweaty, giant-toothed jealousy in the background. Needless to say, Maverick and Goose are the outcasts of the group, constantly breaking the rules of engagement while they struggle to gain the respect of their teachers and peers. Of course, in the end, Maverick learns the truth about his hero father, saves the world from World War III and gets the girl. Oh... uh, spoiler!

So there's the plot, for what it's worth. If it sounds stupid, that's because it is. Top Gun is like Gatorade with extra sugar mixed in. It's light, it's refreshing, it's enjoyable, and it will rot your brain. It might also make you a bit jittery. With that bit of silliness out of the way, here are the Three Interesting Things About Top Gun That Make It Completely Insane Yet Awesome (TITATGTMICIYA):

1) The Dialogue: Oi. The dialogue is simply breathtaking, my good, rum-soaked people. It contains some of the cheesiest, most overblown, cackle-inducing phraseology you are likely to ever hear. The lion's share of lousy dialogue is shared by Cruise, Kilmer and McGillis, who basically form the love triangle of the movie. McGillis isn't helped by the fact that she's so awful, so bland and hollow, that to call her wooden would be an insult to trees. On the one hand, it's difficult to do much with lines like, "I see some real genius in your flying, Maverick, but I can't say that in there. I was afraid that everyone in the tax trailer would see right through me, and I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you." I mean, yeesh. But on the other hand, being boring, stone-faced and seemingly dead inside might work when you're playing the Amish hausfrau in Witness, but in a movie that is supposed to be fiery and exciting... not so much. Only two actors really make it out unscathed -- Edwards's Goose is a relatively charming, goofy foil to Maverick, a clownish fun-lover who's also the conscience of the pair. Meg Ryan, in a tiny role as Goose's wife, is also pretty good for the 12 minutes she's on film. But every other bit of dialogue is a gem of insanity -- Kilmer is particularly hilarious with his biting criticisms of Maverick, as is Cruise when he responds ("that's right, Ice... man. I am dangerous). Kilmer is notoriously known for desperately wanting out of the film, but was contractually bound to do it. Perhaps this explains his bitter, sarcastic characterization of Iceman, who also barely seems to want to be there, despite his, um... fascination with Maverick. Which leads us to...

2) The Inevitable Discussion about the Gay Subtext: There's no way we can discuss the film without mentioning it, and there's also no way to deny its existence. So let me just come out and say it, and people can start wringing their hands and cursing my name if they wish: Top Gun is the gayest film I've ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who once rented bisexual porn by accident (feel free to jump on the easy joke there). I don't care what people say, I don't care if you think it's deliberate or not, but it's undeniably there. It's a penetration scene away from requiring a photo ID to rent it. It's so gay that Nathan Lane watches it and blushes. What was supposedly supposed to appear as competitive tension between Iceman and Maverick instead becomes a taut, heated contest of eyefuckery and pursed-lipped looks of desire. In one of the numerous confrontation scenes that take place in (of course) the men's locker room (in towels, no less), I swear there's a moment where it looks like Maverick is about to caress Iceman's cheek, then just take him right there in front of the squad. I dunno, maybe that's how the Navy established who the best pilot was back then. Their love dares not speak its name, but it certainly drops enough hints; it might actually even be sexy if it wasn't also so hilarious.

Two quick things things to illustrate: a) The sweating. Jesus, you want to talk about moist? I realize this it's supposed to be hot, but everyone is literally glistening with sweat, in every frame of every scene. It's compounded by the repeated closeup shots of Cruise and Kilmer's faces, not to mention the routine shirtless/toweled locker room shots that manage to successfully be both incredibly goddamn funny and thick with sexual tension. b) The motherfucking volleyball scene. I can honestly say that for a brief moment I thought the scene was going to end in fellatio. Instead, it eventually leads to the Cruise/McGillis sex scene, which is probably worse. Here it is, just to help drive it home, and also to show just how insanely, gleefully awful the movie is. Enjoy it in all its shirtless, shiny, man-hugging glory.

3) The Soundtrack. Remember when I was heaping praise on The Crow's soundtrack? Well, this is pretty much the opposite of that. The soundtrack to Top Gun features hits by such visionary performers such as Berlin, Teena Marie, Loverboy, and because Baby Jesus loves the shit out of you sots, two tracks by Kenny Loggins. One of which was actually nominated for an Oscar. I'm going to write that out just to drill it into your booze-addled brains: "Danger Zone," by Kenny Loggins, was nominated for an Academy Award. Forget about Brokeback Mountain getting snubbed -- if fucking Kenny Loggins getting a nomination doesn't invalidate the entire charade that is the Academy Awards, then I have no earthly idea what does. Incidentally, the above volleyball also features Loggins's brilliant track "Playing with the Boys," a sample of which I figured I'd share with you:

I'm moving in slow motion,
Feels so good,
It's a strange anticipation,
Knock, knock, knocking on wood
Bodies working overtime
Man against man
And all that ever matters
Is baby who's ahead in the game
Funny but it's always the same

Playing, playing with the boys
Playing, playing with the boys
After chasing sunsets
One of life's simple joys
Is playing with the boys

That joke pretty much tells itself, no?

In all seriousness however, there's an interesting bit of dichotomy about the action itself. The training and combat scenes are actually incredibly well shot and serve as damn good action pieces -- so much so that Top Gun served as a model for a host of cheap imitators, such as Iron Eagle parts 1-17 (oh, Louis Gossett, you poor, poor bastard). Yet at the same time, apparently numerous Navy pilots ridiculed the movie, stating repeatedly that if they themselves were to pull any of the stunts that Maverick and Goose did, they'd likely be court-martialed. There's no denying, however, that despite all of it's goofiness, Top Gun is a fairly engaging action movie. However terrible a director Tony Scott had become (RIP) -- his current obsession with berserker editing and saturated prints make his newer films near-unwatchable -- the man used to really know how to shoot an action sequence. Top Gun, not to mention True Romance and Crimson Tide, definitely demonstrates that skill. He's not a subtle director by any means (particularly here), but he had a gift for crafting some truly riveting scenes. The opening and closing scenes in particular feature some beautiful cinematography and remarkable editing, making you really feel like you're in the cockpit with Russian MiG's buzzing past you. It's a shame that his supposed "dramatic" scenes couldn't maintain that same quality.

Regardless, great action scenes do not make a great movie. Top Gun is poorly written, poorly acted and unintentionally hysterical. It's brainless, goofy entertainment and deserves a place of honor in the Hangover Theater rankings. I can't, in good conscience, recommend it for normal, sober viewing -- if you must watch a Tom Cruise film, you're better off with something like Minority Report or Born on the 4th of July, which are genuinely good movies. Top Gun is more like the gay(er) Cocktail of the skies. Dumb fun that should be watched either while drunk, or the morning after as a remedy. Enjoy. Oh, and in case you haven't seen this -- I couldn't resist:

This review is being republished because Top Gun is being re-released into theaters in 3D this weekend. No. This is not a review of the 3D version, and if that's not OK with you, you can go screw.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Buck Forty

    You can just add this to make it a 3D review:
    "The 3D is good, it's almost as if you're up there yourself, flying."
    No, I haven't seen the 3D version either.

  • wicked.whisper

    yeah Tarantino started this whole 'gay' thing with Sleep With Me. so sick of hearing about it...almost as the whole Bert and Ernie thing which pisses me off. who cares? when do we start watching movies and saying 'that was the most heterosexually straight movie ever!'? who cares...veiwed in it's context...it's nothing but 80s cheese. .....and as a 10 year old veiwing this i'm ever grateful for making me want to kiss a girl like the Cruise/McGillis scene.....recently made my daughter watch it for the first time(she's 17)....and she confirmed it was awful...but she never asked if anyone was gay...guess like me....she could care less

  • Zirza

    Seminal, indeed.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Someone should remake this movie and take it out of the closet. Imagine how much more fun this would be as a straight-up (no pun intended) gay romance!

  • Skyler Durden





  • danobc


  • epic206


  • BlackRabbit

    I once watched this and Roadhouse back-to-back. Out-gay that, can you? I nearly ran around and fought people while wearing a towel.Hell, if you pretend they're in the same universe....

  • TK

    I used to fuck guys like you in prison.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    If I remember correctly, enlistment into the Navy soared after this movie was released.

    I've never thought Kilmer was attractive, there's just something unpleasant about his face and although I *usually* enjoy Cruise movies now, I couldn't stand him as a young man. I wanted to strangle him in Risky Business and there was that Tijuana with Shelly Long movie where he looked like a giant head with legs. Oh yeah, he played a gung-ho military school cadet, too... another part where I was hoping someone would blow him up. (And that football movie... god, I hated him back then) I've never seen Born on the Fourth of July or Magnolia due to residual hate from his earlier movies. (ETA: damn it, just remembered another one... that really horrible movie, nix that, both horrible movies he acted in with his wife Nicole Kidman. GAH!!!)

    Now Anthony Edwards is a different story. So incredibly cute, such charisma... unfortunately he ended up looking a bit like a tall Mr Magoo.

  • Irina

    Seen this movie 20 times, but I never knew Maverick's real name till I read this review. Old dog, new trick. Thanks Pajiba.

  • par1964

    Ahem .... more assholery on the way TK ...... all I said was that Maverick's real name, Pete Mitchell, was mentioned several times in the movie. I would argue that your defence of someone who self-admits seeing this movie 20 times and still doesn't know the name of the main character makes YOU the asshat, TK. Just sayin ....

  • TK

    Grow the fuck up.

  • par1964

    Now THAT was real mature. I think you just proved my point about being an asshat. Thanks TK .... keep up the good work, porkchop.

  • par1964

    [|Edited for needless and rather disappointing assholery. -TK]

  • e jerry powell

    Oh, that's why. Now they can charge twice as much for the tickets.

  • HerGuyWednesday

    I had so many friends who loved this movie in the 80s and early 90s, and I could never understand why. I found it so incredibly cheesy.

    Think of how much better a movie it would be if Maverick and Iceman kissed during the final celebration.

  • Ginny

    Huh. I never thought of Top Gun as a guy movie... I'll just say that it featured prominently at a LOT of sleepovers with my girl friends.

  • LibraryChick

    I knew guys who fancied themselves as looking like Iceman or Maverick, but I think they were just too young to see the gay subtext for themselves. They were too busy thinking about having Kelly McGillis or Meg Ryan for themselves. I find it funny now when these same guys turn the Lorder of the Rings Sam/Frodo love connection into a drinking game.

  • e jerry powell

    Hmm. I've always wondered if American girls were as in to yaoi as Japanese girls. I think Top Gun could make an interesting case study.

  • Jezzer

    Excellent review, Peapod Brother.

  • duckandcover

    The noise I made at the recut.

  • Fredo

    The "gay" subtext is interesting because it wasn't always recognized. You're right. For years, Top Gun was recognized as one of those Guy Movies. Then, like Ben-Hur before it, the gay subtext began to be recognized and it completely changed how people saw the movie.

  • Jezzer

    I'm pretty sure this was the work of Letter Man.

    He IS faster than a rolling O and more powerful than silent E, after all.

  • e jerry powell

    Able to leap capital T in a single bound.

    Joan Rivers has wrecked all of our childhoods, I see...

  • LwoodPDowd

    It started with Tarantino's diatribe in Sleep with Me (1994). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt01...

  • e jerry powell

    So much lesbianism, too. Talk of McGillis in the dialogue, and Ellen's ex, Alexandra Hedison, is in it, too.

  • PDamian

    My chief memory of this film is the ear-piercing, blood-curdling screams near the end of the film, uttered by a three-year-old whose idiot mother let him run free in the theater and who managed to get his little arm caught in a seat hinge. The theater was packed (opening weekend), the Soviet and US fighter jets were duking it out onscreen, and all anyone could hear was the kid freaking out as his mother and two theatre staffers tried to pry him out. They finally freed him just as Maverick tossed Goose's dog tags into the ocean. Mom picked her still-squalling kid up, yelled "Sorry," and hauled ass out of the theater. I'm convinced that this memory is one of the main reasons I never had children.

  • Jerce

    I am old enough to have seen this piece of shit in the theater. Everyone in the fucking world seemed to love this movie and I hated it SO. MUCH. I could not understand it. I actually felt that I had dropped a couple IQ points just from having been exposed to it. Gah. Pfui.

    (And that hack Tony Scott can be just as dead as ever he pleases; that just makes him a dead hack.)

  • Blondevenus

    Is anyone going to mention sleep with me? I'd pay to see this if movie theaters showed that scene before every screening.

  • LwoodPDowd

    I just posted about it. I had searched for Tarantio and didn't see a mention. Then I just noticed your post.

  • e jerry powell

    And now that Kelly McGillis is an out lesbian, doesn't that make even Top Gun into a slant-eyed glance at bisexual porn itself? (And let's not even think about what it does to subtext in The Accused.)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Thank you sir, may I have another!

    I have never seen this movie all the way through. But I did catch about 3 minutes on, I dunno, TBS the other day, and saw what I presume was the first of many times Skerrit chews out Cruise. And all I could think was - you're out. One and you're done.

    Btw, bisexual porn? Don't most men enjoy that? Or did you want to clarify that it was MMF porn?

  • e jerry powell

    It is an important distinction, yes (but apparently not so much outside the U.S.).

  • e jerry powell

    I have the buttsecks with great -- some might say alarming -- regularity, and I can't stomach how gay this movie is.

  • $2786243

    "The opening and closing scenes in particular feature some beautiful
    cinematography and remarkable editing, making you really feel like
    you’re in the cockpit with Russian MiG’s buzzing past you"

    And the use of the exact same shot of an exploding MiG three (THREE) times.

  • e jerry powell

    Lazy second unit.

  • AngelenoEwok

    I had an ex who watched this once a week. That got old for me real quick.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That's easily fixed with "know how I know you're gay?"

  • AngelenoEwok

    He was also a fundamentalist Christian. That part got old quicker.

  • e jerry powell

    How did I know that those two things were in pretty close alignment? At least my Pentecostal ex didn't have a Top Gun fetish. He was just an obnoxious balletomane of a dinge queen with a superiority complex.

  • Rob

    It's also newly available on Netflix Instant. So yes, I have my weekend planned out.

  • Hah! I haven't even read the article yet, but my first thought at seeing the headline was, "That's what Tom said!"

  • e jerry powell

    And still very true, no matter how much John Travolta tries to deny it.

  • Aaannd now that I have read it? Exactly.

  • Repo

    Uh, Tony Scott is dead. You may want to amend that oh so minor detail.

  • foolsage

    Looks like it was mostly fixed. Mostly...

    "However terrible a director Tony Scott had become (RIP) — his current obsession with berserker editing and saturated prints make his newer films near-unwatchable"

    He's dead. I don't think he has a current obsession with berserker editing and saturated prints. ;)

  • TK

    It's a republished review from several years ago, folks. Sorry for any issues.

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