‘Top Gun’: the triumph of style over substance in the ultimate boys toys movie.
Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is a brilliant but unconventional & rebellious fighter pilot who is sent to the USA’s elite training facility ‘Top Gun’ along with his co-pilot Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards, probably better known as Dr. Green in ‘E.R.’). Maverick is haunted by the memory of his father, also a brilliant fighter pilot, who was killed in Vietnam – the details of which he does not know as the Government has declared them ‘classified’. While there he comes into conflict with an equally talented but completely opposite pilot Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazanski (Val Kilmer) & his macho co-pilot ‘Slider’ (Rick Rossovich), & becomes romantically involved with civilian instructor Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).
Maverick is determined to be the best but is not only competing against the other pilots, but also against his own rebellious nature, his spurning of conventionality. He feels he has to prove a point by being the best there is because of his conviction that his father was never given the credit he deserved, & as a result tries just that little bit too hard. His flying is instinctive but brilliant, often breaking accepted conventions & rules of aerial combat.
Maverick’s main rival Iceman is the opposite – he always flies ‘by the book’, virtually never makes a mistake, & wears down opponents by their becoming frustrated & making a rash move. We therefore have a typical (you could say stereotypical) conflict. On the one hand, Maverick: the seat-of-the-pants, creative individualist, the rebel who evinces sympathy by also being a victim, wanting to live life on his own terms & not have it dictated to him. On the other, Iceman: dull, conventional, compliant, scholarly; flair vs. efficiency; individualism vs. conformity.
Ultimately this is a very shallow movie: the plot is formulaic, the characters are largely cardboard cutouts who are only capable of speaking in a succession of cliches. A lot of the dialogue is vacuous, often cringeworthy, especially in any scene between Maverick & his obligatory love-interest Charlie. Women especially get short shrift here – their only reason for existence here is to massage the huge egos of the flyboys. This isn’t however a women’s movie – this one is definitely geared towards young men.
Having said all that, the cast is a strong one, & one which manages to portray the various roles effectively; Edwards is particularly good as the smartarse funnyman foil to Maverick’s more moody character, & the testosterone-fuelled rivalry between Maverick & Iceman is actually quite well portrayed within it’s self-imposed limited scope.
In the end though, one could argue, does any of this really matter? This isn’t a film that pretends to offer profound insights into the human condition, or present us with deep personalities with layers of complexity & conflicting motivations, or attempt to thrill & baffle with stunning plot twists. This is as empty as a pop video & it looks terrific, which at the end of the day I think is the director’s intention.
Tony Scott certainly shares his brother Ridley’s flair for visual style – visually this is great; beautifully filmed, with a clarity & brightness & a rich palette of colours that leaps out at you from the screen. There are many striking images – for instance the coastline roads ringed with palm trees, & Maverick on his macho motorbike, with his patched brown leather jacket & his Wayfarers, zooming off into the sunset. This is definitely a film where image & sensation is all & content matters very little.
Chief amongst the imagery, & to my mind the only reason to bother watching this film, is the spectacular aerial combat sequences – they are outstanding. Never before or since have I seen modern dog-fighting such as this – it’s exciting, seat-of-the pants stuff, wonderfully filmed & executed, & raised above the level of war-time documentary by throwing the viewer right into the thick of the action. With being able to follow the emotions & interactions of the pilots themselves you really feel as if you’re right there with them, & I expect this is the closest I will ever get to ‘doing a negative 4G roll in an F14′.
Shallow & juvenile, but stylish, good-looking, with an evocative & appropriate score & soundtrack, a strong cast but if ‘flying at Mach 3 with your hair on fire’ is your idea of fun – then ‘Top Gun’ is compulsory viewing!