Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside
Plot: Best friends, Maverick (Cruise) and Goose (Edwards) are given the opportunity to become Top Guns, the best fighter pilots of the best. But will their egos get in their way?
Ah, the era when all Tom Cruise movies had a pattern. Some argue they still do, but while good story-telling hides the lack of differences in Cruise’s recent roles, the 80s almost had a copy and paste script for every film the cocky lead hero starred in. Tom Cruise starts the film as a charismatic rogue, at the peak of his game in whatever the movie happens to be about (NASCARs, secret agent, in this case fighter pilot). He struts around for the first half, flawless and untouchable. Then something happens that throws Cruise’s confidence for six. He mopes around for around half an hour, convinced his talents relied on his previous circumstances. Cue life-lesson, sometimes with a power ballad song, and boom! He is back and better than ever. Another Tom Cruise movie in the bag. And Top Gun fits so rigidly to that formula, a re-watch seems that little bit routine. Cruise is excellent, but comfortable in a role he can do with his eyes closed. The moral of the story feels over-worked three decades later – self-believe overcomes all obstacles. There is nothing new on show here and once you’ve seen one of Tom Cruise’s 80s films, you might as well have seen them all.
But if you are going to watch one, make it Top Gun. God, it really is cinematic gold. Perhaps, it frustrates writers of a modern era, clinging to melodrama rather than subtlety and choosing a montage with some topless males over clever dialogue. But what Top Gun does do is create a canvas of that era in time. Like Clueless for the 90s, Top Gun acts as a time capsule, condensing everything that made cinema essential back then into one film. Yes, it feels like taking a shot of Red Bull, so much energy compressed into a single 110 minute slot. Every scene is so testosterone packed, younger viewers are likely to turn it off, embarrassed at the accidental campness of it all. No one quite remembers why Val Kilmer thought biting the air was a decent comeback to Cruise’s witticism. But whenever the movie does something you feel like you should condemn, criticism feels impossible. Because it all builds a timeless portrait which is Top Gun. Bring Top Gun up in conversation and you are not quite sure what deserves to be complimented first. The soundtrack that ‘takes your breath away’, the dialogue which is up there with the most quoted in movie history or frames leap out of the memory at the smallest suggestion. For me, it will always be the timeless relationship, not between Cruise and his older love interest, but between him and his wingman, Goose. It is a bromance that has been replicated constantly, from J.D and Turk in Scrubs, to the updated adventures with Sherlock Holmes. However, none have quite reached that bond between Maverick and Goose. Perhaps the true power of their friendship comes from the fact that Tony Scott plays their relationship totally straight. There is no humour aimed toward them, merely laughs to be had with them. Whether Goose is encouraging the bar to take part in Maverick’s pick-up line or a quieter moment, when Goose puts aside his macho persona and allows himself to open up to his friend, it all feels real. You want to be the third friend in their entourage. And as that chemistry begins to break, this is where the real emotion behind Top Gun takes off. If anything, the pair of them push Kelly McGillis into the background, given more screen time, but not doing as much with it as Anthony Edwards does with his. In a movie perhaps held back by its similarities to other movies, the bromance between Maverick and Goose is a fresh breath of originality.
Final Verdict: Nostalgic cinema at its best, Top Gun works as a fun throwback, even if its testosterone seems crass in the 21st century.