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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Top Gun (1986)



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When Top Gun came out in 1986, it was the king of all movies. I was the lone dissenter among my peers. Now when I ask people what they think of Top Gun, all too frequently the reply is, "It was good when it came out, but now...."

I never liked the common excuse, "It was good when it came out." It doesn't make sense. Either it's good or it isn't. Maybe a movie becomes dated, but that doesn't make it bad. Top Gun isn't dated -- it's just not a very good movie. When it came out, it became a fad -- for whatever reason -- and scads of people were enthralled by it. But when the frenzy died down, the movie wasn't substantial enough to endure.

Top Gun's airborne scenes are admittedly stunning. Although the direction is confusing, and we're not always sure what's going on, the action is tense and exciting. But the ground scenes are formulaic and uninvolving. This same story has been told hundreds of times with more conviction and care. The main character, played by Tom Cruise, has all the cliched co-stars -- a zany co-pilot, a stern instructor he comes to respect, a female instructor love interest, a smart-aleck rival peer, and a father who died in combat and left behind a legacy. It's not hard to guess how Cruise's relationship with each of these people unfolds. The trouble is, we're only told about their emotions. We might accept it, but we don't know why. As such, the character aspect of the movie falls flat on its face, and we're left with the spectacular flying scenes to carry the movie.

They're impressive, and they keep the movie from being a complete waste of time, but Top Gun, I think, still falls a little short of the mark.