Film Review: Top Gun (dir by Tony Scott)


Oh, where to even begin with Top Gun?

First released in 1986, Top Gun is a film that pretty much epitomizes a certain style of filmmaking.  Before I wrote this review, I did a little research and I actually read some of the reviews that were published when Top Gun first came out.  Though it may be a considered a classic today, critics in 1986 didn’t care much for it.  The most common complaint was that the story was trite and predictable.  The film’s reliance on style over substance led to many critics complaining that the film was basically just a two-hour music video.  Some of the more left-wing critics complained that Top Gun was essentially just an expensive commercial for the military industrial complex.  Director Oliver Stone, who released the antiwar Platoon the same year as Top Gun, said in an interview with People magazine that the message of Top Gun was, “If I start a war, I’ll get a girlfriend.”

Oliver Stone was not necessarily wrong about that.  The film, as we all know, stars Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky young Navy flyer who attends the TOPGUN Academy, where he competes with Iceman (Val Kilmer) for the title of Top Gun and where he also spends a lot of time joking around with everyone’s favorite (and most obviously doomed) character, Goose (Anthony Edwards).  Maverick does get a girlfriend, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), but only after he’s had plenty of chances to show both how reckless and how skilled he can be while flying in a fighter plane.  Though the majority of the film is taken up with scenes of training and volleyball, the end of the film does give Maverick a chance to prove himself in combat when he and Iceman end up fighting a group of ill-defined enemies for ill-defined reasons.  It may not be an official war but it’s close enough.

That said, I think Oliver Stone was wrong about one key thing.  Maverick doesn’t get a girlfriend because he started a war.  He gets a girlfriend because he won a war.  Top Gun is all about winning.  Maverick and Iceman are two of the most absurdly competitive characters in film history and, as I watched the film last weekend, it was really hard not to laugh at just how much Cruise and Kilmer got into playing those two roles.  Iceman and Maverick can’t even greet each other without it becoming a competition over who gave the best “hello.”  By the time the two of them are facing each other in a totally savage beach volleyball match, it’s hard to look at either one of them without laughing.  And yet, regardless of how over-the-top it may be, you can’t help but get caught up in their rivalry.  Cruise and Kilmer are both at their most charismatic in Top Gun and watching the two of them when they were both young and fighting to steal each and every scene, it doesn’t matter that both of them would later become somewhat controversial for their off-screen personalities.  What matters, when you watch Top Gun, is that they’re both obviously stars.

“I’ve got the need for speed,” Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards say as they walk away from their plane.  The same thing could be said about the entire movie.  Top Gun doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff.  We know that Maverick is cocky and has father issues because he’s played by Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise always plays cocky characters who have father issues.  We know that Iceman is arrogant because he’s played by Val Kilmer.  We know that Goose is goofy because his nickname is Goose and he’s married to Meg Ryan.  The film doesn’t waste much time on exploring why its characters are the way they are.  Instead, it just accepts them for being the paper-thin characters that they are.  The film understands that the the most important thing is to get them into their jets and sends them into the sky.  Does it matter that it’s sometimes confusing to keep track of who is chasing who?  Not at all.  The planes are sleek and loud.  The men flying them are sexy and dangerous.  The music never stops and the sun never goes down unless the film needs a soulful shot of Maverick deep in thought.  We’ve all got the need for speed.

In so many ways, Top Gun is a silly film but, to its credit, it also doesn’t make any apologies for being silly.  Instead, Top Gun embraces its hyperkinetic and flashy style.  That’s why critics lambasted it in 1986 and that’s why we all love it in 2020.  And if the pilots of Top Gun do start a war — well, it happens.  I mean, it’s Maverick and Iceman!  How can you hold it against them?  When you watch them fly those planes, you know that even if they start World War III, it’ll be worth it.  If the world’s going to end, Maverick’s the one we want to end it.

 

Quickie Horror Review: Species (dir. by Roger Donaldson)


1995’s Species was a studio’s attempt to replicate the start of a new sci-fi/horror franchise like the one begun by Ridley Scott’s Alien. Roger Donaldson was tapped to direct this attempt with a cast that included Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marge Helgenberger, Forrest Whitaker and Alfred Molina. The lucky gal who gets to play the role of Sil — the half-alien, half-human hybrid — fell on the stunning and gorgeous shoulders of Natasha Henstridge.

Species pulls from so many different sci-fi/horror films and shows from the past that it’s hard to find anything original in the story. There’s stuff from Alien, The Hidden, and even some episodes of The X-Files. The one original twist in this derivate film was the plot of an alien race sending over the genetic markers of its race and instructions on how to recombine it with human DNA to create a form of hybrid. Why the scientists decided to go through with such a seemingly dangerous task is known only to the writer who put pen to paper to create the screenplay. The bulk of the film’s story comes from one the creation of one such human-alien hybrid named Sil (the young version played by Michelle Williams in one of her very first roles) and how her creators and handlers begin to realize that she has an almost desperate need to procreate.

The acting by the select group of experts (Madsen, Helgenberger, Molina, Kingsley and Whitaker) were good enough and no one embarrassed themselves in the end. Henstridge does a fine job of being sexy and hot. It helped that she pretty much was naked through most of the film, or at least put herself in situations to be naked. In fact, Henstridge goes beyond just being the naked eye candy in the film, but does a great job playing the naive adult Sil who escapes her lab-prison as her instincts propel her to find the perfect mate. It’s during this search that much of the film’s gore make their appearance and there’s a bit of it.

The art design of Sil as the evolved alien hybrid came courtesy of the great Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger who also did the design for the alien creature in Alien. Giger’s biomechanical designs have always been disturbing and beautiful at the same time and he didn’t disappoint with his design of Sil. If there was a quibble on Sil’s final design it was that it still resembled a bit too much of the alien design in Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it was still great to see H.R. Giger still creating such wonderful artwork and designs for people to see. His popularity has always been mostly composed of the elite circles of the artworld and those small, loyal art groups with a penchant for the surreal, weird and disturbing.

In the end, Species was a good sci-fi/horror that didn’t bore too much and for those who enjoy their gore this film had its equal share of the red stuff. Gratuitious nudity and sex from Natasha Henstridge as Sil the alien hybrid and the excellent designs from H.R. Giger gives this film enough good things to look at. It doesn’t bring anything new and pretty much reuses alot of other things from other movies, but Species was good enough albeit derivative of better past films and shows.