Top Gun

Directed by: Tony Scott
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Written by Nick McCann

87/100

Of the unfortunately delayed 2020 films slated to be released, “Top Gun: Maverick” is one of the very last to come out and also arguably the most hyped up. If ever there was a franchise to get us away from these troubling times, it’s this culture staple. But for now, let’s rewind back to 1986. Even without a new sequel, I doubt I’d need a reason to talk about “Top Gun.” It’s one of those pictures that is ingrained in modern pop culture and recognized the world over at mere mention. But strip back the popularity, how is the movie itself after all this time? Well… still a high octane blast!

It begins with perhaps the greatest ever opening title sequences before launching into a fast-paced, rock and roll narrative. Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.’s story plays out more like a sports film instead of a traditional action picture. And with that in mind, “Top Gun” bares a lot of the cheesy melodrama and relaxed pacing you’d expect from that type of movie. Tony Scott on directing duty though brings purpose and weight on screen.

There’s an entertaining cast. Tom Cruise, for all his controversy, undeniably puts in the work here. Maverick is hot-headed, cocky, and driven by the chip on his shoulder. Cruise plays it with an infectious energy that has you using macho refrains like “oh brother” and “hell yeah.” Kelly McGillis also does a solid job opposite him, as someone who’s older, mature, and conflicted by feelings. Their chemistry isn’t the best, but it has a solid function through the nicely put-together characterization. Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, and Tom Skerritt all round it out with heart and lovable attitudes. It’s one of those ensembles that gets at least two memorable lines a piece for better or worse.

The dogfighting on display still remains as some of the best aerial action sequences committed to film. These machines absolutely blaze through the sky with kinetic cinematography and sharp editing. The MTV-styled visual language is a splendor to watch. Only Scott was ever capable of such a look. Even the few traditional special effects that are used match perfectly with the actual jet footage. Watching an F-14 make banking turns, barrel rolls, and dart all around the screen is wicked.

The sound design should not go unnoticed, however. Noise cues and the mixing is quite visceral between the howling jet engines, grinding metal, and explosions. The audio hits with a punch you don’t often come across anymore. Not to mention the music backing the whole picture up. Harold Faltermeyer’s synth score is as catchy as the rest of his output, ebbing and flowing between suspense, drama, and excitement. With Steve Stevens’ guitar work and a soundtrack that features both Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, and Berlin’s Take My Breath Away.

It’s fast, furious, and nearly timeless. “Top Gun” remains an exhilarating ride decades later. The jets, the one-liners, the music, you’d be hard-pressed to be down in the dumps while watching Scott’s roaring aerial cultural touchstone. Nothing is wholly complex and it doesn’t need to be. Tony Scott unleashes pure visual excess while still giving the story and characters their due time. Do you want to get away from the craziness out there in the world? Just head on down the highway to this danger zone.

“Top Gun” Trailer

“Top Gun” is on Paramount Plus and Prime Video.

You can connect with Nick on his Facebook and Letterboxd.

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