WHEN: 11:17am EST, June 11th, 2012
WHERE: My apartment in Portland, ME (Isla Nublar)
FORMAT: Netflix Watch Instantly through a Nintendo Wii on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: A little groggy, just finished typing up last week’s results, folding laundry while I watch, trying to blast this sucker out before the bus comes
FORMAT SWITCH ALERT: Hey, did you know that Top Gun is now available for Netflix Watch Instantly? Because all my friends did! So now you have no reason to not understand what the hell I’m talking about week after week. Click these words and exit the Spoiler Zone. Let’s stream this puppy, Wii-style.
I never fail to find something dumber than what I’m looking for on Google Images.
NETFLIX DESCRIPTION OF THE FILM: “Tom Cruise plays a hotshot pilot who struggles to balance life, responsibility and a love affair while competing at the Navy’s fighter-weapons school.”
REACTIONS OF NOTE:
- This is definitely the worst quality viewing I’ve done yet. The colors seem blander and there are splotches of digital wibblies here and there, but it doesn’t look as bad as I thought it might.
- I really need to talk to a pilot about “hitting the brakes.”
- I ate a pear 37 minutes in.
- I like that the Wii tells you how many minutes are left. My brain can’t do math with all the ’80s going on around me.
- The video got very splotchy right around when Meg Ryan shows up. Unfortunately.
- I had a bowl of pasta salad 55 minutes in. Really gotta catch that bus.
I meant to do this last week, but my mom came over and I was forced to wield Top Gun as a weapon against The Help; am I watching a sports movie?
Google Images 2, Bill 0.
Maverick is just competing to be #1… excuse me while I take a 110-minute nap. This is the same reason I don’t really like sports movies… I never care who wins. And if they try to add something to the victory, like the prize is a bunch of money to pay for the Urban Youth Center’s Sex Change Festival, then it just shows through as a lame ploy by the screenwriters to add some “depth.”
I’ll widen the category “Sports Movie” to “Movie Centered Around a Competition.” Even then, out of the hundreds of selections in my tangible home video collection, I own exactly two others that fit the description*: Little Miss Sunshine and Rocky. In a bit of a neat coincidence (spoilers, I guess), the main character loses in all three. Cool. And I’d certainly argue that winning doesn’t really matter in all of them. But Top Gun definitely wastes the most time pretending like it does.
*[I didn’t count Raging Bull because it follows several competitions over the course of 23 years, rather than focusing on just one.]
So, I have a personal bias against movies with trophies, medals, and ribbons. So what? Suck it up and judge Top Gun objectively, right? No. Bias is woven into criticism, my friend. You hate Westerns because they’re boring? Don’t talk to me. Science fiction not rooted enough in basic human problems for you? We can’t be friends. Judd Apatow movies are too long and formulaic? Well… yeah, sure, they are now, but man, he struck gold with 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad and it kinda petered out from there… No, sorry, I really enjoyed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Wait, are we only talking as producer or as director? I know Funny People had some serious pacing issues, but it was probably the most emotional– wait, tangent, back to why Top Gun doesn’t hold my interest.
Let’s break the movie down and look at the stakes in each scene. As is the rule in film, television, improvisational theater, etc., you should raise the stakes whenever possible.
Cougar and the MiGs
- STAKES: Running out of gas, getting shot by the MiGs, starting World War III, Cougar leaving his child fatherless and his wife a widow, Merlin’s life is in Cougar’s hands, everyone’s lives are in Maverick’s hands after he flips off the MiG, Maverick gets in trouble for his inverted dive, Maverick gets in trouble for disobeying the order to land his plane, Cougar could crash on the runway and kill several people, random plane malfunction
- VERDICT: High tension. Death, loss, expenses of military aircraft, manslaughter, war, punishment… much like this review, it seems to have peaked right out of the gate. Can they top it? No. Oops.
Introduction to TOPGUN
- STAKES: Not winning the trophy, possible enemy in Iceman
- VERDICT: Yawn. Even if you don’t win, you’re a Navy pilot, and that’s damn cool. And just be nice to Ice. Be the bigger man. Oh, wait, you can’t.
Ego joke or short joke?
Animal Night at the Bar
- STAKES: Maverick doesn’t get laid, Maverick loses 20 dollars
- VERDICT: Yawn with a curious erection? Just as competitions aren’t that interesting in a story, neither is the prospect of getting laid, unless there might be a great sex scene coming my way. Movies where sex happens in the first ten minutes and the consequences of it must be dealt with are hands-down more exciting than a movie where the humpin’ hits at the halfway point or later. I don’t go to movies for six seasons of Niles and Daphne squeezed into two hours. Forking over an Andrew Jackson, though? HOLY SHIT. Actually, the bet makes Charlie into an object, so we can’t even add “potential romance” to the stakes. She’s just a dongsleeve at this point.
Speaking up at Charlie’s Conference
- STAKES: Appearing disrespectful, still not getting laid, being… right?
- VERDICT: Big yawn. Presentation aside, Maverick is correct. There is zero risk in speaking up and sharing information about enemy aircraft. And as for getting laid… is that still your goal, man? Personally, I would have dropped it by now.
- STAKES: Still not winning the trophy, being kicked out for taking a shot below the hard deck, being kicked out for buzzing the tower, random plane malfunction
- VERDICT: Airplanes. Things that go fwoosh are kind of neat. But here’s a stake that I didn’t include at the last minute: not having fun! And Maverick accomplished fun with the fly-by! Solid work, champ! Hope they let you come back in the morning! I know, I know, I’m starting to sound like Ty getting mad at the cast of The Truman Show for telling lies like it’s not intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but seriously, the tower buzz is, I think, beyond the stupidity barrier. This is an awesome job to have, and I call shenanigans on the– oh, wait, some dumbass in the documentary Carrier totally throws chem lights over the side of the ship just for a thrill. I take it all back. But I think pilots are smarter than that.
Daddy Chat with Goose
- STAKES: Previous stakes raised. Needs to win the trophy to… clear his father’s name, plane danger extra-scary because his father died the same way
- VERDICT: Yawn unless this makes sense to you. I’m sorry, how does proving you’re a great pilot affect the way people view your dad? Dave Hitler, secret son of Adolf Hitler, can plant all the flowers and give away all the puppies he wants. It doesn’t mean Adolf didn’t suck. I just don’t get this at all. Even if the stakes change later because his daddy turned out to be Adolf Jesus.
Finally, Google Images gives me exactly what I’m looking for.
Charlie’s Invitation to Dinner
- STAKES: Maverick could get laid, Maverick could have a shot at love with Charlie, Maverick could get in trouble for pursuing an instructor (which leads to not winning the trophy)
- VERDICT: Kind of interesting. There are some stakes we don’t know about until later that make this even more intriguing, but for now, yeah, I dig this a little bit. Whether he wants Charlie or just sex, the fact that he’s risking his shot at that trophy… wait, no, still don’t give a crap about that. Why do I think I like this movie?
- NO STAKES. WHATSOEVER.
Date with Charlie
- STAKES: Maverick wants to learn about his dad from Charlie so he can clear his name, Charlie wants to learn about the MiG so she can get a promotion, they both want to learn about each other’s genitalia, both could be scolded for improper conduct (which leads to not winning the trophy)
- VERDICT: Pretty damn interesting if you remove the sex. This is the only scene where I appreciate the acting of Cruise and McGillis, but not as two people who want to bed each other. As two people who desire crucial information from each other, they both have different ways of getting it, and neither succeed. That’s a bit compelling. However, I jotted in my notes that their relationship almost compares to the podrace bet in The Phantom Menace; it is needlessly complicated. Are they having this date to swap information or tongues? Is one willing to let what they want to know slide? Is anyone even here for romance? Wait, this may be a failing of their performances. Or the writers. Can’t tell. (Augh, this experiment will make you think about things that never mattered to you before!) However, Maverick’s goal of redeeming Papa Mitchell makes more sense now that he’s looking into what he did in the war rather than hopelessly improving his accomplishments via genetics.
- STAKES: Charlie has to conceal that she digs Maverick, Maverick is judged for his poor decisions, still might not win the trophy
- VERDICT: Auto-pilot. Same shit, different set.
Car Chase of Love
- STAKES: Not having sex, KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE (which leads to not winning the trophy)
- VERDICT: Exciting if you’re a romantic murderer. I’m neither.
Better than what I expected for “romantic murderer.”
- STAKES: Naval STDs, pregnancy resulting in a baby with hideous eyebrows… okay, sorry, no more jokes… getting in trouble with the Navy (which leads to not winning the trophy)
- VERDICT: Blue. Actually, a pregnancy would have been a neat twist. Ain’t no hiding that one. (Well…) Wait, do they ever face a single consequence of being romantically involved? Can it count towards the stakes if it pretty much never comes up?
Hop with Viper
- STAKES: Still not winning the trophy, especially not winning the trophy because Viper is very good at what he does, not impressing Viper, random plane malfunction (which, face it, I only keep adding because we get one eventually, but planes are scary!)
- VERDICT: Exciting enough. I’m an unabashed Viper fan. He makes a hop more entertaining. Their reactions to him being in the air with them certainly help. But, again, end of the day, it’s just that damn trophy. Also, I like that Maverick thinks he takes a risk for the better (going after Viper) only to be tricked. Those were some surprise stakes.
A Few Boring Static Scenes Where Nothing Much Changes in Terms of Risk, Unless You Think Goose’s Piano-Playing Might Start a Fight
The Great Big Hop in the Sky
- STAKES: Not winning the trophy due to lack of skill, not winning the trophy due to dating Charlie, random plane malfunction, staying focused after a friend dies, being blamed for his death
- VERDICT: Oh shit. Whether or not you see it coming, it certainly changes things for Maverick. A welcome raising of the stakes, even if the end goal of winning isn’t that important.
Flight Status Hearing
- STAKES: Not winning the trophy due to not being cleared to fly, not winning the trophy due to being shaken up over Goose, not winning the trophy due to lack of skill… is that one or three?
- VERDICT: It’s one. But, admittedly, a very intense one. The odds against him winning have at least become challenging. Let’s see if he can pull it off!
He Can’t Pull It Off Because He’s Too Sad During the Next Hop
- STAKES: Not winning the trophy, coping with loss, coping with fear of another plane malfunction, working with a new RIO, pissing off the new RIO
- VERDICT: Fascinating to watch him crumble. I’m sorry, but poor Sundown. I think he should have clocked Maverick in the face for yelling like that. No, it wouldn’t have helped anything. Maybe let him bleed out the sadness.
Cheer-Up Charlie Meets Him at the Bar
- STAKES: Not winning the trophy, coping with Goose, giving up flying, giving up Charlie, still need to redeem Daddy, trade the pod for the parts you need
- VERDICT: Dick move? I think I can understand Charlie threatening not to be with Maverick any more unless he gets back in the saddle, but did her plan fail? Was she standing outside the bar thinking, “Okay, he’ll come running out in the next 30 seconds”? Guess you’re broken up now, lady.
- STAKES: Pissing off Viper, officially quitting, not winning the trophy
- VERDICT: Lazy. I’m sorry, I’m sure it wasn’t intended, but having watched this movie over 20 times, it seems like Maverick knows that Viper and his dad flew together in the war. Story-wise, I know he doesn’t. But that whole scene just feels so “insert revelation.” And ta-da, one of the stakes disappears like that! Duke is redeemed! And good thing, because…
Iceman Gets the Trophy at Graduation (Neener, Neener)
- STAKES: Mostly cleared. Pretty much just getting Charlie back or maybe hot hot bathroom sex with a random Animal Night regular… but wait! What’s this? An envelope bursting with stakes?!
- VERDICT: This film was made after 1975; go directly to unrelated action climax. The timing couldn’t be better. But seriously, all the stakes get sucked out of the room in that one moment. You could cut the entire final fight (battle? skirmish? conflict?) and just have Viper say, “Would you like to be an instructor?” Boom, Charlie’s back, it’s over. But no, those third-act envelopes practically punch people out of the way as they rush in with a dangerous assignment.
Time to Blow Shit Up
- STAKES: Starting World War III, Maverick and his fellow pilots dying, still being too choked up over Goose, Charlie… I guess… if we still care…
- VERDICT: Shit gets blown up. The action is intense, but I’m sorry, there are way fewer stakes here. We’ve gone down a lot since the first scene. There’s no tension about family back home. Maverick’s already lost Goose, and Charlie has sailed… who’s he got left? The fuel problem is gone, though Maverick does disobey an order, but this time, following that order is what helps a fellow pilot. Not nearly as exciting. I’m reminded of the idea that watching a character cry is not as engaging as watching a character try not to cry. I think a similar rule applies to the opening and the climax; watching pilots blow each other up on the verge of World War III is not as exciting as watching pilots struggle in the air while they also try not to start World War III.
FINAL JUDGMENT: I already said. The first scene is the most gripping. Nothing else in the movie can compare. It’s all downhill after that incredible burst of tension at the beginning. At the end, they win the day, Maverick heads back to TOPGUN, he gets Charlie, and now he’s officially out of stakes. Maybe he just has to prove himself as an instructor. Hey, Iceman won the trophy and helped blow up MiGs. What’d he get?
FINAL NETFLIX REACTION:
The credits did not cut out a second early, as they frequently do on Netflix Watch Instantly (at least, in my experience with it). Maybe this has something to do with