When Tony Scott died, I felt it important to look into his body of work to gain a better understanding of where Top Gun fits into the picture. I looked into the whole body.

Yup.

Over the course of the first three days, Tony Scott has evened out into a “meh” director. Day 1 left me underwhelmed, but occasionally entertained. Day 2 absolutely blew me away, with three hits in a row (The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, and Crimson Tide), followed by an utter disappointment (The Fan). Day 3 had a high point in Man on Fire and Domino had some enjoyable moments of pure trash, but there wasn’t much memorable in the bunch.

Now we come to Day 4, the last of the Give Tony Scott a Fair Shake marathon.

DÉJÀ VU

Previous viewings: I wanna say zero, but I have this weird feeling… no, zero.

So, here’s a pretty big milestone… this is Tony Scott’s first foray into science fiction, which is commonly the turf of his brother Ridley.

Oh, also, did I mention today is Denzel Day? We’ve got three Denzels in a row to round out this marathon. In Déjà Vu, Denzel plays an ATF agent who’s the best at what he does. While investigating a terrorist attack on a boat, he comes across Val Kilmer, who needs him to check out this cool thing.

I have this weird sense that I’ve seen him before…

This cool thing is a quantum flux satellite resonance laser photon qwerty dongle Magic Time Window called Snow White that can show you anything that happened in the past. It takes a while to render, so it’s delayed by four days, but it can’t be recorded, so you have to really pay attention while you’re watching it.

Everybody got that?

They need Denzel on the team because his eye for detail is borderline god-like, so they invite him to a Magic Time Window session while they zoom in the Magic Time Satellites on some of the people who were on the ship or in the area at the time of the explosion; it’s essentially Enemy of the State bag-scanning technology, now in four dimensions! Denzel proves his worth by gathering clues on the fly (they can’t go back, guys, this is important!), but he’s also skeptical as to how the Magic Time Window works and discovers some interesting side effects.

Mostly swamp ass.

Look, I loves me some time travel. It’s why I’m watching Back to the Future 52 times next year. (Thanks for the votes, readers!) I’m a stickler for establishing your rules and sticking with them. And don’t give me any of that “But Looper…” shit. Looper established its rules, it just didn’t do it with dialogue. This movie… okay, I want to keep this spoiler-free, and I want you to see it… but it doesn’t make sense. Hell, the scene where Denzel realizes something’s up with the Magic Time Window isn’t even a time travel mistake… it’s a “how do TVs work?” mistake. For every really incredible action scene, there is a scene where they switch from immutable to mutable timelines or just generally don’t give a shit. It’s really unfortunate, because seriously… time travel chase scene.

What, did you think Rick Moranis would be wearing the silliest helmet in this article?

Yeah, the Plot Advancement Signal goes weak and Denzel needs to hop in a Magic Time Car wearing Magic Time Goggles to go barreling through modern day traffic to catch a guy four days in the past. That. Is. Cool. And there’s a later scene that’s even more exciting, but we’ll be wrist-deep in spoilers by then.

Apparently theoretical physicist Brian Greene was a consultant on this movie, which means one of two things: 1) maybe I really am stupid and this entire story makes total sense, or 2) Brian Greene was cut a paycheck just so they could put his name in the credits to hush anyone who thinks they’re smarter than this. Ain’t no law sayin’ you have to do what a consultant says.

I really wanted to like this, but I just like scenes from it.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3

Previous viewings: None.

Yes, for the record, I watched the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three right before watching Tony Scott’s remake. (Yeah, they’re spelled differently.) It was a damn cool movie and probably the best thing I’ve seen in months.

“Please don’t ruin a great thing, Mr. Scott.”

Guys… this sucked. This really sucked.

Oh, yeah, you outclassed Robert Shaw. Good job.

This is 100% what it says on the tin: the exact same movie with Tony Scott infusions of aerial speed ramps, weird filters, and Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.”

Wait, no, not entirely. The original villain was amazing to watch because he kept his cool the whole time. Travolta’s playing that jumpy psychotic villain caricature from Face/Off, which we’ve seen a thousand times, Travolta or not.

The thing falls apart even more when they try to deviate from the original plot. Denzel (in the Walter Matthau role) is given a backstory about taking a bribe. Travolta breaks the ransom rules from the original whenever he feels like it, just to add fake tension. And because it’s set modern day, some kid on the train is dry humping his laptop to a video chat with his girlfriend, and it may be their only way to contact the outside world. None of these side stories add anything whatsoever.

There ya go. No need to see the movie now.

This was just plain awful. Cinemanaut John requested that I make sure his assessment of “two thumbs right fucking down” is included in my write-up. And it is. If you skip one Tony Scott film, make it this one, and see the original.

[Full disclosure: It has been brought to my attention that Man on Fire is also a remake, and I did not bother to watch the original version. My long answer is that some remakes are okay without seeing their source material, as Tony Scott wanted to direct the original back in the 1980s and was denied, so after it was made and received poorly (deemed “BOMB” by Mr. Leonard Maltin), he took another shot at it. My short answer is that I’ve always wanted to see The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.]

Well, this seems like a good place to stop–

UNSTOPPABLE

Previous viewings: None.

Here. We. Go. If Man on Fire was the moist, delicious cake recipe that Tony Scott spent his life perfecting, Unstoppable is the icing on it.

Look at this thing. Look at it. KA-BOOM!

That poster makes me laugh my ass off. This looks terrible. Absolutely terrible. Well, it rocks. The movie is amazing.

The story is simple as hell; a dumbass train operator and his dumbass co-worker fail to throw the switch track, like a couple of dumbasses. So the dumbass driver gets out of the train to fix the switch… and leaves it running. The throttle malfunctions and goes to full power, leaving the driver behind.

Quick: who’s directing this?

Isn’t that such a basic premise? As it stands, this simple story could be directed by anybody, and you can start plugging in your favorite filmmakers and picture the movie that would come out the other side. But there’s only one man that can handle this train, and his name is Tony Scott.

I’ve been splitting Tony’s work into two branches: Crazy Cocaine-Flavored Experimental Romps and Straightforward Action Thrillers. I think he mastered the first category with True Romance or Man on Fire, but this is hands-down the pinnacle of the second category (rubbing elbows with Crimson Tide).

What really works about this film is that there’s no villain. Let’s go back through every Tony Scott movie and count off the Big Bads. In The Hunger, there’s… no, I’m kidding, they all have one or several antagonists with genuinely sinister intentions. This movie is just about an accident, and it follows how that accident affects everyone.

I could talk about Chris Pine and Denzel Washington, but… eh? Everything takes a back seat to the task at hand, and that’s good. Yes, they have important character traits and backstories, but all that needs to be pushed aside so they can deal with the giant train on a murderpath to Peopletown.

I really hope The Giant Train on a Murderpath to Peopletown was the working title.

It’s thrilling, the train runs over everything, and I can watch it with my mom. Nice.

Wow. I made it.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Tony Scott was hard to discuss after he died. Many brought up that they didn’t think he was a particularly great filmmaker. When all I had watched was weeks and weeks of Top Gun, I felt the same way. He must have been just another Hollywood jerk without any true creativity.

I don’t intend to completely reverse my thoughts; that would be too obvious. In The Hunger, we saw a truly experimental filmmaker, reaching for something symbolic, if ultimately empty, but real effort was there. Then Tony Scott got the Top Gun gig, based not on his work in The Hunger, by the way, but on the fact that he had recently shot a commercial with jets in it. Judging by the commentary, I think Tony was starting to feel out the Hollywood system; ideas of his on Top Gun were rejected over and over again. According to Tony, they threatened to fire him three times. This is when I think Tony learned to get in, make some rock ‘n’ roll, and collect the paycheck. But that artistic, experimental streak lived on, and for that, we got some real gems disguised as “dumb” action films.

If we take what I call the Holy Trinity of Tony Scott pictures and look at their box office returns, we see a pattern: The Last Boy Scout, while great, didn’t make much. True Romance, an even better film, made even less money. Crimson Tide dialed back the craziness and just told a straightforward, compelling story that anyone could understand; it’s one of his highest-earning films.

I think this pattern of earnings in the early ’90s set the tone for a very conflicted filmmaker, one with hits and misses, both critically and financially, like any artist. This is all speculation on my part, of course, and shouldn’t be taken as fact. While I didn’t enjoy all of his films, it was a worthwhile journey, and I discovered some new favorites in the process.

I haven’t heard much about Tony Scott since his suicide, but I hope his family, friends, and colleagues can be proud of the work he’s done. There’s something to be said about anyone that has sixteen feature films under his or her belt, no matter their quality, but Tony really did manage to shine behind the camera. Not consistently, but for a few great moments, he shined.

MY TOP FIVE ALL-TIME FAVORITE TONY SCOTT FILMS:
The Last Boy Scout
True Romance
Crimson Tide
Man on Fire
Unstoppable

GUILTY PLEASURES:
The Hunger
Days of Thunder
Domino
and, yeah, okay, with a bunch of friends over and lots of tasty food… Top Gun