The Iceman List

Tim Carmody on 2015-05-10

Classic movie antagonists who were actually pretty much right all along

If you haven’t seen Top Gun in a while…

I strongly recommend it. It’s one of those movies — a lot of movies from the 1980s feel this way — that didn’t hold up for a long time, but now it does. People grow, times change; you gain new perspective and learn to appreciate different things about both movies and the times that produce them.

For about twenty years, Top Gun was influential but embarrassing. In the 1990s, while Tom Cruise crossed over from loveable rascal to the biggest action star in the world, his breakout movie seemed like a bundle of Cold War clichés tacked onto a mix of lifeless romance, unfortunate haircuts, and an undeniable homoeroticism that was somehow strangely sterile. Why are the Russian pilots totally faceless? we asked. Is it so we don’t care when they die? Are Iceman and Slider gay, or are they super-gay? Look everybody, it’s Meg Ryan and that dude from ER!

By the aughts, Cruise was still the biggest star in the world, but also the creepiest. We’d moved on, movie-wise, from military fantasies starring young heartthrobs to military fantasies starring younger heartthrobs, with superpowers and/or magic. And the anonymous Russians were replaced first by anonymous Arabs (which was and is fucked-up) and finally by fully-dehumanized monsters, zombies, and robots. You can watch Orlando Bloom kill those with his bare hands and barely feel a thing!

But today, in the 2010s, Top Gun is a treat. It’s as clean and shiny as a new dime. The clichés that later action films overloaded with world-building and backstory here present themselves unadorned, in all their purity. Cruise is just so charming, brimming with so much energy, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t really know how to act yet. A bunch of Navy aviators singing Righteous Brothers in the bar looks like fun. Now that pilots, airmen, and aviators can serve in the US military openly without anyone asking who they sleep with…