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Why 'Top Gun 3D' Turned Me Against Kelly McGillis' Faux Feminist Character

By Kelsea Stahler, Hollywood.com Staff

Top Gun is a classic: fact. Top Gun 3D is a rush of nostalgia with a dash of theme-park motion-simulator: opinion I will be parading as a fact. But it's been a long time since the Tony Scott film has been available on the big screen (and as such, without commercials or household distraction) for fans. Unfortunately, that means we've actually got to pay attention, and for this life-long Top Gun fan, that meant one distressing discovery: I actually can't stand Kelly McGillis' character.

After the shock of seeing 3D jet action swathed with the grainy late '80s film quality wears off, and you realize the only moments of exhilarating 3D occur when the camera is hitched atop or just under the belly of Maverick's F-14 jet; the moments between aerial sequences are suddenly in stark contrast to the rest of the flick. The sensation that the action and the love story are two different movies spliced together is surprisingly unavoidable. Sitting in the dark theater, with no opportunity for corny commentary or chatter that usually accompanies the classic '80s movie during TNT viewings, I was forced to focus on McGillis' Charlie more ardently than ever before. And she's found wanting.

RELATED: 'Top Gun' Heads to IMAX 3D: Four Reasons To Hop on The Highway to The Danger Zone

Charlie is, to put it lightly, a faux feminist. She's the sort of "strong" female character of male fantasy: she talks the talk as a government-contracted Top Gun instructor, but when the chips are down, she's putty in Tom Cruise's arms. Now, you're allowed to be seduced by Maverick. That's the point. He's supposed to be lady kryptonite. But Charlie is a very available woman disguised by a hard exterior, seemingly put up as a counterintuitive method of attracting the opposite sex. It works, but it's not exactly the picture of feminism. She should simply be strong, instead of acting that way until she's alone in the elevator with a semi-shirtless Maverick.

But it's not just Charlie. It's our Tommy boy, too. The best fictional instances of strong women bending to unreasonably cocky men (great examples being Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, and another '80s couple Marion and Indy from Raiders of the Lost Ark) include essential element of change... from both parties. Sure, Mav gets his ego knocked down a few pegs at the end of the movie when a freak accident kills his best friend and flying partner. But by the time the credits roll, he's still the cocky pilot who gets what he wants. And all while he was embracing self-pity, quitting Top Gun, and catching a plane to anywhere but San Diego, he was still only thinking about himself: he leaves without so much as a "see ya." Meanwhile, the hard-ass flight school instructor Charlie ends the movie after being downgraded from smart weapons expert to sexy seductress who's left her big job in Washington to play house with ol' Pete Mitchell while he chases the dream.

Where's the fire that comes from two strong-willed characters butting heads? It's all used up in a single scene, where Charlie chases Maverick in anger through the streets of San Diego. By the time Charlie relinquishes her ire and admits that after a few chance encounters, she has fallen for the heroic, self-assured young lad, she's joined every other wispy leading lady, prancing after our hero as if in a daze. The rest of the film trades images of Charlie leading a pack of Navy twerps for images of her flopping around on the back of Maverick's motorcycle. Even when she gets her big promotion, she only keeps it for a few scenes before running right back into her beau's arms. Who needs dreams when you can have a hot shot pilot to smooch — amirite, ladies?

RELATED: Growing Up With Tony Scott's 'Top Gun'

In just a few swift moves, her potential to be a real character, and even a foil to Maverick, is suspended and she's just like every other weak-willed girl in the Top Gun universe.

As a lifelong fan of the Navy-inspired movie, this is a realization that's hard to swallow. Our strong woman is actually a damsel; the Maverick-Charlie love story is no longer quite as charming.

Thankfully, the main event in the film's re-release is the confounding use of 3D without high-definition images. Once you write Charlie off, all of your attention is spared for the film's big finish: explosions, high-speed flying, and all the speed you'd ever need. Still, it'll never fix the fact that when it comes to Charlie, we've simply lost that loving feeling.

Top Gun 3D hits theaters Feb. 8.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]

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