Top Gun (1986) Directed by Tony Scott. With Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Val Kilmer, James Tolkan, Kelly McGillis, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins and John Stockwell.
Not a great deal happens in Top Gun, a virile slice of Hollywood trash set at a flight school for US Navy fighter pilots in the mid 1980’s. Tom Cruise is Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a cocky hotshot pilot with an eye for the ladies and a reckless”need for speed“. Directed by Tony Scott, the film has a music video sensibility that is celebrated as readily as it is chastised. Like many of the iconic ’80’s throwaways (Dirty Dancing, Roadhouse..etc), it survives more as an emblem of the times – a comfort blanket reminisce, a prism through which to look back fondly at a decade that revelled in the joy of renewed excess. It’s also soft porn for lovers military hardware, with a fun balance of homoerotic subtext dotted around for added charm.
There’s also a strong argument for it being rubbish. Away from the impressive aerial dogfights, the script celebrates the we-think-we’re-cool attitude of teenagers laughing behind the teacher’s back. The sight of elite fighter pilots teasing each other like high-school freshmen is meant to capture the competitive atmosphere of young men at the peak of their game, but it renders many of the characters annoying. But then, that’s the cynical high road, and I never felt that way when I was 15. You can choose to enjoy Top Gun.
We meet an emerging Tom Cruise, a bright young star growing into his face. The flawed charm of Jerry Maguire is a few years away, but still, Cruise has the look of a man who can carry weight on his young shoulders. He’s supported by Anthony Edwards as his wingman, Goose, who exhibits a chirpy, accessible presence to partner Cruise’s brooding intensity. Despite Kelly McGillis’ role as the ‘official’ love interest, the film is equally the Maverick and Goose affair. Just ask Quentin Tarantino.
Fuelled by some of the most infectious power-pop in memory (I defy you not to singalong to Danger Zone), the film takes on a new life when it hits the skies, with some breathtaking (cue Berlin) photography. Tony Scott has a solid cast to work with. Tom Skerritt adds maturity as the fatherly figure of the piece, while James Tolkan (principle Skinner in Back to the Future) adopts his turn as the firebrand bossy-boots. Many forget, but Tim Robbins and Meg Ryan enjoy backseat passenger roles too.
The script swerves bogging itself down with the political consequences of what occurs in the film, nor is it concerned with painting a sense of the political climate. It just wants to play us a mix-tape of catchy rock tunes, make loud aeroplane noises and show off a sense of bravado we can admire from afar. Recalling my own young male hetrosexual perspective, I can testify to the film’s potency. Tom Cruise flies fighter jets, zooms around on a Kawasaki motorcycle, plays beach volleyball and goes out drinking with his mates while courting a gorgeous woman who seems out of his league. Seductive stuff, from a certain point of view.