Retro Review: Top Gun
January 28, 2010
Recommended listening for this review: Highway to the Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins
I expressed a desire to review old movies, and Luke suggested I go ahead with it. I think it’s fitting that our very first “Retro Review” is the iconic Top Gun.
Directed by Tony Scott
Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer
Have you ever been about to do something incredibly stupid and your friend warns “Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full”? Ever wondered why the line “I feel the need, the need for speed!” became popular? Have you ever donned a pair of aviators and been called Maverick or Iceman? If you’ve noticed this and been confused, then you definitely missed out on Top Gun. My wife was in this category for a long time, so I finally dug out my VHS tapes to rectify the problem. The result was a fun filled adventure with flight scenes that only director Tony Scott could deliver. (I really wouldn’t be surprised if Top Gun got Michael Bay into filmmaking).
“Headin into twilight, spreadin out her wings tonight. She’s got you jumpin’ off the deck, shovin’ into overdrive.”
Top Gun is iconic in two ways: First, for it’s awesome portrayal of the F-14 Tomcat. This fighter jet is the backbone of Top Gun. Who can forget the classic opening credits on the aircraft carrier’s flight-deck. Watching those powerful planes takeoff and land to “Highway to the Danger Zone” is glorious. Which brings me to my second point: Top Gun is thoroughly a product of the 1980’s. From Berlin’s synthesized hit “Take my Breath Away” to the testosterone fueled cast that is Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, this is iconic 80’s at it’s best. (Not to mention the slow-motion kissing). Just look at Tom Cruise’s costume: Black leather jacket, white shirt, blue jeans, and aviator sunglasses. Epic.
Top Gun stands the test of time remarkably well for its genre. (Although this is mostly due Top Gun being so firmly rooted in the 1980’s that watching it becomes a cross-cultural experience). To review the basic storyline: Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a loose cannon Navy pilot who is given a chance to compete in Top Gun, a military flight school specializing in dog fighting tactics. Maverick goes through the process of training, wherein he makes a rival out of Iceman (Val Kilmer), has a romance with his flight instructor (Kelly McGillis), and must overcome a crisis of confidence following a fatal training accident. Struggling with self-confidence and the mysterious death of his father, Maverick has to face his fears and commit to his wingman.
“Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns.”
As I mentioned before, the two stars of Top Gun are Tom Cruise and the F-14. The aerial combat scenes are a bit dated in style but manage to still be exciting. It’s not everyday you get to see jets like these diving and twisting in combat. (Especially not to that pumping 80’s rock music!) Militarily speaking, Top Gun is also set in a very different time than ours. There are numerous nods to the fact that Maverick is “one of the few pilots who has seen a MIG28”, the Russian aircraft of the time. This was long before the days of Iraq and Afghanistan, even the best pilots of the 1980’s had never seen combat.
Maverick (Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) are well handled characters. [spoilers] I’d seen Top Gun many times as a kid, but upon rewatching it I was genuinely surprised and saddened by what happens to Goose. His fate has been something of a cultural joke, referenced in Saturday Night Live and similar venues. But within the context of the film, Goose’s death is a truly saddening moment that changes the whole direction of the film. Up until this point, Top Gun is little more than a fun ride with cool aerial stunts. After Maverick loses his best friend, the film dares to take on a darker note and lets our hero struggle without a compass.[/spoilers]
The final battle leaves a little to be desired when compared to modern aerial combat climaxes like Star Wars or Avatar. But again, it was only 1986 and was produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. We shouldn’t expect too much. But Iceman saying “You’re still dangerous. And you can be my wingman anytime” leading into the Top Gun Anthem is a pretty great moment.
In Conclusion: Top Gun is a classic. It’s not a movie you watch for deep philosophical themes or intriguing character development. You watch it because, well, hey, it’s just Top Gun. (So what if you don’t have the greatest plot, you can at least look really sweet) Top Gun successfully captures an era of the 80’s with it’s characters, motorcycles, soundtrack, and fighter jets.