Top Gun


Anyone familiar with the comedy stylings of stoney faced, stand-up Rich Hall must be familiar with his bit about how Tom Cruise movies are all the same. “He’s a cocktail maker, a pretty good cocktail maker, then he has a crisis of confidence and can’t make cocktails any more. Then he meets a good looking woman who talks him into being a better cocktail maker again.” is his withering summery about the plot of Cocktail and then he goes on to interchange various other Tom Cruise plots into his chuckle chucklesome algorithm to prove that they are overwhelmingly similar.
It’s funny and Hall does has a point, but as weird as this is to type, no one makes a Tom Cruise movie better than Tom Cruise and the film that fits this pattern better than any other is Tony Scott’s absurdly iconic Top Gun.


Overwhelmingly smug fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his flying partner Nick “Goose” Bradshaw manage to get accepted into the Naval Fighter Weapons School known as TOPGUN after pulling some audacious shit during an altercation with some hostile MiG aircraft that involves some inverted flying and a judicious use of his middle finger.
The class is made up of the best of the best and they are there to be taught dogfighting techniques, but despite his natural talent, Pete’s arrogance and fighter pilot daddy issues causes various people around him to metaphorically lock their missiles onto his planet sized ego. Chief of these is fellow class member Iceman, who regards Maverick’s unorthodox flying methods as hideously unsafe, while grizzled, veteran trainers Viper and Jester try to be supportive while straining to keep the young buck in line. However, trying hardest of all is Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (everyone in this film is required to have some nickname or other), an astrophysicist and civilian instructor who has fallen for Maverick and tries to curb his aggressive tactics (in flying and dating) while still trying to be objective in her work.
But when a tragic accident occurs during a routine training op that has fatal consequences, Maverick loses his nerve – which is pretty understandable when you’re hurtling through the sky in 18,190 kg of metal with missiles attached to it while doing 2485 kilometres per hour – and is all but ready to quit under the pressure. But Charlie is adamant to get Maverick into a cockpit where he belongs and when a crisis situation arises that sees a ship that has unwittingly drifted into hostile waters in the Indian Ocean.
Can the young fighter pilot regain his mojo to take to the skies once again to prove that instead of being bottom drawer, he is very much Top Gun?


Top Gun is one of those movies in which I came to the party extraordinarily late and thus is a film I’ve never taken as seriously as the rabid fan base who embraces it back in the 80’s. These days, Top Gun is as a sensible and balanced a movie about ariel warfare as Rocky III is about boxing and watching it cold reveals a few cracks in its ridiculously cool facade; the plot is purest guff (He’s a jet pilot. Pretty good jet pilot too…) but Tony Scott was fucking born to make military set movies for Simpson & Bruckheimer – Everyone spends large portions of the movie drenched in either sweat, or in the bright blues and greens of the control radars, or both – and while Top Gun is admittedly a noticable case of style over substance, it doesn’t prove to be much of a handicap when the style is this good. Using the golden drenched look of the magic hour in ways that would give Michael Bay a desperate need to change his shorts and the frantically edited footage of jets roaring through the air is nothing sort of gorgeous as the camera positively leers over searing barrel rolls and fierce loop the loops.
And yet, when the movie isn’t obsessing with jet-porn, it smartly gives its human characters enough to play with to make them memorable even if they frequently feel like cartoon characters and leading the charge is 80’s Tom Cruise being as 80’s Tom Cruise as he possibly can. You have to give and that white dwarf-sized magnetism he employs due credit because if Maverick was played the same way by anyone else the movie would be unwatchable without you wanting to put your boot through the screen. We were always supposed to celebrate Maverick as a heroic risk taker, but amusingly, watching it away from the 80’s worship, it’s painfully obvious that rival Iceman is actually correct and Maverick actually is too dangerous to fly with. And yet on top of this, Cruise’s Maverick soars through such accusations like teflon, even making a cringe inducing, tone deaf rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” feel hopelessly iconic. Speaking of Iceman, Val Kilmer attempts to match Cruise in swaggering overconfidence and endless parades of shit-eating grins and it’s to the man’s credit that he makes the competition so close, while Kelly McGillis does sterling work to not get washed away by the endless procession of blindingly white teeth and aviator shades that dominates the film with wall to wall machismo that often takes form in oodles of unabashed, hilariously unsubtle homoeroticism. Be it the infamous (and utterly unnecessary) shirtless volleyball scene set to Kenny Loggins “Playing With The Boys” to some of the most on-the-nose dialogue you’ll ever hear, although disappointingly the “You can ride my tail anytime” line ends up being a prime example of the Mandela effect.


Essentially the cinematic equivalent to an incredibly catchy pop song – ironic considering it’s absolutely packed with them – Top Gun may hardly be a gritty, inflective commentary on the nature of war and the men programmed to fight in them, but that’s because Simpson, Bruckheimer and Scott had absolutely no intention of going down that road and thus infuses their after burning epic with a “war is awesome” fluffiness that manages to endear massively. Yes, there’s that argument that the plot is so predictable it might as well be travelling on rails (Goose’s tragic death-by-cockpit feels more inevitable than the end credits), but on the other hand, the fact that I always am surprised by the fact that Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins both have supporting roles has got to count for something.
Alternately camp and cool, with a measured eye in producing effortlessly memorable images (Maverick riding his motorcycle as jets take off in the background may just be one of the most recognisable shots of the decade), Top Gun’s script may sometimes lack the weight of the imagery but it’s certainly writing cheques it’s body can cash.
So hit those thrusters and prepare to ride that highway all the way to the danger zone.


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