Top Gun, 1986.
Directed by Tony Scott.
Starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside and Meg Ryan.
Maverick, a United States Naval Aviator, is sent to Top Gun, an elite academy for fighter pilots.
“Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhh,” I yelled, running down the stairs at Top Gun’s conclusion. “I wanna be a fighter pilot!” I proclaimed to my mother, and proceeded to text every male friend I have, asking if they’d be my wingman. I’m 23 years young.
That’s how good the film is. Films, particularly twee, America indie ones, prefer to be ironic and reflexive these days. Which is fine when they’re accompanied by sincerity, but the majority come off as insufferably smug. Unabashed cheesiness feels as though it got left on the wayside, somewhere in the early 90s. Even Stallone’s The Expendables has a wink-wink, nudge-nudge disposition throughout.
Top Gun couldn’t be made today. The lead characters are fighter pilots for the American air force called Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards). Maverick’s professional rival is Iceman (Val Kilmer). Iceman is a by-the-book, regulations kind of guy. Maverick is emotional and responsive. It’s the old Kirk/Picard debate in having either a recklessly instinctive or strategically confident approach to warfare, and lovemaking. Not once is attention drawn to how much the two are caricatures of their own nicknames – a feat beyond modern day action films.
It helps that the action scenes in Top Gun are quite apart from the norm. Maverick and Goose are best friends who fly together from the aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (wait a second…). Being the best on the ship, they qualify to attend the Top Gun school – an academy to train the finest pilots America has to offer. Because the action scenes are mostly told in cramped cockpits, with mostly immobile men communicating through headsets, the dialogue needs to carry the excitement. There will be an occasional shot of one of the aeroplanes from outside, but that’s not from where the tension comes. The suspense is in Maverick’s removal of his breathing apparatus, his sweaty forehead glistening in the sun that’s a bit closer to him than us on the ground. The open expanse of the sky suddenly becomes increasingly claustrophobic.
The Top Gun academy is very prestigious and is where Maverick positions himself against Iceman, as well clashing with one of Top Gun’s instructors, Jester (Michael Ironside). They all tell him the same thing – you’ve got to be more careful, you can’t be so daring. Maverick’s father was the same. That’s what got him killed.
Indeed, Maverick’s dangerous style does begin to jeopardise those around him. There’s an argument that it was his cocksureness in the beginning that caused Cougar (John Stockwell), the USS Enterprise’s former best fighter pilot, to suffer a mental breakdown.
Otherwise, Top Gun is a phenomenally homosexual film. Again, a lesser, modern day equivalent wouldn’t be able to manage this without being openly mocked or succumbing to a self-reflexive jest. Top Gun rides the big gay wave unashamed throughout, and quite right too. Who wants to live in a world where moustaches are only permissible one month a year? One, prolonged scene is of the Top Gun students playing volleyball on a blisteringly sweaty beach. All are men, and all are muscly and topless. They are often depicted in slow motion, all the better to admire their athletic bodies. This, all in a film aimed at the male audience, with not a single tongue in cheek.
There is an abundance of bromance, which is Top Gun’s true heart, but an engrossing heterosexual narrative overrides it. Maverick falls for one of the civilian Top Gun instructors, an astrophysicist called Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). When they first meet, Maverick takes her as just another girl he can charm into bed with tales of bravery and dare. She humours him, knowing the next day they’ll be in class with her as his superior.
But their first meeting is amongst the most iconic in all of film. Maverick and Goose have obviously done it many times before. Goose is his wingman, after all. Maverick snatches a karaoke microphone and serenades Charlie with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers. Goose joins in as a backing singer, as do half the men by the bar. It fails to woo Charlie, for now, but that’s beside the point…
It’s a move every man should attempt at least once in his life. Just be sure to have a wingman alongside you for some mandatory homoerotic subtext.
365 Days, 100 Films