Our second film paying tribute to producer Don Simpson: the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. This is a tough review because the good parts are very good and the bad parts are inexorably bad.
The news that there might be a sequel to Top Gun is what inspired us at JPFmovies to do a three part tribute to the legendary producer Don Simpson—so I would be a fool to not review the film, but for some reason I feel kind of dirty or that I have somehow sold out to the movie “man” for writing this. Putting that to one side, we’ll do the best we can and here it is.
One is hard pressed to find a movie that better embodies the 1980s feel good blockbuster film genre than Top Gun. To say it put Tom Cruise on the map is an understatement and like the Bandit’s famous Trans Am, Cruise’s motorcycle, the (then) fastest motorcycle in production, Kawasaki’s Ninja 900, became an icon overnight. RayBan experienced a 40% spike in sales because of Top Gun, just as it had 3 years earlier when Cruise played Joel Goodsen in “Risky Business” sporting RayBan’s Wayfarer sunglasses. Top Gun even convinced people to join the military; booths were set up outside of theaters and Navy recruitment increased by 500%. The film also brought back the leather jacket and white T-shirt look of the 1950s. Now that I think about it, I am not sure that any film since Top Gun had the kind of power this film did to influence the public. I mean a 500% increase in military recruitment rivals the wretched propaganda the infamous Nazi Joseph Goebbels inflicted on the German people before and during WWII. The Harold Faltermeyer (also creator of other 1980s soundtracks such as Beverly Hills Cop I and II & Miami Vice) soundtrack reached number 1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for 5 weeks while the song “Take My Breath Away” won an Oscar.
Cruise plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a maverick Navy fighter pilot. Maverick embodies what I think is a character type loved by Americans: the “maverick” underdog who is so talented that he can flout conventional rules and get away with it. We see this type of creature in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films, the cop who can play “dirty” because he gets the job done. We see a variation in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa who plays the ultimate underdog by going from gym boxer to world heavy weight champion in only two movies and now we see it in Top Gun’s Maverick.
Maverick (or “mav” as he is often referred to in the film) is the “bastard” son of another naval aviator who was killed in Vietnam — the “ghost” of his father is partially responsible for his reckless flying and consistent rule violations. Maverick and his REO “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) are sent to Top Gun school because the top pilot “Cougar” (John Stockwell who also starred with Cruise in “Lose’n It” — a “b” movie that I’ll bet neither one of them wishes they had made) freaks out after engaging an enemy plane and turns in his wings.
At a bar the day before the Top Gun school starts, Maverick, assisted by Goose, unsuccessfully hits on a woman by singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” Much to Maverick’s surprise, the next day he learns that she is Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor. Maverick’s reckless flying both annoys and impresses Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) and the other Top Gun instructors when he defeats Jester in combat, but violates several rules of engagement in the process. Maverick and top student LT Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer) quickly emerge as the two best pilots, but Iceman openly considers Maverick’s methods “dangerous.” Although outwardly critical of Maverick’s tactics, Charlie eventually admits that she venerates his flying but harshly reviews it in public because she’s afraid her credibility would be jeopardized otherwise. Nonetheless, Maverick and Charlie begin a romantic relationship. I am not sure that merely scrutinizing a pilot’s flying would save her credibility after having an affair with a student but it is part of the story. What is not part of the story is that every time McGillis and Cruise stand next to each other in the film, McGillis is in bare feet and Cruise wears lifts because he is so short.
During a training flight near the end of the film, Maverick and Iceman are both chasing Jester each trying for the kill. Under intense pressure from Maverick, Iceman breaks off but Maverick’s F-14 flies through the jet wash of Iceman’s aircraft and begins a flat spin from which he cannot recover, forcing him and Goose to eject. Goose is not so lucky here as he ejects directly into the canopy and dies instantly. Although a board of inquiry clears Maverick of any wrongdoing, his overwhelming guilt over Goose’s death causes him to lose his aggressiveness when flying. Charlie and others attempt to console him, but Maverick considers leaving the Navy. Unsure of his future, he seeks Top Gun’s head instructor Viper’s advice who reveals that he served with Maverick’s father in VF-51, and discloses classified details that show Duke Mitchell died a hero’s death. Viper informs Maverick that he can graduate from Top Gun or quit. Maverick chooses to graduate, but his rival Iceman wins the award for top pilot.
During the graduation party, Iceman, Hollywood, and Maverick are each sent to carrier Enterprise to deal with a “situation,” to provide air support for the rescue of another ship, the SS Layton, that has drifted into hostile territory. Maverick and Merlin are assigned to one of two F-14s as back-up for those flown by Iceman and Hollywood, despite Iceman’s reservations over Maverick’s state of mind and ability. In the subsequent dogfight against six MiGs, Hollywood is shot down but manages to safely eject; Maverick is sortied alone due to catapult failure and nearly retreats after encountering circumstances similar to those that caused Goose’s death. He rallies though and joins Iceman, shoots down four MiGs and forces the others to retreat — then both return triumphantly to the Enterprise. Offered his choice of duty, Maverick decides to return to Top Gun as an instructor and while sitting alone in a restaurant, he hears “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” playing on the jukebox and recalls meeting Charlie. Low and behold, she enters the bar and the two reunite.
Well what more can you say? It may be formulaic, but Simpson and Bruckheimer sure know their chemistry. Top Gun grossed $378,000,000 worldwide and the dollars keep rolling in as a result of the dvd market. The film was directed by Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s younger brother. Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors so I was pleasantly surprised to discover this fact.
Like I said though, this one has terrifying highs and dizzying lows, but I still feel like a sell out for reviewing it. Am I wrong to feel this way?