Top Gun Movie Review
High fives, cool aviators, cheesy onliners - the life of navy pilots couldn’t be much cooler than that! But can this one-and-a-half-hour military commercial convince as a cinematic picture?
Genre: Action / Drama
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Tim Robbins, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell & Meg Ryan.
Run Time: 110 min.
US Release: 16 May 1986
UK Release: 03 October 1986
German Release: 07 August 1986
With Top Gun: Maverick released in theatres internationally, I thought of writing a review for this action classic! Top Gun was a major influence in my teenage years; my parents were directly involved with the Eurofighter programme (a fighter jet coalition programme by four European countries), so I related immediately with the pilots, sparking my interest in becoming a fighter pilot myself. Well, the latter didn’t happen but I was working for Eurofighter nonetheless after graduating from University, in the PR section and earned my pilot jacket being one of the Team. So let's talk about Top Gun!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
Maverick and Goose, two top-tier, cocky fighter pilots are sent to the United States Navy's elite fighter weapons school, to compete against the best of the best. When Goose dies during a training exercise, Maverick starts doubting himself but learns a few things from a civilian instructor who also shows private interest.
Now I don’t want to talk about the huge gay following this movie gathered through the years, or the homoeroticism in the story, that has been talked to death. Yes, Tony Scott used Bruce Weber’s photographs as inspiration for his scenes, but Scott didn’t intend to insert a gay undertone, on the contrary, he actually wanted to attract more women into the theatre. Still, the dialogues and frames do include a queerness that is not deniable.
The idea for this action flick focused on navy pilots came from an article titled “Top Guns”, printed in the California magazine, issue of May 1983. The article focused on the life of fighter pilots that were stationed in Miramar San Diego. Jim Cash and Jack Epps had been then hired by Bruckheimer to write a script; both went on to participate in declassified Topgun classes, to get a feel for how to write the screenplay, yet their first draft did not impress.
With the help of the Navy, the script was re-written, to make a couple of scenes more believable, as well as factually right. However, it didn’t help the fact that the characterisation and development of the pilots weren’t given any substance, while life-changing decisions or losses in the film, didn’t garner the gravitas they should have. All that didn’t matter to the Navy, though, who thanks to Top Gun had one of their highest recruiting years and I need to confess that this is a highly delightful piece of military propaganda, no matter its flaws, which are outweighed by its entertainment value.
Top Gun also broke with the traditional action genre in the 80s, by including a blossoming romance between its lead Tom Cruise and McGillis, who plays a civilian instructor for the Navy. Yes, the romance was a little rushed but still well implemented. Just as with the narrative, the dialogues were subpar at best. Sexual innuendos or cheesy one-liners mostly dominate most conversations.
As stated before, the characters and their developments are the weakest aspects of this film. Written shallowly, without any substance, the pilots could have been replaced with any other characters, a shame as more meat could have done for a fantastic portrayal of navy pilots.
Tom Cruise was cast in the main role of LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, pretty much being the sole focus of the plot. This was Cruise his first action-flick and he managed to convince with his charming presence and dare-devilish stunts, yet his persona was poorly written. While the comradery with his RIO LTJG “Goose” Bradshaw seems genuine, it also is a one-way street, as it is obvious from the beginning that Maverick cares more about his thrills than his best friend, not specifically someone the audience would be rooting for.
Then there is the fact that Maverick’s learning curve, following Goose’s death, is wrapped up during the last 30 minutes, without any real growth shown. His character arc ends the same way it started, with him being dangerous and cocky behind the stick. Nevertheless, Cruise gave a great performance with the little he had, proving that he can be front and centre of a picture.
Anthony Edwards played LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best friend. Just like Cruise, Edwards gave his best, with the chemistry between both actors being good! Their friendship on-screen is believable, even though uneven, as Goose’s loyalty to Maverick is not reciprocated by the lead. Unfair, as it is Goose who has most to lose and eventually does so as he dies at the beginning of the third act.
Kelly McGillis as Charlie Blackwood is the civilian instructor at Topgun and Maverick’s romantic counterpart. Charlie is one of the few female characters in an 80s action film, who was given dignity, being written as a strong and intelligent woman, even though mostly reduced to a love subplot. The evolving romance, even though fast-tracked, is still one of the stronger aspects of the story.
Finally, there is Val Kilmer as LT Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, Maverick’s rival in the Topgun programme. It is really a miracle that Kilmer’s career got launched thanks to Top Gun, as the actor himself is a mere few minutes on screen, with very little dialogue. The rivalry between Iceman and Maverick doesn’t feel like real competition but rather a cat fight.
The cinematography is where this movie triumphs! The bombastic action scenes, which Top Gun is nowadays known for, could have never taken place without the help of the US Military, which made aircraft carriers and several F-14 fighters available for the film crew. Thus, cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball managed to obtain some fantastic footage, but it was especially thanks to aerial camera navigator Davis Nowell, that we obtained such realistic-looking aerial shots. In combination with the cuts inside the cockpit, the viewer is catapulted right into the dogfight between two fighter jets.
As for effects, believe it or not, Scott only used minimal special effects. Nowell used a new technique for ground photography, using long lense cameras on top of mountains in Nevada, which would put them around the altitude that the jets were flying at. Combining those shots, with the ones taken on the jets, gave the impression as if the camera crew was right there in the sky, with the pilots. Other than that, F-5E Tiger IIs had been disguised as the enemy MiG 28s - a fictional aircraft.
The soundtrack for Top Gun is one of the most popular ones to date, primarily consisting of classic 80s rock songs, most prominently Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”, “Take my Breath Away” by Berlin and Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings”. It reached 9x platinum certification
Verdict: Top Gun is until today one of the best action flicks of the 80s, breaking with the traditions of the genre by adding a romantic subplot. The action sequences are amazingly helmed, using new types of cameras and post-cutting trickery. The aerial shots are still some of the best in cinematic history; serving the audience with amazing-looking, adrenalin-fueled sequences. Tom Cruise carried the movie pretty much by himself, enticing viewers with his charisma and huge presence early in his career, which served him well to establish him as a future action star. Where the film falls flat is the script in addition to the depiction of the characters! The dialogues are uber cheesy, bordering on cringe, while emotional segments are kept short and shallow. This backfires, as personas aren’t given the time to grow during those moments, making key segments obsolete. Nevertheless, it is still one of the most memorable action pictures of the 80s, deserving a 7.0 out of 10.
What is your take on Top Gun? Have you seen it back in 86 in cinemas? Leave a comment and if you like what you read, make sure to subscribe!