Top Gun (1986) — Super Macho Plane Adventure

“I feel the need… the need for speed!”

Rich’s rating: This is Ghostrider requesting a fly-by…

Rich’s review: If there’s one lesson any person can take away from watching Top Gun, it’s this: That any job, no matter what it is, can be made at least 10 times cooler with the addition of punchy codenames, custom painted helmets, and a seemingly endless amount of high-fives. Seriously; I don’t care if you’re a multi-millionaire stockbroker or you work in McDonalds — your job could only get cooler if, instead of a polite nod and a “Good Morning, Mrs Smith” when you get to work, you walk in and high five your manager, and say “What’s up, Iceman?”

I’ve even tried to get this policy implemented here in the Mutant offices, but the rest of the staff seem reluctant to play along. Absolutely none of them will refer to me by my chosen codename of “Sex Machine” — and there have been some complaints about my custom-painted helmet as well. Some people just don’t know a good thing when they see one.

All this garbage is my way of telling you that Top Gun is one of the most spine-bendingly cool films ever to come out of the ’80s by virtue of the fact that everyone has a codename, a custom painted helmet, and that all the characters high-five each other in every single scene of the film unless they are physically restrained in some way, like being strapped into a multi-million dollar F-14C. The sheer amount of testosterone contained in this film actually medically qualifies it as hormone therapy. I occupies a position on the Great Gender Spectrum of Film which is the complete opposite to Waiting to Exhale. It’s the kind of film that you feel should immediately be followed by a violent sporting event of some kind, barbeque ribs and a six-pack of beer.

That’s not to say there isn’t something for the fairer sex in this film, as long as they like aeroplanes, motorcycles, and guys with their shirts off. I think it’s safe to say that the target audience for this film isn’t really the lady filmgoing audience. I’m not saying that women won’t enjoy Top Gun, but seriously, the Japanese translation of the film’s title might as well be “Super Macho Plane Adventure.” Also, when I mentioned to my Ma that this was the film I was planning on reviewing next (Hi ma!), she informed me that it was her “least favourite film of all time,” for those of you interested in pointless movie trivia about my family.

While I feel morally obligated to give some kind of plot outline in what is ostensibly meant to be a movie review rather than me just waxing lyrical about how cool Top Gun is, I’m also fairly convinced that it’s the following paragraph will be the most redundant collection of words on the Internet (and it’s up against some stiff competition) as absolutely everyone who is remotely interested in seeing Top Gun has had several decades to get it watched. Anyway, for the sake of completeness, here it is.

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and his sidekick Nick “Doctor ‘Goose’ Green” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) go to the US Navy’s top fighter school where they fly around a lot, high five each other a lot, and get into other wacky capers. Maverick also falls for one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and other things happen involving Maverick’s dead father and some Russians.

Seriously, the plot to Top Gun is so flimsy that I can’t actually write about it in any more concrete terms than that — but who cares when the paper thin plot is actually a one way ticket to Machoville, USA? Not I.

It’s almost impossible to pigeonhole Top Gun — it’s not really an action movie, it’s not really a love story. I suppose you could classify it in the catch-all Drama section, but that might confuse people into thinking it actually has some substance when it’s next to Dead Man Walking on the Blockbuster shelves. Top Gun occupies its own little cinematic niche shared only with terrible ’80s kiddie fighter plane movie Iron Eagle and its infinite spawn of straight-to-video sequels.

But I will say this about Top Gun — even though I’ve seen it too many times, even though I an quote whole swatches of dialogue at the drop of a hat, its enduring attraction for me is that it still gives me a weird adrenalin rush every time I watch it. There must be something in there that latched onto my 11-year-old brain the first time I saw it and is still there, years later.

So, there it is; while it may be tragically flawed, have a paper thin plot with holes you could fly an F-5 (complete with Russian Star) through and be more cheesy than an Edam Factory, there’s something about the naked and unashamed military pep rally feel to it that makes Top Gun an iconic ’80s movie for me. Sure, it may be horribly dated, and yes, I know that they keep using the same loop of film for some of the aerial sequences; but all that is meaningless. Top Gun isn’t about anything except high fives, cool codenames, and custom painted helmets; and try as I might, I can’t find anything wrong with that.

Great balls of fire.

Sue’s rating: That’s a negative, Ghostrider. The pattern is full.

Sue’s review: It is entirely possible that Top Gun played a fundamental role in turning me into the inveterate (not to be confused with invertebrate) movie lover you all know and love today. Not love? Like? Tolerate? No? Oh. Oh, I see. Well, I’ll just go stand in the corner then and try to disappear as I slowly wither away like an untended rose in the garden of life. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

*Pause while our intrepid movie reviewer stares suspiciously into her coffee cup. Hmmm… this better not be one of Kyle’s ‘special blends’.*

Just to get the inevitable personal history out of the way, I saw Top Gun for the first time while on a rare day off from an eight-week stint of working at summer camp waaaay back in 1986. I think it stuck with me as long as it has because other methods of entertainment at camp, aside from jolly sing-a-longs and having to take deliberate pratfalls to amuse the kiddies, were sadly lacking. In the weeks that followed my first Top Gun experience, I had a LOT of time to ponder, remember, analyze and wonder where I might find a poster of Whip Hubley for my bedroom wall… and also to wonder what sort of person wants to be called “Whip?” When I had the chance, I saw Top Gun again. And again. All I can say is, woe betide anyone who blunders into my way if I’m listening to “Danger Zone” while driving down the interstate. I mean that.

Top Gun is very much a product of the eighties. Its ingredient list includes all the staples: frat-boyish hijinks, gut wrenching pathos, rocking soundtrack, Cold War mindset, on-screen nookie-frenetic chemistry and the not to be forgotten buff-ariffic volleyball scene. (Incidentally, the volleyball actually had NO justification from a plot perspective, but for once the snotty writer in me is going to completely overlook that, because the seventeen-year-old I used to be wouldn’t hesitate to remind me exactly where the VCR tape wore out first.) Top Gun might not be a highwater point for artistic merit, but that was never its intention.

Honestly, it’s a sexy movie. The guys are sexy, Kelly McGillis is (according to sources) sexy, uniforms are sexy, motorcycles and fighter jets are sexy, karaoke is sexy — or at least it was before it became karaoke, afterburners are definitely sexy, flybys are sexy, and characters who display irreverence/machismo/fighting skill/pearly white smiles and deep vulnerability are so sexy that Tom Cruise made his entire career out of playing them. At least until he lost his marbles and started tap dancing on Oprah’s couch and stuff.

In short, Top Gun is not a deep thinking introspective cinematic opus, but it’s fun, fast paced, action packed and has lots of cute guys in it. (Even Michael Ironside was cute in a killing fluffy bunnies with his malevolent stare kind of way.) It entertains without overtaxing anyone’s intellect. How cool is that?

Justin’s rating: I love that supposedly the real Top Gun school charges anyone $5 if they quote this movie. I’d be so broke, yo.

Justin’s review: It’s a strange thing to admit that as a kid who grew up in the ’80s, the phenomenon of Top Gun (ahem) flew right over my head. It was only the top-grossing film of 1986 and an instant cultural landmark, but hey, I was 10 years old then. He-Man and G.I. Joe were of more interest to me than testosterony men in fighter jets. For the longest time, my only interest and awareness of this movie was its incredibly amazing soundtrack.

But it’s impossible to escape Top Gun forever, especially when you’re married to a woman who regards this — probably for “shirtless volleyball scene” reasons — one of her all-time favorite flicks. And hey, it’s pretty fun, so why am I complaining?

Hotshot fighter jet pilots Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) are invited to take a break from aircraft carrier duty to attend Top Gun, a training school for the Navy’s most elite jocks. It’s nominally a training facility to teach dogfighting, but I’m going to call it like I see it. It’s summer camp with airplanes. These boys get to make new pals, pull pranks, fall in love, and win the big competition while thumbing their noses at authority.

Maverick develops an instant rivalry with Iceman (Val Kilmer), and if you haven’t gotten enough of alpha dogs barking at each other, this film has more than enough to get you by for a while. Sparks also arise between Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis), who is both a love interest and a flight instructor. Tack on the often hilarious friendship between Maverick and Goose (in and out of the cockpit), and you’ve got three thoroughly interesting relationships to track.

And if that’s not enough, the combo of the soundtrack and fighter plane eye candy gets the blood pumping and adrenaline flowing. The best I can liken it to is watching a string of good movie trailers. It’s not deep, it doesn’t deliver all of the goods, but dang it if it doesn’t keep you hooked. I’m laughing, I’m cheering, I’m like “hey it’s Meg Ryan,” I’m like “oh no Goose nooo,” and I’m rooting around for the soundtrack CD to blast in my car for the next drive to the supermarket. TAKE MY BREATH AWAWAAAAYYYY

I’m sure our modern “enlightened” culture can find ways to rip this movie to shreds, but that’s just jealousy talking. This is one popcorn flick that’s endured for decades and will no doubt for decades to come. So suit up and come fly on Tom Cruise smirking airlines with me.

Didja notice?

  • They love to snap off their oxygen masks while flying, don’t they?
  • Taking polaroid pictures from inside of your cockpit
  • “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”
  • “This is a target-rich environment”
  • You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling serenade
  • It’s time to buzz the tower!
  • Girls will forgo a guy showering if they’re hungry
  • Haha he gave her a folded paper airplane

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