This week I re-watched Top Gun with my kids. When released in 1986, it was a blockbuster earning $350 million. It cemented Tom Cruise as an ‘A’ list actor leading to other roles such as playing Ethan Hunt in:
- Mission: Impossible
- Mission: Impossible 2
- Mission: Impossible III
- Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
- Mission: Impossible—Rogue Protocol
- Mission: Impossible—Fallout
- Mission: Impossible 7 (releasing post COVID)
Sidebar: Tim Robbins is also in the movie. This was before Shawshank Redemption, but after his role of “Mother” in the underrated movie, Fraternity Vacation. Fraternity Vacation, despite Roger Ebert’s one-star rating, is pure 80’s. It is the reduction of Revenge of the Nerds, Porky’s, Johnny Be Good, Teen Wolf, and Back to School into one fantastic movie capturing the essence of the greatest decade in the last seventy years. One day, when my kids ask me, “Dad, what were the 80’s like?” I’m going to give them a Betamax copy of Fraternity Vacation, a handful of ‘ludes, and tell them to “live it up.”
Cue Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins as the opening credits role we see military planes launching and landing on an aircraft carrier. We also see this guy. You know he parties.
In 1986, this intro scene was beyond cool. It was what inspired you to become a military pilot. Planes flying, loud noises, and afterburners. Today it looks like disjointed stock footage for something played in junior high history Zoom class.
While chasing away some faceless bad guys from an unnamed country (cough, cough: Russia, China, or Canada), Maverick gives a foreign fighter “the bird”. This international relations move is later is the primer for Kelly McGillis to dump some old guy at a diner and lust after Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise’s Kawasaki GPZ900R motorcycle adds to his image of an all-American bad ass. He drives at high rates of speeds and displays wild abandonment as he does not wear a helmet. (California’s motorcycle helmet law was passed in 1992 so Cruise is not as much of a law breaking stud when you consider the much looser helmet laws in effect in 1986).
After buzzing the tower, Strickland from Back to the Future I, II, and III offers Goose and Maverick a choice to fly rubber dog sh*t out of Hong Kong or go to Top Gun flight school.
Maverick and Goose bust out a sing-along/serenade in a military bar. In the real world, everyone in this bar would be blackout drunk and any type of coordinated American Bandstand style karaoke would result in at least two fist fights. Kelly McGillis, who would only be in this bar to ask for directions, would duck out the side door to avoid a babbling, drunk Tom Cruise slobbering a butchered version of a 1964 Righteous Brothers’ hit. (This song was ~20 years old when this movie was in production. If this movie was made today, it would be Liam Helmsworth and Taylor Lautner singing Sisqó’s Thong Song to Zoey Deutch).
In flight school, Goose and Maverick meet Iceman and Slider where there is some alpha-male, frat bro contest of who will be who’s wingman. Goose has a 70’s porno mustache, so he decides they should all play a shirtless volleyball game. This beach scene has no relevance to the plot or character development of the movie, but given the movie’s PG rating, a four shirtless dudes rolling around in the sand is all the skin you’re going to get out of this flick.
During a lot more indiscriminate airplane dog fighting scenes involving all the Top Gun candidates, Goose is too busy wondering if he could ever play a doctor on TV, doesn’t eject in a timely manner from his jet, and kicks the bucket. Tom Cruise doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he wanders around town on his motorcycle, learns Kelly McGillis took a job in DC which offered better health insurance than Top Gun school, and he discovers his dad was “the best pilot ever”, so Tom Cruise can only be the second best pilot ever.
Maverick, realizing he has nothing to lose, gets into his jet and wins the Top Gun award for best student. This is really a shocker, because every knows Goose was the true Top Gun much like Ed McMahon was the real star of the The Tonight Show.
At the graduation party, the pilots hear of an escalating international situation. Maverick and the rest of the Top Gun crew of California jump to the Indian Ocean to the same aircraft carrier we saw at the beginning of the movie. When I was eight years old and watching this movie, it seemed unfathomable to me the greatest military powerhouse, in the heart of a cold war, only had about ten pilots to canvas the entire world. You would think the US Air Force would have some pilots stationed in Europe or Asia who they could dispatch to fight the mysterious enemy in the non-existent MiG 28 plane (Russia had a MiG 29, so I’m guessing the writers of Top Gun had a typo and it was easier to leave “28” instead of changing all the “28”s to “29”s).
Bring on more airplanes darting across the screen with no visible purpose or intent. Maverick talks to Goose’s ghost, which shows Cruise is still emotionally unstable and is not capable of flying a military jet worth millions in a high-tension international conflict. However, Maverick does not leave his wingman in this conflict even though he probably should given Iceman is pretty much a goner as Val Kilmer is taking fire from three enemy planes. A couple bad guys’ planes blow up and everyone cheers for Tom Cruise. Maverick does a fly by of the tower, but this time it’s OK, because he saved the free world from a nebulous, yet world ending, outcome. Tom Cruise throws some dog tags in the water and decides to go back to Top Gun so he can teach up and coming hotshots how to buzz the tower and say phrases like “This is what I call a target-rich environment”, “I feel the need; the need for speed”, and “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”
When I was seven, this movie was awesome. Today, ehhh, not so much.