Genre: Action and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Release Date: May 16th, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Tony Scott Actors: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Anthony Edwards, John Stockwell, Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, Whip Hubley, Clarence Gilyard Jr., Meg Ryan
n 1969, the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School (aka Top Gun) was formed, comprised of the most elite pilots – experts in air combat maneuvering (or dogfighting), ready for any sort of unexpected clash. With rock music and a montage of jets taking off and landing on a seabound vessel, the opening title sequence looks quite a bit like the start of a television series, very much tying the graphics to the ‘80s era. The story proper begins in the present day in the Indian Ocean, when pilots Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards), along with Cougar (John Stockwell) and his partner Merlin (Tim Robbins), are scrambled to warn off two MIGs that have veered into contested airspace. Although the situation is deescalated, Cougar cracks up in the air, almost unable to land in one piece.
As a result, Maverick and Goose become the #1 team on the ship, which means they’re sent to Miramar, California to train among the top 1% of naval aviators in the Top Gun program, flying F-14s. Once there, the duo focuses on being the best in the class – run by no-nonsense veteran teachers Viper (Tom Skerritt) and Jester (Michael Ironside) – but also on shenanigans, including romantically pursuing Charlie (Kelly McGillis), who happens to be a Pentagon instructor. Of course, there are also rivalries and brinkmanship at every turn, chiefly from fellow hotshot Iceman (Val Kilmer).
Superiors continuously berate the hard-headed rookies; the competitive students trade insults as if a competition for creative mudslinging; with something to prove, the young students break rules and behave impulsively to push a reputation of danger; and training montages, full of combat lingo, amusing call signs, and technical recitations, eat up screentime. And though the aerial footage is convincing, the perspectives are generally only close-ups inside the cockpit or distant shots of planes passing one another, augmented by panicky voices and additional jargon, limiting the variations that could produce more riveting scenarios. The editing is acceptable, but it rarely feels as if presenting something previously unseen. Plus, there’s a shirtless volleyball match.
When the film isn’t having characters stew over personal dramas, complicated histories, or contrived camaraderie, Cruise and McGillis do a pretty good job of flirting. Many of their amorous interactions are surprisingly charming and genuine, as if improvised from a real, personal relationship. It doesn’t help, however, that “Take My Breath Away” is the only song that ever creeps up when a bit of romantic schmoozing is foreshadowed.
At the same time, “The Danger Zone” is the only tune that seems to signify a transition into yet another hectic flying sequence. Tragedy eventually strikes, though it doesn’t come as much of a shock, nor does it produce results other than additional flight montages. Even the anticipated revelation about Maverick’s father doesn’t muster much enthusiasm. Ultimately, “Top Gun” isn’t really about aerial warfare (and the politics behind it); it’s about personal relationships, lost and regained confidence, and a love story – despite the climax expectedly involving an actual military conflict (several Top Gun pilots must provide air support for the rescue operation of a disabled ship that has wandered into foreign territory). During this finale, missiles and firepower are finally unleashed, creating decent suspense, while camera angles become more creative (though confusing at times, thanks to the rapid editing and unclear geography). But there’s still modest, consistent entertainment to be had with the adventure and romance leading up to the close. “This is what you’ve been trained for.”
– Mike Massie