The basis of the movie is almost factual.
272The year is 1986, the cold war is raging and the United States Navy needs a publicity boost. What could be better than a movie about young men, manly men, training to fly fast jets harder and faster, while also finding time to grab a game of beach volleyball and a quick shower together? I am sure Tony Scott did not set out to make one of the most homoerotic action movies of all time, but it certainly turned Tom Cruise into something of a gay icon and also had the somewhat more desired effect of increasing recruitment into the armed forces to boot.
The basis of the movie is almost factual. There is a Top Gun Naval Aviation School in Miramar and it does train pilots prior to combat activities, but that is almost where the fiction begins. Fast jets do not dog fight in the way that is portrayed and electronic countermeasures are the only way to shake off a missile, you simply cannot outmanoeuvre a small, lightweight rocket with a large cumbersome jet! The real Top Gun course trains its students to become field instructors and is much more classroom based that the film suggests. Still, let’s not let a list of errors as long as your arm get in the way of a jolly good action movie, as Top Gun still retains all the pace and frenetic activity needed to provide good, escapist entertainment.
Maverick and Goose (Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards) are not your typical, serious minded naval aviators, but come across as the class clowns. A good team and excellent flyers they may be, but their lack of discipline and reckless flying antics have not gone unnoticed. When, quite by chance, they get involved in an encounter with a top secret Russian fighter, they get the chance to attend the elite Top Gun fighter school, where messing around in fast jets is not tolerated and the incentive to win is huge.
Their fellow students include ultra cool Iceman (Val Kilmer) and his “ride” Slider (Rick Rossovich), along with various other flyers, most of whom know each other, if only by reputation. Being young men, they are all hugely competitive and the only thing they want more than to beat each other, is to score virtual “kills” on their instructors – The Top Guns.
While Maverick is a loner, with no family ties or significant long term love interest, Goose is a family man, with a child and typical military wife – played by Meg Ryan. It is fairly obvious then, that when the attractive, statuesque blonde – call sign Charlie (Kelly McGillis) walks into the officer’s club, that Maverick will make the move, supported by Goose, his rear.
So, we now have the love interest, a bunch of testosterone fuelled fighter pilots and a setup for some sort of tragedy, all we need now is some sort of breakdown and recovery and we will have all the ingredients for the perfect all American action movie. Unfortunately, the American Navy had quite a hand in the script development, so jets crashing into aircraft carriers and other ranks fraternization was ruled out. Still, the accident and subsequent recovery are well done and we can all feel the sense of loss.
The slightly chaotic nature of the flying scenes covers up a lot of the repeated scenes and use of models really very well. Only two live missiles were fired during filming, yet more than a dozen are actually launched in the story. This was accomplished using multiple angles mirrored shots and miniatures. The illusion is so good that the Navy launched an enquiry into whether extra shots were fired without their knowledge. Continuity during the flying sections however, is not great, with various pilots and navigators being wrongly portrayed.
The love interest between Cruise and McGillis simply fails to ignite any spark. As originally filmed, there was not even a love scene, with both this and the elevator scene shot post production, as preview audiences complained that the relationship between the two was simply not strong enough. Although the extra scenes did help, you do not get any sense of intimacy between the two stars and that is a major failing.
The film still stands up well today, having aged very gracefully. The tastelessness of some of the extremes of 80’s fashion is carefully toned down, and the Navy does not change too much over the years. The sound track was always the best part of this movie, and remains so today. A number of artists refused to have their songs used, some for anti-war reasons, some because they felt the film would be a flop, but the end result was a fusion of 80s anthems and older tracks that perfectly fitted the movie. Still a great escapist action movie, but not without its faults, Top Gun remains an iconic movie, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.