Saturday, May 28, 2022

Stubs - Top Gun

Top Gun (1986) Starring: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt. Directed by Tony Scott. Screenplay by Jim Cash, Jack Epps, Jr. Produced by Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer. Run time: 110 minutes. USA. Color. Drama, Romance, Action.

Some films define a decade and some films are defined by the decade in which they were made. While you might want to think the former is true of Top Gun, I would say that the film has the 1980s written all over it. Some may consider it a modern classic, but that would mean that it has aged well and frankly the film has not.

While on a training exercise in the middle of the Indian Ocean, two U.S. Naval pilots encounter some Russian MIGs. The encounter leaves one of them, nicknamed “Cougar” (John Stockwell), freaked and had trouble making it back to the aircraft carrier. Although his plane is low on fuel, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, disregards his orders to land and instead guides Cougar back to the ship.

Cougar, who had been the number one pilot on the ship, has lost his nerve and so he turns in his wings to Commander “Stinger” Jordan (James Tolkan). The Commander accepts his resignation and then reprimands Maverick and his best friend and crew member Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) for disobeying orders. But because Maverick is the number two pilot on the ship, Jordan has no choice but to send him and Goose to the Navy’s elite fighter program, Top Gun, to train to become the best pilots in the Navy.

When he arrives, Maverick is convinced that he’ll be the number one pilot, but Goose believes it will be another pilot, called “Iceman” aka “Ice” (Val Kilmer). Ice is known for his “nerves of steel” and competitive nature.

Maverick (Tom Cruise) tries to pick up Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) in a bar.

At a local bar, Ice taunts Maverick and Goose as being “second string,” and only making the program because Cougar lost his nerve. Maverick doesn’t let it bother him too much. He makes a $20 bet with Goose on the point that he can have sex with a woman at the bar on the premises. With Goose being his wingman, he sings "You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling" to a pretty blonde named Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), trying to impress her. He’s pretty upfront about wanting to sleep with her and even though she turns him down, follows her into the women’s bathroom.

Maverick admits to his sophomoric bet, but Charlie artfully discourages his attempts at seduction. However, as Charlie walks past Goose, she brazenly claims that Maverick scored and was “magnificent.”

Charlie is an astrophysicist and civilian specialist.

The next morning, Charlie arrives at Maverick’s class in her official capacity as an astrophysicist and civilian specialist in enemy aircraft with classified security clearance. When Maverick sees her, he tries to bury his head in humiliation. But as Charlie explains the MiG’s limitations, Maverick can’t help but contradict her, based on his own experience in the Indian Ocean. Charlie then realizes that Maverick is the unorthodox pilot whose exploits are well documented at the Pentagon. Charlie is intrigued and wants to know more about the MiG’s capabilities, but Maverick suggests she review his classified files for information.

Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) in class with Maverick.

There can only be one Top Gun and that is determined through the accumulation of points which are done through a series of training exercises. It is made clear that there will only be one Top Gun, who will have his name added to a plaque.

 After the first exercise, even though he flew below the floor of 10,000 feet, Maverick believes he has successfully completed the mission. To celebrate, he makes an authorized flyby of the control tower, which raises the ire of his commanders.

In the locker room, co-pilots Ice and “Slider,” along with Maverick and Goose, claim victory after a training exercise. However, Ice declares that he does not approve of Maverick’s risky behavior and predicts it will lead to his downfall. Commanding officer Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) reprimands Maverick and Goose for breaking two rules: flying below 10,000 feet and doing the flyby of the control tower without permission. Viper warns that another stunt like that will get them tossed out of the program.

Later, Goose suggests that every time Maverick flies he is competing with the memory of his pilot father, Duke Mitchell, whom you get the impression he doesn’t know very well. Maverick’s recklessness makes Goose nervous. Goose has a wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), and a son that he wants to support. Maverick promises not to let him down.

The next day, Charlie gives Maverick some pointers about his flying, which turns into flirtation. She tells him she does not date students. However, before she leaves, she hands him a piece of paper with a written invitation to meet her for dinner.

When he arrives at her house, Maverick discovers that Charlie likes the same music as his deceased mother and reveals that his fighter pilot father died in combat under mysterious circumstances. Maverick does not believe that error led to his father’s death, but Charlie suggests the memory is holding him back and explains why his class performance is second best. When she comments that dating him will be complicated, Maverick thanks her for dinner and leaves without making a pass.

In class, Viper advises pilot trainees to save their aircraft if they find themselves in a bad position with the enemy. He and Charlie highlight Maverick’s recent encounter with the MIGs as an example of what not to do, even though he was successful and his classmates are impressed, with one telling Maverick that his flying is the “gutsiest” he has ever seen.

Maverick rides his motorcycle.

After class, Maverick ignores Charlie’s questions and drives away on his motorcycle. She, of course, speeds after him in her car until he pulls over. After heatedly arguing her admonishment against him in class, she admits that she had to make an example of him to hide the fact that she has fallen in love with him. They naturally kiss. Charlie tells Maverick that his flying skill shows signs of genius, but she fears being accused of favoritism.

Afterward, they go to Charlie’s home and make love.

Meanwhile, Goose’s wife, Carole (Meg Ryan) and son arrive on base and the two couples go out.

Halfway through the Top Gun program, Ice is in first place for the trophy and Maverick is two points behind him. During a training exercise, Maverick abandons his wingman, “Hollywood” (Whip Hubley), to pursue Viper, but is blocked by “Jester” (Michael Ironside), another flight instructor.

Later, Jester praises Maverick’s flying, but criticizes him for leaving his wingman. Ice complains that Maverick’s attitude is dangerous and wants to know whose side he is on. Maverick admits he made a mistake and promises Goose that it will not happen again.

In another training exercise, Maverick and Ice both pursue Jester. Something goes wrong with Maverick’s aircraft and it goes into an uncontrollable spin. Maverick has to ditch the plane in the sea, so he and Goose are forced to eject. Goose pulls Maverick’s ejection handle when he cannot reach it, but upon pulling his own, his head slams into the canopy, and Goose is killed as a result.

Maverick blames himself for Goose’s death, but he is cleared of any wrongdoing in the accident and returned to flight status in what seems like record time. However, his newfound anxieties cause him to underperform during training.

Instructor Jester is concerned that Maverick will not bounce back from Goose’s death, but Viper insists that Maverick keep flying. In the locker room, Ice offers his condolences, but Maverick decides to quit the program.

Charlie tries to point out all the evidence that Maverick was not at fault, but she is unable to persuade him.

Maverick visits Viper at home on a Sunday and learns that Viper flew with Maverick’s father. Viper claims that Maverick is a lot like his father, but that he is a better pilot. Viper recounts to Maverick about the last dogfight his father was in. Even after his plane had been damaged, Duke stayed in a vicious dogfight, managing to save three other planes before he was killed.

He encourages Maverick to attend his graduation the following day but supports his decision to quit without disgrace if he chooses.

Maverick is a no-show at the ceremony when Ice wins the Top Gun trophy. He does arrive late, having changed his mind, and congratulates Ice for the win. But there is no time to celebrate. Viper hands out their next assignments, which has Maverick and several of the pilots sent back aboard an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Charlie has accepted an advancement that will take her across the country and leaves without saying goodbye to Maverick.

Onboard, Maverick is tasked to backup Ice and Hollywood during a rescue operation. Ice’s complaints about Maverick are ignored by those in charge. Once the pilots are in the air, five MiGs ambush them. Hollywood’s plane is shot down and he ejects. As Maverick gets the order to join the fight, Ice and Slider (Rick Rossovich) are outnumbered, but repeatedly dodge enemy fire. There is a delay in getting Maverick into the air, which makes their situation even direr.

Once Maverick is airborne and in the fight, he retreats, the memory of losing Goose playing on him. However, after clutching Goose’s dog tags, he gathers his courage and fires a missile at the MiG chasing Ice and Slider. The missile shears off a wing and the MiG goes down. Ice blows up another MiG, but a second enemy plane riddles the side of his plane with bullets and Ice is forced to shut down an engine to stabilize his aircraft. Maverick employs a few fancy maneuvers to shoot down two other MiGs. Sensing defeat, even though Maverick is out of missiles, the remaining MiGs peel away, ending the conflict.

Iceman” aka “Ice” (Val Kilmer) makes amends.

The ship’s crew greets the returning pilots with cheers. Ice tells Maverick that he is still dangerous but can be his wingman anytime. Maverick smiles and comments that Ice is welcome to be his wingman, and the two fighter pilots embrace.

Sometime later, Maverick throws Goose’s dog tags into the sea.

Several newspapers describe Maverick’s heroic rescue. As a reward, Maverick is offered his choice of assignments. When he chooses to teach at Top Gun, his commanding officer chuckles.

Later, at a diner near the flight school, Maverick hears someone play "You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling" on the jukebox. He searches the diner and finds Charlie, who admits that she has returned from her new job in Washington, D.C. to be with him.

Charlie comes back to be with Maverick.

Maverick smiles and admits that things could be complicated.

Made on a rather paltry budget of $15 million, when the film was released on May 16, 1986, it made $356.8 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film that year. And, in one of the longest gestation periods, led to a sequel Top Gun: Maverick, originally slated for release in the summer of 2020. The COVID pandemic going on during that summer forced it to be delayed.

Critics were not as rosy as the reception of the ticket-buying public. The film received high marks for the action sequences, especially the sequence near the end of the film, but not so much when the actors were on the ground. While they may be heroes while in their planes, when they’re not they represent the worst tendencies of men and some of their actions would today lead to charges of attempted sexual assault. I’m thinking of the scene in which Maverick enters the women’s restroom with the hope of having sex with Charlie after she has said “no”.

There is a homoerotic quality to the film.

Conversely, there is a homoerotic quality to the film as well. To be clear, these are, for the most part, very muscular and almost pretty men who like to run around without their shirts on during volleyball games. There are times when you expect them to kiss each other, they seem so attracted to one another.

I feel that some of these attitudes are reflective of the film’s producers, Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, especially the latter. To get an idea of the type of man he was, Simpson was known for wearing black Levi jeans 501 only before their first wash, and then throwing them away. Known as a party animal, he was once quoted as saying that "next to eating and having sex, making movies is the best thing in the world.” He may have claimed never to have had plastic surgery but in reality, had 10 different plastic surgeries between 1988 and 1994, including a penis-enlargement procedure. He would die from of heart failure caused by combined drug intoxication (cocaine and prescription medications) while going to the bathroom. It’s not hard to imagine a man like that being not only cool with the attitudes expressed towards women, but encouraging of them as well.

What might be worse is that Charlie, who seems at the beginning to have been more worldly than Maverick, falls for him despite being treated like a sexual object by him. I don’t mean to sound prudish, but that sort of depiction of heterosexual relationships shows the women want to be treated like that as Maverick gets the result he’s after. In fact, she is so in love with him that she gives up personal advancement to be with him. This attitude definitely dates the film.

If you think you’ll come away with an understanding of then-modern warplanes, then you will be disappointed. To be honest, if it was mentioned, I don’t recall what the character of Goose’s role was as far as flying the plane goes. I don't believe that was ever fully fleshed out. He is definitely not a co-pilot and judging by the sequence at the beginning of the film, the person in the second seat does not have the training to even land the plane. I’m sure there is more of a function than to help the pilot pick up girls, but it is never made clear in the film. I’m sure that detail would have only gotten in the way.

I’m not a big fan of Tom Cruise. I feel that he is good as an action hero, but he’s not called upon to show much range here. The character’s journey is one of a man who is conceited about his abilities and ends with a man conceited about his abilities. Oh, there are a couple of momentary lapses, each involving the memory of Goose, but while the film wants you to think he’s changed and wants to give back to others by being a teacher, rather than a pilot, he may also want to get out of the theater of battle. While there is probably some emotional development with the Maverick character, it is buried under a thick layer of machismo. I guess, when the sequel is finally released, we’ll find out how much, if any, his character has really changed in 35 years.

The most notable thing about the other actors is how young they are. This was a big film and a big opportunity for most of them, but the material they’re forced to work with seems to have been written by a teenage boy who, in his fantasies the planes are fast and the women faster.

The reason I watched this movie was not because of Cruise or the pending sequel, but rather because of a crossover toy with Transformers. I don’t think I’ll be watching it again. If you feel compelled to watch it, the action sequences are very well done, but the film gets grounded when the planes are on the tarmac.

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