Wednesday 6 March 2019

1,001 Films: "Top Gun" (1986)

Top Gun comprises the thoroughly buffed and pumped adventures of Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise), a grin in a leather jacket and shades who enrols in an elite academy for naval aviators designed to school "the best of the best" in the finer points of dogfighting. While there, he tangles with a toothy Aryan known as Iceman (Val Kilmer), plays beach volleyball stripped to the waist, sees his best friend killed, and enjoys skirmishes, professional and otherwise, with unlikely aviation expert Kelly McGillis, who seems more interested in Maverick for the ready access he provides to a MiG, as if she were some sort of planespotting sizequeen. Three decades on, it's impossible to watch the film without noticing the debt it owes to the Hell's Angels/Wings school of flying, the clumsy exposition (Maverick is the son of a great pilot killed in mid-air) or the outrageously homoerotic dialogue ("You're OK, Cougar. Just stay on my wing, I'll take you all the way in"). Entirely masturbatory (unlike the Rambo sequels or Red Dawn, which at least had the courage of their dumbo convictions, these fighters never engage in combat with named opposition) and yet strangely deodorised (the first hour, it seems to me, is all about Tom Cruise's need to stay close to a shower), it's one of those seminal films in the history of pop culture that would now look like a spoof even without the existence of Hot Shots!.

Tony Scott directs with pace, but no great visual style for once - he's too busy attempting to match inserts of the actors in their mock-cockpits to aerial photography that's admittedly impressive, if endless flybys are your thing - and not much of a sense of humour, which explains why the whole remains unintentionally laughable in places. The tendency, as it would be in most subsequent Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer productions, is to overstate everything, either for the purposes of better entertainment, or so the idiots in the back row can keep up. Iceman is actually introduced sipping iced water (geddit?) while Maverick's wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards, waiting for e.r.) remarks on his "ice cold" flying style; of course a maverick like Pete Mitchell should eventually earn the sobriquet Maverick; and matters play out to a relentless soundtrack by those masters of minimalism Kenny Loggins and Harold Faltermeyer. Top Gun could perhaps only have emerged from the Hollywood of the 1980s, attempting to make heroic the kind of arrogant, egotistical jerk who thinks nothing of following a gal into the ladies' bathroom, and ultimately affirming nothing much more than Maverick's belief in himself. Its virtues - a passion for boys' toys, and a genuine need for speed - might also be understood as flaws: it's a film one can imagine American fighter pilots watching even today before their missions, and taking all its technical mumbo jumbo and macho bluster incredibly seriously.

Top Gun is available on DVD through Paramount Home Entertainment.

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