Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Top Gun (1986)


1969. The US Navy establishes an academy for the crème de la crème of its hierarchy of pilots, training them in aerial combat. Only the top 1% gets in and upon graduation, they are then considered as the best fighter pilots worldwide. While the Navy officially calls it the Fighter Weapons School, its students refer to the program as Top Gun. Naval Aviator lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell along with his best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, a Radar Intercept Officer, make it to the new batch of trainees after their stint aboard the USS Enterprise. Highly skilled but coming across as a bit arrogant, Maverick immediately courts rivalry from the rest of his class, among them lieutenant Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who is not at all impressed by his demeanor while up in the air. As they battle it out for the top spot, Maverick has to juggle his budding love affair with Top Gun instructor Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) with his high expectation of himself dealing with the ghost of his father’s past.

The film came out in 1986, just a year after I was born, which leads me to believe that, no, it couldn’t have been the case that I saw this movie during its premiere. Nonetheless, what bothers me is how ingrained it is in my pop culture subconscious. At this point I can’t even say if I’ve actually seen this movie at all before today. In any case, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away always puts me in a nostalgic mood, and there’s no arguing that it is Tom Cruise’s fault as to why Ray-Ban aviator glasses have become a staple in every guy’s wardrobe since then. But the sequel is coming out tomorrow. AFTER 36 YEARS. And so, we watch.

In terms of plot, there really isn’t much going on. The central theme is competition and ambition, and this pair is evident all throughout the movie’s runtime. If you analyze the film’s content, it’s just another case of workplace rivalry, except that Top Gun is infinitely more exciting and benefits from the adrenaline rush because it features fighter planes and a lot of action up there in the sky. In short, it is one of those narratives a little kid would look up to for inspiration as to what s/he would like to be growing up, and this is what it actually brings to the table.

I’ve read somewhere that application for the US Navy shot up 500% after this film was released back then. No wonder why some people have tagged it as a bit of a propaganda flick. I wouldn’t dare label it as pro-war, though. Most countries have navies which offer legitimate career options. In the end, the premise is still about ambition and career progression, both of which are universal themes that we can all relate to. When should you go for it? When should you quit? Those are the central questions here.

Perhaps the film’s greatest asset are those fighter jet scenes. They do seem logistically challenging and expensive to film. Top Gun is memorable in that regard and as far as the visuals go, this is an enjoyable popcorn flick. Outside those scenes, though, the narrative quickly devolves into a cyclical game of romantic cat and mouse chase as well as a rather persistent display of an antiquated brand of masculinity among the boys. Delving into the characters even deeper would have been a welcome change, so let’s see if the sequel three decades in the making can catch up in that aspect.

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