Top Gun (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student pilot proves himself.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who goes by the nickname Maverick, gets accepted into an elite fighter school for Navy pilots known as ‘Top Gun’. It is here where his flying skills impress his instructors, but his daredevils ways also get him into trouble. He starts dating one of his instructors (Kelly McGillis) and everything seem to be going fine until during a flight training exercise that he is piloting his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) tragically dies, which shatters his confidence and makes him believe that maybe he is not cut out to be a pilot after all.

This film was a giant hit at the box office, but mostly ravaged by the critics and with good reason. The story is shallow, but Cruise’s performance manages to hold it together. Some have criticized his acting ability by saying he can play only one type of character namely the cocky type, but here he mixes in a lot of hidden vulnerabilities with it making you feel for him during his dark times of self doubt and cheer when he finally overcomes them.

I also enjoyed the romantic angle at least initially. In a lot of movies the side romance can get in the way of the story, but here it helps keep the plot intriguing especially when you factor in their contrasting personalities and temperaments. I liked the fact that she was also one of his instructors and therefore had to keep a professional distance and how this caused tensions in their potential relationship, which I wanted explored much more and was disappointed when this plot point fizzles out already in the first act and they become instead a generic ‘happy couple’ the rest of the way.

The mysterious death of Maverick’s father years early was another subplot that gets poorly handled. I was expecting this to work into being a heightened mystery complete with a big reveal at the end, perhaps coupled with a flashback, but instead it gets treated almost like a throwaway bit where the Tom Skerrit character explains what occurred in passing and then by the time the ending finally comes it’s pretty much forgotten. The same goes for Val Kilmer who is excellent as Maverick’s rival, but his part is woefully underwritten and like with a lot of other things not pushed to its full dramatic potential.

Director Tony Scott hurts the realism by implementing too much of a music video approach with literally every scene smothered with a loud, booming rock tune, which cheapens the story by making it more about mood and image than a character study. There’s even issues with the sky color, which outside of the aerial footage, looks to have a bright golden color that does not replicate any sky I’ve ever seen on this planet.

The stunt work involving the flying jets is certainly impressive making this a movie you definitely need to see on the big screen in order to get its full effect, but eventually it gets redundant and for a layperson not familiar with piloting technique even a bit confusing. The ending in which Maverick and his fellow pilots are ordered to provide air support to a stricken ship that has drifted into hostile waters really jumps the shark when jet planes from a foreign country attacks theirs, which would be considered an act of war and a major international incident, but instead after the skirmish is over it all gets written off saying that the other country simply ‘denied that they did it’, which only in the movie world is good enough to make everyone else forgive and forget about it too.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

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