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I believe it was around 2006-7 when I'd first heard of Top Gun, since I'm not a 70s-80s kid. I was put off by its premise, and after hearing people at the time say that it's overbearingly cheesy, I never ended up seeing it.
Until one night, when my mother was raving about how awesome it was. So I finally decided to give it a chance. And honestly, I'm happy I did. I find it really hard to hate on this film like many others do. Does that make me a bad person? Eh, I'll let you decide.
The entire plot can be summed up as: stock cocky go-getter Pete Mitchell "Maverick" (Tom Cruise) enrols in a flight academy called Top Gun with his stock comedic best friend Nick Bradshaw "Goose" (Anthony Edwards) after one of their partners—who was the top student there—gets paranoid and leaves their force; from there on, Maverick learns to be the greatest pilot and even romances one of his instructors named Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly MicGillis)—although there's more bromancing going on between him, Goose, and stock stick-in-the-mud rival Tom Kazanski "Iceman" (Val Kilmer) than anything else.
Okay so, this definitely sounds like something I wouldn't like, and a lot of you are probably wondering why I enjoyed it as well. First of all, I gotta give credit where everyone else gave it credit: Top Gun gets the 80s vibe down perfectly, with its aesthetic and soundtrack (although I wish there was more variety in the songs, and sometimes the songs don't match the situation). I really love the cinematography in this too; the aerial scenes are a lot of fun to watch, and the overall picture quality is gorgeous—especially those shots of California at sunset.
Though that's about the extent of our common ground, because I'll have a ton of unpopular opinions from here on out. Prepare the beer.
Aside from the look and feel, I rather like the bond between our main characters—mostly between the guys though, but I'll get to that in a minute. A lot of people say that these characters are incredibly boring and just spend the movie "high-fiving" each other, but I disagree. I actually appreciate the many isolated moments in this film that are quieter and take the time to look at how people are feeling about their current situations.
Some other neat touches include Maverick getting advice from several other characters—particularly Iceman. What I like about Iceman is that he's not the typical jealous bully you usually saw in blockbusters at the time—he's not even the antagonist. Sure, he's hard on Maverick, but he's honest about why Maverick annoys him—and it's completely understandable, given how Maverick acts. He legitimately tries to help him be a better pilot, albeit it being a blunt approach. And on top of that, he isn't dull; he's actually pretty funny and witty. Kilmer is always great, and you can tell he's just having a lot of fun with this role.
For a film that tags "romance" as one of its genres, however, I'd be lying if I said I thought that the relationship between Maverick and Charlotte was completely fleshed out. This is probably the other thing I can somewhat agree with. And it doesn't help that Charlotte's character kind of goes down the drain once she realizes she's in love with Maverick. I love how she started off as this intelligent, no-nonsense mystery woman who had a snark to her; but because of how rushed the romance is, it sort of makes her look easy, like someone who was hiding behind that cool persona rather than simply showing another dimension to her personality.
With that being said, I do feel chemistry between these two characters, even if others don't. Their personalities work off of each other, and they do give each other a run for their money—at least in the beginning. I just think the problem is that the film doesn't really give them time to properly develop as a supportable couple by the end. It really does end up being more about Maverick's and Iceman's budding friendship, and how that's tied to Maverick's growth and his friendship with Goose.
Interestingly, someone in a forum talked about how they were really only trying to get with each other for their own gains, with Maverick wanting to learn about his father's mysterious disappearance (who was also an aviator), and with Charlotte wanting to learn more about the top-secret enemy plane he encountered in the beginning. I personally did not get that from their courting at all.
Yes, they were interested in these things, but those issues were unrelated to the actual romance, and they definitely weren't using each other to reach their goals in light of how they act towards each other throughout the film. Nonetheless, I found Charlotte to be pretty likeable as well, and McGillis' performance gave the character as much credibility as she could given the choppy script.
But still, to those of you who think Top Gun is over-glorified homoeroticism... yeah, sorry, you really need to grow up. Also, look up the definition of homoeroticism—no, no, don't stop at Urban Dictionary; keep going.
Speaking of quieter moments, I also found Cruise's visual conveyance effective for the most part. He's certainly not the greatest of actors; in fact, several lines and actions of his in this particular film are admittedly silly and hokey. But his body language and facial expressions are usually powerful enough to make you believe what his character is truly feeling and going through, even if he can't or doesn't want to say anything.
It's difficult for me to dislike Maverick despite how much of a hotshot he tries to be; he's got that infectious smile and twinkle in his eye, and you do see him have very human interactions with people over the course of the film. Sure, some more development would've been nice, but I think for what this movie is, it works fine.
Kilmer did a good job with conveying emotions as well, especially in the scene where you think he's going to chew out Maverick for messing up during training. That was after Goose's death, and rather than being inconsiderate, he understands what Maverick is feeling and just gives his condolences. That's it.
And now I'll address the elephant in the room: what they're fighting for. As you know, Top Gun takes place during Reagan's presidency, when America and the USSR were engaging in an arms race for supremacy even though the initial tension between them was dying down. The film is told from the American perspective at the time, and so it does antagonize the USSR, though for no apparent reason as far as the film's plot goes.
Even though the aviators are specifically instructed not to attack unless attacked first, Maverick is nevertheless overpowered and shoots a few of them down almost effortlessly. I don't remember if anyone else managed to get shots in there, but there were people complaining about the fact that these guys were celebrating their victories.
Well, you have to look at the context—what the mindset was at the time. Additionally, while we all know that killing is wrong, military personnel are among the people who have it the hardest on this planet. The issue is a lot more complex than we realize. Even though I've never been in the military and have no experience with it, I can tell that most—if not all—combatants don't actually lust for the enemy's flesh, but rather are knowingly going into a scary situation and putting their lives at risk in order to prevent other lives from being taken.
But to be perfectly honest, I didn't really look into the ethics of the film, because it's clearly not meant to be a political commentary piece, considering how very little politics it actually contains. Maybe if some time was taken out of the film to analyze the morality behind aviation and whatnot, then audiences probably wouldn't have taken such an issue with it. Though actual naval aviators will proclaim that the technical stuff depicted in this movie is BS.
Still, I'm pretty sure people going into Top Gun didn't think, "Good golly, I sure can't wait to find out how they handled the politics in this movie!" Nah, everyone just wanted to see some action, emotions, comedy, and that slick 80s style—and that's exactly what I got out of it. You also have to remember that this is Hollywood; of course things are going to be dramatized for the sake of entertainment. Otherwise, this film would've been pretty boring.
Perhaps if some of the awkward and absurd moments were taken out, and this film got the full two hours it really needed—because damn, it went by really fast—then time could've been allocated to the romance and some of the heavier scenes. I should also note that there are several scenes that happen somewhat randomly, and it might take you a bit to figure out what's going on. But as is, it's honestly just enjoyable to watch as a product of the times.
I don't know if I can call this one a guilty pleasure, because I don't see myself ever watching the movie again. But if you can get past some of the sillier dialogue and moments, you should be able to get some enjoyment out of it, too. If not, I understand—you're not the only one.