I hadn't looked back at a 1980's film in a while, but as I recall Top Gun was one of those films that everyone saw back when we were in high school. It was the film that jump started so many careers with an A list that includes Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kelly McGillis, all coproduced by blockbuster creator Jerry Bruckheimer.
The story behind the making of Top Gun has to be kept in mind to understand the film. Reportedly, the script was done, and it called for numerous shots of naval aircraft on an aircraft carrier. These days, you'd just do it in CGI, and no one would be the wiser. However, Top Gun is perhaps the last great blockbuster action film that didn't use any CGI, and everything is real. Instead, they got in touch with the Navy, who agreed to provide an aircraft carrier and whatever else they needed for the project. The Navy was being so helpful because in the early 80's the military, still with the memories of Vietnam fresh in most Americans minds, had a serious PR problem. So, the Navy would cooperate, but they wanted to be able to rewrite the script to cast themselves in a more favorable light. Given that background, we can see how we ended up with a two hour recruiting session for a film.
Tom Cruise is the prototypical Navy flier, whose code name is Maverick. He pushes the plane to the limits, and is the guy you want on your side, but his commanding officer thinks he's a bit of a screwup. His Radar Intercept Officer (the guy in the back seat who does the electronics in the F-14), played by Anthony Edwards, goes by the call sign Goose. Together, after they chase off some Russian Migs they become the team to get sent to Top Gun, the popular name for the Navy Fighter Weapons School at Miramar Naval Air Station where the Navy's best 1% of fliers hone their skills in air to air combat, and compete for the crown of being the best of the best (of note, the school is now in Nevada; sounds funny to have a Naval Air Station so far from water, but that's budget cuts). Along the way Maverick has a romantic interest with one of the professors, Charlie (McGillis) a lay consultant to the military with a doctorate in astrophysics (probably would have made more sense for her to be an aviation engineer).
The real stars of the show, besides the actors, are the military hardware. The aircraft carrier featured is the USS Enterprise. The jets featured include the F-14 which was the Navy's fighter jet until it got replaced by the F/A-18 in the late 80's, although the last ones were only decommissioned two years ago. The "enemy" at the school is the F-5, which is a light fighter that was sold by the US and saw service in other countries, but was limited to being a trainer for the US military. Interestingly, the enemy they fight, a MiG-28, which seems to me to be presumed to be Soviet (although it may have originally been North Korean in the script but in the rewrite it became some generic communist country) is not really any real plane at all, and was played by more F-5 fighters that were painted black to look like the bad guys.
Overall, despite the film being so pro military, it still works. The acting is well done, and the action is top notch summer blockbuster fare. It gets a little dated for some segments, but all in all, Top Gun has fared well during the last two decades. Even if you saw it in theaters, it's still worth a second watching of this classic on DVD.
Overall Grade: A-
Reviewed by Jonas