Running time: 110 min.
Release date: May 16, 1986
Top Gun is a loud, boisterous movie where music is constantly playing in the background with the tone determined by the emotions or situations the characters might possibly be feeling at that moment. Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer cash their checks with these movies. Director Tony Scott knows exactly how to splice these movies together. So we know what we're getting when we walk into a theater that is showing a Simpson/Bruckheimer film: plenty of expertly crafted action scenes interspersed with melodramatic non-action scenes filled with corny, silly dialogue.
Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and his radar intercept officer, Nick "Goose" Bradshaw have intercepted MiGs over the Indian Ocean. The reckless Maverick flies inches above one of the MiGs and flips the bird to the pilot and then snaps a Polaroid. This is totally within character for the brash and cocky young Maverick, whose reputation is widely known by commanding officers. He and Goose get the news that they're being sent to the Navy's top flight school, called Top Gun. Maverick and Goose are best friends, with Goose wanting Maverick to tone things down a bit so that they can graduate. Goose has a wife and child he wishes to provide for, but goes along with Maverick during his on-the-ground escapades. This includes an awkward, cringe-worthy scene where Maverick sings some Righteous Brothers to a woman he meets in a bar. Later on, we and Maverick learn that she is one of his instructors, Charlie (Kelly McGillis). She shoots him down, but is very interested in the trick he pulled with that MiG.
There is some pretty stiff competition for the Top Gun plaque. We meet Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and his RIO Ron "Slider" Kerner (Rick Rossovich). Every character appears to be arrogant and self-confident in this film. The chief instructor is Commander Mike "Viper" Metcalf, who just happened to fly in Vietnam with Maverick's father. Wouldn't you know it? The pilots compete for the Top Gun title in various well-crafted scenes of aerial skill and simulated combat. These scenes are quite thrilling and the high point of the film. Meanwhile, Maverick and Charlie predictably begin a relationship that appears to be based on dialogue that comes straight out of daytime soaps. Corny dialogue peppers the script throughout and it is very hammy. You can bet there is a scene with characters staring out windows, providing dramatic monologues.
These characters occupy a world where even civilians call the pilots by their code names. It's unintentionally funny when wives are calling Pete Mitchell "Maverick". The movie's plot also has predictable clichés such as a deadly accident that leads to a crisis of confidence, the character who knows a secret and the last minute heroic comeback. In fact, the story is Top Gun's fault. It's built from a script that doesn't seem to understand how real people speak to each other. The whole relationship between Maverick and Charlie feels tacked on and the actors going through the motions, instead of feeling organic.
Tony Scott is a steady action-film director and understands what works in terms of sights and sounds gelling together on-screen. The dogfight at the end of the film may be predictable, but it's the most exciting scene in the movie, and it's because of Scott's craftsmanship. The soundtrack is loud and obnoxiously underscores every single scene. As far as the cast is concerned, Cruise brings swagger to the role of Maverick but there is very little chemistry with his female co-star, Kelly McGillis. McGillis herself occupies an underdeveloped Charlie. She's supposed to be intelligent but there are very few scenes where she gets to exhibit that trait. Blame the script for that one. The one bright spot is Anthony Edwards as Goose, who comes out as likable and affable.
Overall, Top Gun provides plenty of aerial action that is technically sound and easy to follow. However, the story on the ground is shallow, poorly written and almost laughably bad. For some, the jet-fighter action and the patriotic bravado might be enough to sell the movie, but Top Gun is an incomplete film and when we're on the ground with the characters, we wish we were back in the air, not listening to them speak.