It’s 30 years this week since the release of the Tom Cruise-starring blockbuster. But has Ashley Davies lost that lovin’ feelin’?
What and why: I saw Top Gun in the cinema when I was 16 and found myself mildly attracted to the young Tom Cruise, who was tanned and cocky and looked kinda sexy in his white US Navy uniform. These, it seems, were important qualities to shallow teenage me. At the time I was too young to know that he was really dressed up as novelty stripper, that the film’s plot and characterisation were as thin as a bum hair and that the whole business was so very, very homoerotic. (Not that there’s anything wrong that that last point, mind.)
In case you haven’t seen it, this is what happens. Tom Cruise (his character’s official nickname is Maverick, because he’s macho and doesn’t play by the rules, yeah? High five!) and his best pal, a sweet, moustachioed fellow called Goose, played by ER’s Anthony Edwards, go to US Navy’s elite Top Gun academy to train to be even better military pilots than they already are.
Shortly after arriving they go out on the pull, dressed in their costumes. Sorry, I mean uniforms. Uniforms. Maverick makes a beeline for a beautiful woman in a bar, and he and his pals serenade her with a wonky rendition of The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. The woman, Charlie, played by the magnificent Kelly McGillis, turns him down because she’s classy like, but they’ve got chemistry. Of course they bloody have.
The next day cocky Maverick and his self-satisfied pals sit down to a technical lesson at the academy and their teacher turns out to be… what the what now? A WOMAN? And not just any woman – it’s hot Charlie who he tried to shag in the bogs at that bar. Whaaaat? Because we’re in a sexy neon version of the 1980s created by Tony Scott, Charlie eventually falls for Maverick when he contradicts her in public, in her place of work, about her area of expertise. Women love that shit. It’s so arousing. Oh-my-God-it’s-so-masterful-take-me-now.
“At the end, Iceman tells Maverick: ‘You can be my wingman any time,’ and I think we all know what that means.”
I believe the real simmering love story, though, is between Maverick and Iceman (played by a young Val Kilmer, who apparently had no wish to be in this movie but was contractually forced to). Iceman is all flashing teeth and cold, cruel masculinity – you know, someone who could really tempt a guy to try some sweaty mano-a-mano if he wanted to test his sexuality.
In one scene, his supposed haughtiness is displayed by him smugly doing dextrous finger tricks with a gold pen, which is fucking weird. And he chews gum with his mouth open, a sure sign of cinematic hubris. And when he and Maverick argue, they’re usually close enough for their cocks to be touching. At the end, Iceman tells Maverick: “You can be my wingman any time,” and I think we all know what that means.
When I first saw this film I thought Iceman was a bastard, jealous of losing his status to this tiny upstart, but I now realise that he simply had the correct level of respect for health and safety procedures and was not comfortable with Maverick’s reckless disregard for expensive military equipment and the lives of others. He was probably thinking about their responsibility to the hard-working men and women of America whose tax dollars paid for all that phallic kit. Poor Iceman. Teenage me apologises for misjudging him. I hope he’s OK.
But what about the hot aviation action, I hear you ask? Surely this isn’t just a film about how male pilots look before, during and after flying, in uniforms, with towels around their waists, and playing beach volleyball with their tits out? There are loads of scenes in which tiny planes do brave tricks in the face of enemy aircraft, though there’s fuck-all mention of the supposed context – the Cold War. But any mid-air tension evaporates when we hear them shouting: “I’ve got bogeys all over me!” This isn’t a high-altitude LSD experiment; apparently bogeys are unidentified enemy aircraft.
The story is peppered with a few themes and scenes designed to show Maverick’s sensitive side: there’s a sad death and some self-blame, and he’s got some father issues, but in resolving these he addresses his flaws. He emotes by clutching his fist near his clenched jawbone and at one point there is evidence that he has cried. Depth. Eighties depth.
Rated or dated: Top Gun is utterly dated. Complete nonsense. Most of the music is awful and I feel so sorry for Kelly McGillis having to speak some of those lines (such as: “I see some real genius in your flying, Maverick… I just don’t want anyone to know that I’ve fallen for you.” This is after she’s met him maybe twice and he’s been a bit of a dick both times.).
This film would be entirely unwatchable if it wasn’t for some actually pretty decent performances. Both the leads really earn their fees with the material, and there are smaller roles for some pretty good actors: Tom Skerrit, Tim Robbins and a cute young Meg Ryan. It’s bloody funny too. Just not on purpose. DATED.9933 Views
Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.