Movies That Hate You: Top Gun

On a routine patrol in the Indian Ocean, 2 American F-14s encounter MiG-28 superfighters.  Pilots Maverick and Cougar engage in maneuvers, but Cougar is visibly shaken by the experience, and has to be helped by Maverick to get back to the carrier Enterprise.  Cougar resigns his commission, and the Captain disciplines Maverick and his radar operator Goose for disobeying a direct order.  However, because Maverick is now rated as the best pilot aboard their ship, the Captain sends them to Top Gun school.

At Top Gun, Goose meets an old friend from the Navy Academy, and Maverick finds himself targeted by a new rival nicknamed Iceman, who believes that Maverick is not a good Navy pilot.  At a party that night, Maverick meets Charlotte, whom he tries to get to sleep with him, but she rebuffs his advances.  The next morning, the pilots are being debriefed when their civilian adviser walks in and it turns out to be Charlotte.  As she explains the technical specs of the MiG-28, Maverick uses this as an opportunity to turn the tables on her.  With Charlotte’s interest in Maverick now piqued, she finds herself being rebuffed by Maverick.

The first training exercise finds Maverick facing off against Jester, a senior instructor.  Although Maverick is an excellent pilot, Jester manages to stay with him until Maverick slams the brakes on his Tomcat and Jester flies by.  Maverick stays with him and records a lock-on kill, but the incident takes place below the allowed altitude.  Maverick then compounds the problem by performing a high-speed fly-by on the tower, leading Maverick & Goose being chewed out by the Tower Commander.  Viper, the senior instructor, also disciplines Maverick for breaking the rules of engagement during the flight.  After Maverick and Goose leave, Viper tells Jester that he once flew with Maverick’s father, and we learn later that Maverick’s father was such a stain on the Navy that they resisted Maverick’s application to the Naval Academy because of it.

Iceman continues to intensify his rivalry with Maverick.  Goose flies his wife and daughter to the base where they have been training at and we learn that Maverick has been friends with Goose’s family for a number of years.  Maverick and Charlotte continue to flirt with each other, and have also begin dating awkwardly.  They consummate their relationship after Charlotte gives a poor review of Maverick’s flight performance and Maverick reacts badly to it.

Maverick’s quest for the Top Gun trophy runs into a snag when he ditches his assignment of acting as Hollywood’s wingman to chase Viper down in an attempt to engage him.  This was a costly error, as Hollywood was shot down and Maverick soon joined him in defeat.  Jester admonishes Maverick, and Iceman tells Maverick why he isn’t well-liked among the other pilots.

At a get-together, Goose and his wife are flirting with each other, but she takes the time to tell Charlotte that Maverick is in love.  Such a happy time turns to tragedy when Goose is soon killed during a training exercise went awry.  Goose’s death sends Maverick into a tailspin of his own, even after the evidence shows that he was not responsible for Goose’s death.  Maverick resigns from Top Gun and pushes away Charlotte when he grief overwhelms him.  Desperate for help, he turns to Viper, who tells him the truth of how his father died.

The Top Gun ceremony is joyous occasion, and Iceman is crowned the Top Gun champion.  Maverick returns and concedes defeat.  But before the celebration can continue, the pilots are called into action to help rescue a communications ship.  Iceman and Hollywood act as high-altitude combat patrol, with Maverick and Cougar’s former radar officer Merlin acting as backup.  The enemy sends a group of six MiG-28 superfighters and they shoot down Hollywood in quick fashion.  Iceman, even using all of his skills and Top Gun training, is having a hard time against the MiGs.

Maverick joins the fray, and immediately finds himself in a recreation of the accident that killed Goose.  He disengages from the fight and his grief returns.  Maverick snaps out of it, and engages the MiGs, using all of the lessons he learned in Top Gun to shoot down three enemy MiGs.  With Iceman shooting down a fourth MiG and the odds evened, the remaining two MiGs retreat.  Maverick and Goose return to the carrier, now comrades-in-arms.  Maverick lets go of his grief by tossing Goose’s dog tags into the ocean, and has decided to return to Top Gun as an instructor.

Back at Top Gun, Maverick sits at a bar when someone plays the same song that he once serenaded to Charlotte.  As he approaches the jukebox, reminiscing about his relationship with her, she appears at the bar, ready to resume where their relationship had left off.

Review and Analysis:

Top Gun was one of the those movies where the setting belies the genre in which the film inhabits.  It is also one of the biggest crossover hits of the decade, where it seemed like there was something for everyone could latch on to.

What Kind of Movie is This?

First and foremost, despite the fact that this is Jerry Bruckheimer movie, this movie is nothing more than a Romance movie using a military motif.  All of the combat is clean and understated, the hero’s motivations are mixed in with love.

Stop Me If You’ve Seen This Movie Before:

Thematically, Top Gun is An Officer and a Gentleman. Both heroes have a past which plays a role in their lives and careers to become Naval Aviators.  Both meet women while involved in higher level training.  Both lose their best friend, which leads to them wanting to quit.  The hero then has one last battle, in which their mettle is tested.  They succeed, and they reach the goal they were looking to attain.  At the end of it all, the hero is reunited with the woman they romanced, and they lived happily ever while a romantic song plays in the background as the credits roll.

Playing Straight…Playing Hetero?

At least one of these people is not hetero. The other has been rumored to also be non-hetero. And yet, this is considered one of the best romance movies of the 1980s.

The leading actress, Kelly McGillis, not too long ago declared out as a lesbian and married her longtime girlfriend.  Tom Cruise, despite once being married to Nicole Kidman, and being reportedly involved with Penelope Cruz, along with a second marriage to Katie Holmes and having a child (Suri Cruise), the rumor that he is a closet homosexual continues to dog him.  Although there are people who would insist that gay people can’t play heterosexual roles (or, somehow, insist that those who did declare their sexuality in the open later are unable to play “straights” now), this movie, like many others, proves this wrong.

Archetypes Any More Obvious?

The four principle people involved in the rivalry at Top Gun.

Maverick and Goose are supposed to be overshadowed by Iceman and Slider.  Iceman is considered to be a better pilot than Maverick, and Slider was a pilot who converted to Radar Officer during the academy.  Both Slider and Iceman are supposed to be popular with the ladies, as opposed to family man Goose and perpetually single Maverick.  When they all play beach volleyball it is clear that Iceman and Slider are much better than Maverick and Goose.  Iceman gets more kills in training than Maverick, and stays out of trouble, as opposed to Maverick, who gets chewed out…often.

Ice and Slider also happen to be taller, more muscular, and more conventionally attractive than either Maverick or Goose.  In other words, Ice and Slider have all the advantages to win in nearly every contest between these two.

Token, Token, Token:

Would you believe the guy on the right is in almost every scene in this movie? And he's the only one in the film that can carry a tune?

Clarence Gilyard, like many of the actors and actresses in this movie, goes on to better things.  Most people remember him in shows like “CHiPs,” “Matlock,” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.”  He was also the computer hacker working with the thieves in Die Hard.

Faceless Enemies:

This was the bad guy. Multiply this by six, and there is your movie.

Originally, the bad guys were supposed to be identified as North Korea.  However, this being the 1980s, nameless and phony countries (like Val Verde and Gamibia) were all the rage.  While it is obvious that the fighters these pilots fly are Soviet fighters (the fictional MiG-28s…which are nothing more than US-built F-5 fighters dressed up in Evil Black Russian Paint with a Red Star), the country they actually fly for is never revealed.

The enemy pilots here get no lines of dialogue whatsoever.  You also never see their faces.  Even after they shoot down “Hollywood” and menace “Iceman,” you never see who it is behind their visors.  Since the focus of the movie was supposed to be on Tom Cruise and his adventures, the enemy pilots do their job without much issue.

Faceless, nameless, and otherwise forgotten.

More About the MiG-28:

We are "The Unspecified Communist Soviet Air Force." And We're Coming to Shoot Down Americans.

The reason why I started the review calling the MiG-28 a “Superfighter” is because it has the ability to “Super Cruise” at speeds near Mach 2, and it is more agile than the F-14.  The MiG-28 also has both air-to-air and air-to-ground/anti-ship capabilities.  It is also clear that the country in question is not the Soviet Union because the Enterprise‘s Captain notes that the MiGs would be carrying the Exocet Anti-Ship missile.  The Exocet is French-designed and was never deployed by the Soviets.  The Soviet Anti-Ship Missile of the vintage would have been the Zveda KH-35, which carries a similar attack profile to the American AGM-84 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missile.

Charlotte Blackwood also stated that the MiG-28 has a greater thrust-to-weight ratio than the F-5 fighter, and that it bleeds energy below 300 knots.  This was supposed to indicate that the MiG-28 was a very powerful aircraft indeed, designed for high speed and high agility – especially to be able to more than match the F-14A, which was the US Navy’s premier Air Superiority Fighter at the time.  The F-5 Fighter was no slouch, but it can be classified as being inferior to the F-14 Tomcat in speed, power, payload, and air combat mission profiles.

Finally, none of the F-5s were ever shown during the Top Gun training; only the A-4 Skyhawk is used.  This is because the MiGs are nothing more than dressed up F-5s, and would have probably thrown some audience members for a loop if they were shown.

Of Course, There Was a Videogame:

No, I actually don’t mean the one developed for the Commodore 64, which was a split-screen dogfight game; nor the Nintendo Famicom version, which featured as a constant stage the “carrier landing” that Cougar nearly botched.

I am actually referring to this game:

Sega’s Afterburner was one of their “Games Based Loosely on Movies” back during the 1980s.  Of all the games based on Top Gun, this was the only one that did not have a license, but its action music was had the “Top Gun” feel, and its action and feel was more to the spirit of the film’s dogfights, both against the instructors and the enemy MiGs.

It was also the most successful of the bunch.

The Enterprise:

For whatever reason, Paramount often found a way to use the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise in many of their films.  Here, it is the station for Maverick, Goose, Cougar, and Merlin, and then used as a staging base for the rescue.  It also makes a cameo in The Hunt for Red October and is given an ancestral tie-in to its fictional starship progeny in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. (Although in the case of “Voyage,” it was actually the USS Ranger.)

In Conclusion:

Top Gun is one of those movies that, on the surface, is an action movie, but is really nothing more than recycled romance material.  Much of this movie borrows its theme and structure from An Officer and a Gentleman and revolves the entire movie around Tom Cruise; there is not a single scene in the movie where Tom Cruise is not anywhere in it.  No one else gets a family history or any real past, and Kelly McGillis spends the majority of this film looking forlorn at Tom Cruise.  The MiGs and their pilots are pretty much background fodder.

If you can overlook the fact that this movie revolves all around Cruise, you may be able to enjoy it.  Just call it for what it is – a romance novel – and everything will be OK.

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7 Responses to Movies That Hate You: Top Gun

  1. Jeyl says:

    One of the things I love about this movie is how it outright contradicts itself. They tell the pilots that the reason Top Gun was created was to get the combat ratio up. Back than the ratio was 3 to 1, we lost one fighter for every three we took down because the pilots became dependent on missiles. Top Gun brought that up to 12 to 1 by introducing very complex dog fighting techniques.

    And when our cast of pilots graduate from Top Gun and head on out to battle the bad guys……we lose one F-14 and destroy three migs…..3 to 1. Also our pilots were dependent on just their missiles. How the frell do you miss THAT? How do you miss establishing dialogue like improving the odds, but at the end you’ve just made an example of those odds that the Top Gun school was trying to rectify?!

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Technically, it was four MiGs (Maverick got three, Iceman one), but your point stands. Exploding models are expensive, though – so all four MiGs blew up in the same fashion (IIRC).

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  5. “This is because the MiGs are nothing more than dressed up F-5s”.

    The United States used F-5s to play MiG-21s for training purposes (they’ve got similar handling characteristics and are about the same size).

    Interesting bit of trivia: the bad guy pilot that Maverick gives the finger to was played by a now-four-star Admiral.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      The US Navy uses a number of US fighters with performance envelopes similar to their Russian counterparts. The “current” (or rather, previous) generation of Russian fighters (like the MiG-29) are simulated by the USAF F-16. I only pointed out that the A-4 Skyhawk was used in the scenes at the Top Gun school even though Charlotte stated that they use A-4s and F-5s as MiG simulators. Most people who watch Top Gun may or may not know that the MiG-28 never actually existed. Others may or may not know that the F-5 was only featured as the MiG-28 in this movie. Hollywood’s need to keep things as simplistic as possible is the reason why the F-5 was only used as the (fictional) MiG-28s; the audience, by Hollywood’s calculation, would have been confused if some of the Top Gun simulator scenes also featured the F-5.

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