Thursday 26 December 2019

Top Gun

Between the early 80s and right up until leaving home in the mid 90s, my parents used to rent one or two films a week. This inevitably meant all the blockbusters and not a few terrible B movies and video nasties got a weekend showing. and yet, there were a few popular favourites I somehow missed. No Breakfast Club or Rocky movies, nor for that matter Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the Evil Dead films and ... Top Gun. And now, my deficit of aeronautic fuck yeah Americana is now at an end. 33 years after its release, I spent the closing hours of Christmas day watching it. And yes, it was awful. An important awful.

Growing up when it came out, I get why the Library of Congress selected Top Gun for permanent preservation - for a completely superficial movie with more linearity than a slide rule, it was, is culturally significant. Top Gun is one of those films you might not have seen, but it feels you have. The tropes have long been parodied by the likes of Hot Shots and Team America, as well as cheesy 00s dance vids, and when I was a kid the lines were frequently quoted back and forth across the school yard. Much later into the early 90s one of my mates was obsessed with the film and was convinced he could pull by singing You've lost that loving feeling at poor unfortunates his eye fell upon. Curiously, he remained girlfriendless long after we had passed out the school gates. Reportedly, Top Gun led to bumps in recruitment for the US Navy and Air Force, a mushrooming market in bomber jackets and mirrored sunglasses, and queues forming up waiting for a go on 1987's Sega mega hit, After Burner. And it brought us the brash rock anthem Danger Zone as well as Berlin's Take My Breath Away, and was part and parcel of the militarisation of 1980s Hollywood.

The film's plot, such as there is one, is tenuous filler between the action shots of jet fighters spinning around the training ground, and dogfighting with Soviet jets to show off the superiority of American air power. How nice, a big budget rendering of the Brize Norton air show. Nevertheless, as a slick work of marketing Top Gun does not fail. It shows the military hardware, the effortlessly cool lifestyle, the camaraderie (and rivalry) between fighter pilots and, because it was the 80s, the young women airmen could be expected to pick up. No wonder tens of thousands were seduced into signing up. As for the plot, US Navy pilots Pete "Maverick" Mitchell and Nick "Goose" Bradshaw are sent to elite flight school to knock off the more reckless aspects of their flying, and what follows is much machismo and ostentatious masculine displays, the infamous homoerotic volley ball scene, motorcycles, falling in love and jet-on-jet action.

Tom Cruise's Maverick is as brash and annoying as young American men were in films of this era. Arrogant but with something to prove, he bends the rules by disobeying instructions and chasing Charlie (Kelly McGillis), a civilian contractor who is also an instructor on the flight programme. Bearing in mind this was Reagan's America, we could not well have a jock flipping Uncle Sam the bird by disobeying orders and shacking up with someone who was technically his superior, and so a redemption narrative is shoe horned in to proceedings. Throughout the first three quarters of the film Maverick is basically a gifted punk as well as a self-centred narcissist until tragedy strikes. Out on a practice run his jet stalls and goes into an uncontrolled spin. He and Goose manage to eject but Goose strikes his head on the way out and, boom, his life-long friend is dead. The key then changes into some heavy handed introspection where Maverick mopes around, blames himself, consoles Goose's wife and child, and very nearly quits. He is persuaded to stay on and is cleared by a tribunal, just in time for graduation and an end-of-film dogfight with the nasty Soviets and manages to save the day. Hurrah. Goose is avenged and America is safe from the USSR. Even if the last scrap takes place over the Indian Ocean.

Maverick's redemption is interesting precisely because of how he is, for want of a better phrase, tamed and domesticated. Tearing around irresponsibly is not the done conservative thing to do, but what it does is sell a carefree lifestyle that, thanks to the rigours of military discipline and personal tragedy, segues into conformism and responsibility. Despite doing the navy proud and saving the neck of his arch rival, Iceman, all ego is cast aside as he decides to ditch his career as a top pilot and becomes instead an instructor at the academy. He moves back to California where Charlie joins him and, presumably, they spend many decades together basking in golden sunshine and raising the next generation of fighter pilots.

Of course, we can now look forward to Top Gun: Maverick come the summer in which Cruise reprises the role. Sad to say, I'll probably go just to see how far the original can be surpassed in awfulness. Will Maverick be nursing traumas for training the men who dropped high explosive ruin over Iraq, or are we going to see a garish celebration of the latest American hardware and, with a nod to important international markets, a cooperative military venture with the Chinese against some mutual threat? Whatever we get it will be devoid of depth, warmth, plot, and classic anthems. But we might get the volleyball scene.


Kdus232425 said...
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BCFG said...

Still nowhere near as staggeringly dreadful as cocktail! Your mate without the girlfriend won't have had to endure that steaming pile of horse dung.

Jenny said...

George W Bush on the flight deck of the USS American Hegemony declaring "Mission Accomplished" dressed in a bomber jacket.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure we've all seen the Tarantino speech that Maverick is gay. He mentions lots of hints, but doesn't mention that Kely McGillis's character is called Charlie.

George Carty said...

What are your thoughts regarding the view that "Top Gun" was one factor in building right-wing sentiments, especially among Tories like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who were in their early 20s when it was released?