Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)


May 13th, 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of a little ’80s movie known as Top Gun., a fan website devoted to the 1986 film, encouraged people to celebrate by going to bars dressed in aviation suits or at least to play around with their nifty call sign generator, which dubbed me Lt. Yoda.

(I assume the computer algorithm chose this because it realized I am petite and wise, and not just because I tend to stumble over my sentences and often demand to be carried around piggyback.)

Being born in ’93, I still don’t really get what the fuss is about, especially now, in the post-Katie Holmes era. I mean, I thought we agreed somewhere around 2005 that Tom Cruise was weird and crazy and best ignored lest he attempt to possess Oprah Winfrey with the thetans removed from L. Ron Hubbard’s ballsack.

And yet, I’m willing to risk it all to bring you this mini-recap, and find out if Top Gun is still on top after all these years. Strap yourselves in and let’s go back to 1986, a time when there was a need… a need for speed.

Whatever that means.

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So after some opening credits, the film starts off with this text:

Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)

10 points to Gryffindor if you can spot the two grammatical errors in the first two sentences.

TOP GUN! I didn’t even have to wait for the title card to know that was the answer! AMERICA, YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Phew. I just had an overwhelming wave of patriotism. Is that going to be common throughout this movie?

Anyway, more opening credits roll over scenes of some aviator people doing some aviator stuff to get planes ready for takeoff. It’s boring enough that I start reading the credits, and that’s how I find out Meg Ryan is in this movie. This is before she fake-orgasmed her way to stardom and was still getting paired on screen with the likes of Eugene Levy.

As I’m trying to remember what other early Meg Ryan movies there are, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” kicks in. And even though we’re watching nothing more than the U.S. Navy’s top one percent baggage handlers hook and unhook various hoses, I. AM. HOOKED.

I guess it’s true what Barry Goldberg says:

Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)

This is when we finally get some real action. So Tom Cruise is this guy named Maverick, and Anthony Edwards (hot off the role of Gilbert) is his partner Goose. Much like Batman and Robin, you can tell which one is the sidekick by who got the shitty nickname. They’re patrolling the airspace around the Indian Ocean along with Cougar and Merlin. Then the guys at HQ are like, “Hey, there’s this unidentified plane hanging around. Everybody go check it out!” The lead general guy, however, is unhappy that Maverick and Goose are the ones patrolling at this time. See, Maverick is a maverick, just like his name suggests, and he doesn’t exactly follow orders. Because he’s a maverick, get it?

The enemy plane turns out to be two of them, but the lead general guy orders the crew not to fire unless fired upon. Cougar gets particularly panicky when the enemy planes set their sights on him, and since they aren’t allowed to shoot, Maverick decides to have a little “fun” with the enemy.

Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)

“Watch the birdie! Tee hee!”

Maverick also snaps a picture of the enemy pilot, which is enough to frighten the other pilots away. Because everyone knows commies think photography steals a piece of their souls. Maverick and Goose are running low on fuel so they’re ordered back to base, but Cougar is still stuck in panic mode. Maverick decides to delay landing to help Cougar, fuel be damned.

Is the general mad? You betcha. But Maverick and Goose are just Too Damn Good, so instead of punishing them, the general sends them to Top Gun (AMERICA, YEAHHHHHH!) to become the best of the best Navy pilots.

“Danger Zone” plays again as Maverick arrives at Top Gun. Now, I do love me some “Danger Zone”, but I really am hoping this isn’t the only song in the movie. Anyway, Maverick and the other pilots attend an orientation session where one pilot whispers to his partner that he has a “hard-on” while watching footage of aerial combat missions. “Don’t tease me,” says his partner.

Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)

Wow, Top Gun has an onscreen homosexual relationship. Very progressive, ’80s!

The students get introduced to their commanding officer Viper, a.k.a. the baddest bitch in the place, and the first winner of the Top Gun Trophy, which is a real award in this movie-universe despite the fake-sounding name. Viper asks Maverick is he thinks he will be America’s Next Top Pilot, and Maverick is all, “Yeah, I know I am!” Viper digs his attitude.

The gay pilot with the hard-on is not impressed, and he hates Tom Cruise on sight. That is a sentence I never thought I would have to write.

The pilots go to a local bar to blow off steam, where Val Kilmer, a.k.a. Iceman, and his buddy Slider, who also follows the sidekick rule of shitty nicknames, make jabs at Maverick, passive-aggressively congratulating him for stealing Cougar’s spot (Cougar was originally the one selected to go to Top Gun, but he quit the Navy after his panic attack, so Maverick and Goose got to go instead).

Maverick is mad, but this is before his Scientology days, so he can’t issue any Fair Game policies on Iceman and Slider. Luckily, he quickly gets distracted when he spies a woman with a glorious mane of blonde hair at the bar. He convinces Goose (and eventually the whole bar) to serenade her with “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”

Top Gun (1986): a recap (part 1 of 3)

And this is how Tom Cruise invented karaoke.

The woman is Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, played by Kelly McGillis, who’s five years older than Tom Cruise, so again (and more seriously this time), surprisingly progressive for the ’80s! McGillis was a hot property after her Golden Globe-nominated role in Witness, but was sadly sucked into a black hole immediately after Top Gun for daring to play the love interest in a movie also featuring Meg Ryan. The universe is very strict about such things.

Part 2 of this recap coming soon!

Susan Velazquez

Susan is a recent college grad and writer who enjoys all things from the 1980s, snarking on dumb television, and reveling in celebrity gossip. Oh, and she has serious interests like reading historical fiction, getting involved in social issues, and consuming French fries.

Multi-Part Article: Top Gun: a recap

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  • Murry Chang

    “As I’m trying to remember what other early Meg Ryan movies there are”

    You have to try to remember Joe vs. the Volcano? You know, when Tom Hanks was actually funny and good rather than samey and boring?

    • Canais Young

      But wasn’t “Joe vs. the Volcano” one of those movies that people didn’t really like back then (and still don’t, or they do, but ironically)?

      • Murry Chang

        People with bad taste, sure. The kind of people who don’t like The Money Pit and The Man With One Red Shoe.

    • Good Shot Green

      Promised Land is what came to mind but the internet says that came out a year later.

      Surely no one has memories of Amityville 3-D.

  • Gallen Dugall

    Top Gun is not a good movie.
    Vapid romance and low continuity stock footage dogfights.
    Feels like a ’70s movie, and I suspect that’s how long the script was floating around.
    Tom Cruise wouldn’t learn how to act for another few decades.

    • wookietim

      No… No it is not a good movie. It’s horrible. It’s vapid. It’s plot is incoherent and it takes incredible leaps in logic just to fit it into some form of reality.

      Tom Cruise is a bad actor and, honestly, Val Kilmer is even worse.

      The problem is… It’s still fun.

  • jadedskeptic

    Tried that Call Sign Generator. Apparently, it thinks I’m a sidekick.

    You know what? I’m just going to go over here and start my own Fighter Weapons School, but with booze and gambling and thetans.

  • Dex_Meridian

    I know the usual complaints about this movie (homoeroticism, jingoistic Michael Bay-style flag waving, the general cheesy dialogue/plot/music) but I have bigger problems with a few things.
    Chiefly, Cruise and McGillis have negative chemistry. They look genuinely uncomfortable pretending to flirt with each other. Also, Maverick–the notorious lothario and handsome protagonist–is an absolute pig. Not in a chauvinist way, necessarily. He’s just sweaty and unkempt and gross. And I’m pretty sure he’s wearing the same 1980s Wranglers, white tee, and heavy leather jacket every day in 100-degree weather.
    I have other problems, but I’ll save them for the correct parts of this recap.

  • Dennis Fischer

    Pilots of multimillion dollar aircraft don’t get to hot dog it and do whatever they feel like, but the movie does act as a tremendous recruit tool for the U.S. Navy. At least it understands the difference between “its” and “it’s,” and uses the former correctly.

  • R.D.

    Saw this on the big screen at an indie cinema a couple days ago; the aerial parts are actually pretty damn cool in a theater and with a good sound system. Overall, the movie is really, really cheesy, but it’s the enjoyable eighties kind of cheese, take it for what it is. With the Cold War long over, the Reaganist military recruitment thing is easy to ignore now, though it still leaves me wanting to play Afterburner.

    • Good Shot Green

      This and Beverly Hills Cop II are the only movies my dad took both my brother and me to. I was 12 and my brother was 15.

  • Gaurav

    The review is more interesting than the movie itself. I never payed noticed grammatical errors! The review is written without showing off vocab and without mentioning too many technical details of film design. Like in every class there is a cool guy or a funny guy, in this movie it was Maverick.

  • Good Shot Green

    The two grammar errors, let’s see. The missing comma after “1969” and the subject/verb mismatch of singular “handful” and plural “were”?

  • wookietim

    You know when the summer movies went from being Dumb and Cool to just Dumb? When Kenny Loggins stopped doing all their soundtracks.