The classic 1980’s film starring Tom Cruise as Maverick, Val Kilmer as Iceman, and an appearance by Meg Ryan as Carole. I have an interesting history with this film; my father loves planes and loves this movie, but I refused to watch it as a kid. Then, my friend played in while I was on vacation with them in middle school, so I finally watched it and enjoyed it. But, I like it for the planes. I don’t care about Tom Cruise. Though, who can forget the line: I feel the need, the need for speed! The film does have the very cool song Danger Zone performed by Kenny Loggins (so I use this film as a connection in “Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” since Kenny Loggins did the iconic Footloose song in that film as well).
The premise is the top one percent of Naval aviators attend the Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun, to learn dog fighting. One of the instructors, Viper, later states in the movie that the ratio pilots shooting down enemy planes in the Korean War was 12 to 1, then dropped to 3 to 1 in Vietnam because they relied too much on missiles; they had forgotten how to dogfight. The film opens with activity on the flight deck on an aircraft carrier. Maverick and his rear-seat partner, Goose are flying with Cougar and Merlin and encounter enemy Soviet MiG (they used the A-4 Skyhawk and F-5E Tiger as stand-ins for the MiGs, though they did use actual F-14 Tomcats, which are now retired). Cougar gets shaken up after a MiG gets a missile lock on him, but Maverick scares them off. Maverick doesn’t land and instead goes back up to help talk Cougar down. While it was very brave, it was against orders. But Cougar has given up flying, so their commanding officer sends Maverick and Goose to Top Gun.
Maverick is known for his wild flying, but he’s good enough at what he does that he doesn’t get thrown out of the Navy. He and Goose attempt to hit on a woman at a bar by singing You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, in which all the guys join in; then discovers that she is one of his civilian instructors at Top Gun. Though a civilian, her call-sign is Charlie; she has a PhD in Astrophysics and the Pentagon listens to her. And she, of course, starts to fall for Maverick when he demonstrates that he flies as well as he says he does. Their theme throughout the film is Take My Breath Away.
Maverick butts heads with Iceman because Maverick’s flying is reckless and he has the habit of leaving his wingman. They’re both vying for the top spot at Top Gun. That volleyball scene is just an excuse to have the young men shirtless. Maverick is also trying to prove himself after his father mysteriously dies during an encounter while flying. Viper later explains to Maverick that his father was indeed a good pilot and saved several lives during his last mission, but it occurred on the wrong side of a map line for the politicians. Maverick does get reprimanded several times for ignoring rules that are set.
We see a wonderful, happy family shot between Goose, his wife and son, Maverick, and Charlie, singing Great Balls of Fire before Maverick and Goose fly a “mission” with Iceman and Slider. Iceman is slow to take a shot and when Maverick moves in, his plan gets caught in the jetwash, causing it to flat spin (an actual fault in the F-14, and very dangerous). Goose has to eject them and he hits the canopy, dying (that has actually happened). Maverick is lost without Goose, even though it wasn’t technically his fault, he feels like it is. Goose was his responsibility. His friends try to help him out, but when Viper sends him back up for another “mission,” he freezes and can’t take the shot. He tries to quit Top Gun, but his conversation with Viper encourages him to stay and at least graduate. Then he, Iceman, Slider, Hollywood, and Wolfman are sent on an assignment.
Hollywood, Wolfman, Iceman, and Slider are the first two planes up and encounter MiGs; more than they thought. MiGs like to fly close together to hide their numbers on radar. Hollywood and Wolfman are shot down and eject. Maverick is teamed up with Merlin, Cougar’s old partner, and they have to go up and help Iceman and Slider. Maverick and Merlin end up in a jetwash again, but manage to recover. But it still shakes Maverick, like Cougar earlier in the film. Merlin and Iceman are begging for help, but Maverick takes a moment to think of Goose. Then engages the enemy planes and gets them off of Iceman. He’s learned not to leave his wingman. He then does his famous flyby, accompanied by Iceman. The crew all cheer the two planes and the once-adversaries are now at least friendly and joke they’ll be each other’s wingman.
Maverick is given his choice of duties and decides to go back to Top Gun as an instructor. Charlie meets him there, playing You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling on the jukebox before she shows herself.
Yes, this is a simplistic write-up of the film; with the flying action and jargon (which is apparently mostly made-up), it is a film that is better experienced simply by watching. It increased Navy recruiting and was backed by the Navy. There were obviously artistic licenses taken and several of the flight maneuvers were done “because they’re cool.” Sadly, an experienced stunt pilot was killed while filming this movie and the movie was dedicated to him. There is a sequel subtitled Maverick that is due out…sometime. It was due out this summer, but many movies have been postponed. Tom Cruise is back, as is Val Kilmer. I fully intend to see it with my father, for the planes.
However, this film also inspired the hit series JAG that I loved. It starred David James Elliott as Harmon Rabb Jr (he was also a Tomcat pilot), Patrick Labyorteaux as Bud Roberts Jr, Catherine Bell (check her out in Hallmark’s Good Witch series) as Sarah MacKenzie, John M. Jackson as A.J. Chegwidden, and Karrie Turner as Harriet Sims. That shot from early in Top Gun where the two planes come to formation is used in the opening credits of JAG. JAG also introduced NCIS midway thru its run, and NCIS has gone on to run for seventeen seasons so far and it in turn spun-off NCIS: Los Angeles (love Sam and Callen in that one), and NCIS: New Orleans. I primarily know the middle seasons of JAG, the first ten or so seasons of NCIS (Gibbs’ dynamic as the team’s father is amazing and I was sad to see various characters leave), and the first couple seasons of NCIS: Los Angeles (Callen is definitely my favorite character). And that is how I play “Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon;” Footloose leads to Top Gun which leads to JAG which leads to NCIS and thus various actors from there.
Up Next: I start the Bond movies, but I will be dealing with the last eight or so. It may be sacrilege, but I haven’t watched any of the original Sean Connery films all the way thru; I’ve seen bits. But I am familiar with Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.