Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in the greatest 1980s bromance!
Top Gun was a movie that defined cool in the 1980s. Not only inspiring a video game, but it also raised the bar for a number of songs such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by The Righteous Brothers and “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. It brought to the forefront more possibilities for cinema and what was possible on film. It also gave us an intimate look at the psychology of these naval aviators and what makes them tick. Our journey into this world at the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at the Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California starts with the friendship between Lieutenant Pete Mitchell and Radar Intercept Officer Nick Bradshaw. It’s between these two men and their sonic shaker that we get a sense of the struggles and demands they deal with on a daily basis.
However, there are many things in the past that influence our main hero: Mitchell. On every level, the action plays as a reason for the psychology of our heroes. Their pushing themselves to the edge comes as a reason for how they mentally operate. The film has been so important to the culture of the USA that the US Library of Congress selected this film to include in the National Film Registry for preservation purposes because of the significance of the movie aesthetically, culturally, and historically. It’s what makes this film one of the ultimate tales of heroism as well as a focus on the motivations and demons these aviators face every day in the work they do.
Tony Scott, the director, Jim Cash, and Jim Epps. Jr., the screenwriters, Tom Cruise, himself, and the rest of the cast all understood this and how things needed to work in this world for it to be engaging from a visual standpoint but for investment in the characters to be created. And to put it simply, this film is just freaking awesome. There are not many films that are as visceral as this movie. At first, I was not a fan of it because I did not get the appeal. I like most Tom Cruise films but did not get it until I forced myself to watch this and completely understood why this film is as legendary as it is. It’s one of Cruise’s finest, but also Tony Scott’s – God rest his soul.
There are things that make this film stand out above all the rest. The 1980s were Cruise’s golden period of film in many cinematic choices he made then. While this is just one reason this film was classic, there are many more:
1) The Introspection Into Pete Mitchell’s Life
Unlike a lot of action movies, we are not given a lesson in psychology while watching some amazing visuals. Instead, what the director, screenwriters, and actor did here was to draw us into Mitchell’s life with a look at who he is in the beginning and how he changes throughout the film. It’s exciting to see just how different Mitchell becomes. At first, he is a hotshot pilot, picking up girls at the bar, playing volleyball with his friends, and enjoying the fact he was able to make it into the school. Throughout the film, Bradshaw’s death and his romance with Charlotte Blackwood alter the course of his life forever. He becomes a different character by the end of the film.
2) The Casting of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer
Especially with respect to Cruise, he was at the peak of his power. He was reaching new heights with his cinematic work and his role as Mitchell is still remembered to this day. Kilmer was also in good shape as an actor and pulling off some amazing roles, including here as Tom Kazansky, the winner of the Top Gun Competition. The scenes they share are not only exciting but also you can feel the rivalry these two men have and the mutual respect they develop toward the end of the movie.
3) Kenny Loggins
There’s not too much to say about this man beyond the fact that his music defined this movie. His two songs, “Danger Zone” and “Playing with the Boys,” became songs that would come to define the world of Top Gun, alongside the aforementioned song by The Righteous Brothers. However, there’s something more than the music choices here and Harold Faltermeyer and Giorgio Moroder did for the film.
4) The Music Defined The Changes Occurring in The Movie
What was specific, especially to the song by The Righteous Brothers, is how it worked as a music cue for Mitchell’s character. It demonstrates all of the good times he and his fellow aviators experienced and his ability to accept what happens throughout the film and to move forward with Blackwood. It’s fascinating how Scott uses that song as a bookmark at the beginning of the movie and right at the end with that infamous scene between Cruise and Kelly McGillis. It makes the song take on a whole new meaning and pushes the Mitchell character’s change from the beginning to the end.
5) A Look at How Life Changes and Being Able to Accept it
This is more of a philosophical point on the movie but Mitchell is the character who we see this world through. He struggles with change in his life, beginning with his feelings toward his father that disappeared years ago. It’s something that constantly bothers him in both defending his father’s reputation but also looking to continue on his legacy in a positive fashion. It’s what motivates his rivalry with Kazansky. It also makes him want to be successful with Blackwood. Additionally, the loss of his friend, Bradshaw, causes him to change. He starts to see a number of things he needs to be willing to accept, including that he is not the best pilot, that he can have a relationship with Blackwood (the last thing at the end he learns), and that his friend might be dead but it doesn’t mean he should turn his back on his dreams.
6) The Cinematography
What really set this film apart was the cinematography. It was quite something to put the camera within the action itself. It was likely a very difficult thing to make the film almost right in the face of these aviators or their fast flying planes. It’s something that truly set the film apart because it pushed the envelope with action movies of that time. It’s definitely some excellent work by Jeffrey L. Kimball, which won’t be forgotten for the things he was able to achieve with it.
7) The Action
If you watch the film, the action is something that cannot be compared. The way the filmmakers were able to capture the action was very revolutionary. With most of the film taking place in the skies, that presented a challenge to the filmmakers to make it happen as real as they could. Today, they may just use CGI but it seemed that they did things for real on this film and it’s definitely something that shows in the movie.
8) The Brotherhood of Naval Aviators
Though many doubt Mitchell after the death of Bradshaw, it is shown there is a great brotherhood among most of the men throughout the film. They support one another and help each other up when people fall. While some go after one another, it’s obvious brotherhood is on display for Mitchell and Bradshaw, which is why losing the latter is so tough for the former. Establishing these relationships early on make the film all the more real and the consequences of such very tangible.
9) Establishing Pivotal Locations
The bar that most of the naval aviators go to in the beginning of the movie and the end serves as a bookmark of sorts. The locations take on a new meaning for the changes many of the characters undergo. Things change for them and these locations remind us of the way they change. It causes us to recall the good times and bad that location experienced alongside the main characters. At one point, it’s filled with action from the many aviators and at another time, it’s empty with Mitchell being the only one to stick around as an instructor at the end. Miramar changes Mitchell’s life forever.
That is a line that is said by both Mitchell and Blackwood throughout the movie because of the difficulties their positions present them in their budding romance. It also means to the audience the world of Top Gun has a great deal of complexity and it is not simply just action and cool visuals. These characters are not only alive and well in our hearts and souls but remind us of ourselves and we can see why they make the choices they do. It’s exactly why Top Gun is a complex film with deep undertones that you can dig into if you wish. Otherwise, you can just watch the film for action’s sake.
Top Gun has become a reminder of how cool films used to be. It’s reminiscent of the 1980s and made us see how awesome a world can be such as this school in Miramar. It allows us to forget about our own world and we can transport ourselves into the substance behind characters like Mitchell. We see instantly our lives transformed as we follow the journey of Mitchell, Kazansky, Blackwood, and others in this world. It’s something we do not find often in film anymore and it’s truly a shame. That being said, Tom Cruise defined himself with this movie as the coolest action star. And we are all the more grateful that he and Scott made this film with Cash and Epps Jr. It truly remains one of the highlights of today’s action scene and a film most modern action films will never hold a candlelight to. It’s just that epic.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, the entertainment industry, and a sonic shaker.
Let us know your thoughts on Top Gun and its ultimate ’80s legacy on our Facebook page!