With as fresh as “Top Gun” remains, it’s stunning to think that the largely aerial adventure is now 35 years old.
The 1986 box office blockbuster — which Showtime offers Tuesday, Jan. 19 — has a much-anticipated, many-years-later sequel (“Top Gun: Maverick”) ready for screens as soon as current world circumstances allow for it. In the meantime, the Tony Scott-directed original still supplies maximum entertainment with its saga of a Navy pilot who is indeed a maverick as he flies against the best of the best.
The instinctive, impulsive and often reckless aviator played by Cruise is sent to the title training school along with his close friend and co-pilot Goose (an amusing, hugely likable Anthony Edwards) … with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell already having achieved a dose of fame from having chased off an aggressive MIG over the Indian Ocean by flying inverted, or upside-down, above it in the movie’s great opening scene.
The action is of great interest to Top Gun’s chief instructor (Kelly McGillis), who struggles to conceal her deepening attraction to Maverick, so that the others in the class don’t perceive favoritism on her part. Meanwhile the military officials in charge of the course (Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside) keep a wary eye on Maverick, especially as his rivalry with the extremely confident Iceman (Val Kilmer) intensifies.
With a pre-stardom Meg Ryan another notable cast member as Goose’s wife, “Top Gun” stands as a great example of a certain style of filmmaking that was very popular in the mid-1980s, almost seeing like a series of music videos linked dramatically. That’s evident such scenes as a volleyball game set to Kenny Loggins’ “Playing With the Boys” and a romantic sequence underscored by the hit “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin.
However, the film wouldn’t work as well as it does without its breathtaking cinematography (overseen by Jeffrey Kimball). Stock footage couldn’t — and likely wouldn’t — be used by Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, two of the most successful producers of that decade, to satisfy the story requirements. From a time when computer-generated imagery still was in its relative infancy, what was achieved with “live” camera work for “Top Gun” is jaw-dropping to this day.
As fans continue to wait to see what “Top Gun: Maverick” has to put forth, its forerunner continues to be solidly involving and enjoyable. And as a showcase for Tom Cruise coming into and owning the superstar status that has stayed with him ever since, it can’t be beat.