In 1986, there were no social media campaigns to push a movie. No series of trailers or publicity stunts to grab your attention. Movies, back then, were announced via hastily cut footage with an overly dramatic voice-over. After that it was down to word of mouth. In mid-80s Abu Dhabi, that meant the word of the first big mouth to get their hands on a bootlegged VHS video tape. And that was my introduction to Top Gun.
So, after last week’s announcement at San Diego Comic-Con that a sequel 33 years in the making is finally happening, forgive us (me) for indulging in a certain amount of nostalgia, introspection and no little shame.
Here are a few things that we couldn’t have possibly imagined when the first Top Gun movie was released: smartphones, AI, the internet, never mind Amazon, Netflix or social media. And of course decent haircuts.
Nirvana didn’t exist yet, David Beckham was 11 years old, the Berlin Wall was still standing and acid washed jeans were deemed an acceptable way to dress (Google them, they’re mental).
But we digress. Top Gun: Maverick hits the screens next summer, and Cruise returns, judging by the trailer, looking like he’s barely aged a day since the original’s analogue era.
Of course in 33 years he’s become arguably the most powerful actor in Hollywood, but in 1985 he was just a ridiculously handsome 24-year-old with several moderately successful roles, and one major hit, under his belt. Sure, Risky Business made him star, but Top Gun turned him into a superstar. The actual technical merits of the movie mattered little at that point. At least to me.
Make no mistake, the plot was paper-thin. The story of US Navy pilots sent to the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School in Miramar to turn them into “the best of the best” (or something like that), it was an exercise in cliché set to be aped by testosterone-fuelled male fantasy films for decades to come.
Cruise’s character Pete Mitchell, it is made clear early on, is a loose cannon who plays by his own rules. But just so there are no misunderstandings with colleagues, superiors and, more importantly the viewers, he goes by the nickname of “Maverick”.
His partner is “Goose”, played by Anthony Edwards. His rival is “Iceman” (Val Kilmer), who has a partner called “Hollywood”. His love interest is the blonde-bombshell flight instructor Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). There is no subtext.
There is, however, an iconic, hilarious volleyball scene, a lot of high fives, cool motorbikes and amazing F-14 manoeuvres that would leave actual pilots reaching for flight manuals and scratching their heads. You get the picture.
Throw in a necessarily-manufactured “crisis situation” (this was Cold War-era US and the Soviets were getting the thin end of the wedge in Hollywood) and you had yourself a blockbuster.
In hindsight, many aspects of Top Gun have dated badly. It’s hard not see it as a glorified advertisement for the US Navy at the height of the tensions with the USSR, only months before US President Ronald Reagan demanded that “Mr Gorbachev tear down this wall”.
Not that it mattered. Top Gun, above all, looked cool. Crewcuts, bromances, singing as an acceptable way of getting a date, they all originated here – or at least it felt that way. Mirrored aviators? Yeah, you’ve got Tom Cruise and Top Gun to thank for those, too.
The soundtrack was also painfully of its time. “Danger Zone” and “Playing with the Boys” by ’80s staple Kenny Loggins, as well as Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” might now be first on the list of cheesy ’80s nights, but in ’86 they were the backdrop to your own Top Gun fantasy (way easier than getting your hands on an F-14).
While younger audiences might want to brush up on the original before the much-anticipated sequel in June 2020, for the rest of us it’s a chance to catch up with old friends.
Will Maverick still be as dangerous as he warned Iceman three decades ago? Is Iceman even coming back? Considering the current political climate, who will be the enemy of choice – and can Al Qaeda even get their hands on a jet? – and finally, will it all turn out alright in the end?
As soon somebody gets hold of the VHS copy just let me know, yeah? You can be my wingman anytime.