This is no retrospective of a beloved childhood film through adult eyes or anything like that: I know this movie for its myriad backwards-references, and I know this movie for Highway to the Danger Zone, and I know this movie for the volleyball scene (in reference, but having never scene it), and we wanted to watch it in preparation for its much-ballyhooed sequel.
It was...pretty good! It was what felt like an ur-machismo movie, for better and for worse. (Or to quote a character in the film: it does a lot of things better [than the average eighties film], and it does a lot of things worse [than the average eighties film]).
Leaving aside the filmmaking-versus-propaganda angle, what was by far the worst part of the film was the plot altogether, which was — what is this competition thing anyway? There's no propulsion (see what I did there?) from scene to scene; it feels like you are ping-ponging between some very neat flights for which there's little obvious rhythm or rule and some very sweaty scenes of post-combat posturing and retrospective.
I think what I liked about this movie and what I thought it did well was that it hinted at some truth about male camaraderie, whether its the wingman relationship or the RIO relationship. There's an earnestness in how it depicts both Goose and Iceman's relationship to Maverick that I think can be easily forgotten or recontextualized into oblivion; it is very sweet, and mostly a movie about brothers.
(The bolder version of this movie would have been excising the love interest altogether, which feels like some sort of contractual obligation to the viewing public. It's remarkable how little that subplot brings to the table, besides the kitschy final scene.)