June 27, 2022


“Top Gun: Maverick”: A Thrilling, Nostalgic Sequel

By: Justin Tucker

In a 1973 interview with critic Gene Siskel, French film director Francois Truffaut said, “Every film about war ends up being pro-war.” Truffaut was making the point that the bombs, planes, and rifles seen in anti-war movies like Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove render the film’s messages ambiguous. War is a tragedy anytime it happens, but it’s also exciting on the big screen. 

Though Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 blockbuster, is not anti-war in its outlook, I was still reminded of Truffaut’s quote. Like the original, it’s an exciting movie with terrific aerial combat scenes featuring real jets soaring. It’s loud, suspenseful, and everything a summer action movie should be. Also like the original, the good ol’ U,S, of A must confront an unspecified foreign foe with the help of some of the best pilots in Uncle Sam’s arsenal.

What specifically reminded me of Truffaut’s observation is that the film was made with the cooperation of the military, which in exchange for providing the production of expensive weaponry could have demanded changes to the script. Because Top Gun: Maverick was such thrilling, popcorn-munching entertainment, I was able to forget questioning whether or not the actions of the Navy in the film were morally justified or if the film itself was a propaganda tool.

The film picks up the story thirty years later, where Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is now a test pilot. With drones now a major component of military engagement, human pilots might be in their twilight. To save a jet program from being scrapped, Maverick risks insubordination and breaks Mach 10 during a test flight. “Put that in your Pentagon budget!” exclaims a young serviceman in the control room at the amazing feat.

He is then sent by Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), his former rival, back to San Diego to train the Navy’s top pilots for a mission to take out a uranium enrichment facility. Among the aces is Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw and Maverick’s former partner. Rooster and Maverick clash, and Maverick must resolve other conflicts among the pilots as they train and carry out their mission. Exhilarating dogfighting ensues, with missiles, explosions, and other badass stuff.

As with several recent films, Top Gun: Maverick is a piece that serves to invoke nostalgia in the audience, and does so to great effect. I was in a state of euphoria as the film started, complete with misty eyes and goosebumps from the moment the Paramount Pictures logo ascended upon the screen accompanied by Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic score. I was also delighted to see producer Don Simpson’s name on the screen again, despite departing for the Great Movie Palace in the Sky in 1996.

I then fondly remembered repeatedly watching the original on a VHS tape that was recorded off cable TV. I even remembered how our VHS copy ends abruptly during “Mighty Wings” playing over the end credits and segueing into Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, also recorded off cable. Those were the days!

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the casting of the talented Teller as the son of Maverick’s deceased partner. As the mustached Rooster, he certainly could pass as the son of actor Anthony Edwards, who played the late Goose in 1986. In fact, there was a moment of confusion where I thought Edwards appeared as the spirit of Goose but it was just Teller, looking like an Edwards relative. And I’m glad that actually didn’t happen.

Top Gun: Maverick is not a better film than the original, but it comes pretty darn close. It’s certainly flown past its predecessor’s box office haul and is so far the biggest movie of Tom Cruise’s career. The sequel is more state-of-the-art, but it’s not as charming as the original, nor will it capture the zeitgeist in the same way. Should I be concerned that it’s a propaganda piece? Maybe, but it’s such stimulating propaganda!