Most of my friends know that Top Gun is my biggest guilty pleasure popcorn movie. Having grown up sharing a passion for aviation with my Dad and currently working in the military aviation industry, I am a sucker for the high speed action of the first film. Sure the plot is cornball, but Tom Cruise and director Tony Scott (RIP) nailed the fighter pilot culture to a T. Although there’s some technical inaccuracies, Top Gun is simply too fun to resist. Top Gun: Maverick seems to continue the adventurous spirit of the first film, but hints at even more intense air battle sequences and ground breaking cinematography. Since I’m a total geek about this movie, let’s break down some of the biggest things I took away:
A big question that faced this film’s development was what Maverick would fly in the sequel. The F-14 Tomcat was retired in 2006, a result of aging hardware and Iran’s attempts to steal design upgrades for their fleet. The popular theory was that Mav would fly the 5th Generation F-35 as an obvious pick for the Navy’s best fighter pilot. However, even before Tom Cruse decided to become a legit fighter pilot, the F-35 was never a consideration in development and this trailer answers why. Beyond the F-35 simply having very restrictive accessibility, it does not come in a two seat configuration, however, the F/A-18 Super Hornet does via the F/A-18D variant.
This allows for two advantages: Tom Cruse was now able to mount an unprecedented 6k wide angle digital camera facing the rear aspect of the aircraft by placing it on the front seat, an impossibility in a single-seat aircraft due to the heads up display and canopy. It also allows for a stunt pilot to sit up front, opening up for dangerous close formation, low altitude, and high speed flying during sequences too advanced for Tom Cruse to fly himself, while still giving the illusion that Mav has the controls. In this film, it appears that exterior shots will replace the D variant with the single-seat C, while Tom Cruse flies in the two-seater.
What’s more surprising in this trailer to me is hints at another special aircraft being thrown in the mix. Despite the trailer being a massive call back to the first film, Jon Hamm (who plays a flight instructor) says this movie will take the story in a “very different direction”. Shots of Mav wearing some sort of advanced high-altitude suit may be an indication of this. How this plays into Mav teaching Goose’s son (played by Miles Teller) to become a Top Gun like his father is anybody’s guess, but its certainly a change to look forward to.
Maverick is seated in what’s likely a test and evaluation, or advanced high altitude aircraft. Since the “Time on Target” graphic is not in the F/A-18, it is likely part of this mystery jet’s flight displays.
Beyond the glorious cinematography and plot hints, what’s most interesting to me is Ed Harris’s dialogue with Mav. “…You can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts you refuse to die. You should be at least a two star Admiral by now, yet here you are… Captain…” There are plenty of reasons Maverick did not progress in his career as a ‘good officer’ should. The easiest excuse would be that a major accident happened either under his watch or caused directly by him, but for me this would be an easy way out. While this premise could still be interesting, I hope the film delves more into the fighter pilot dichotomy faced by many other pilots.
Robin Olds is the perfect example of this. The first fighter ace of the Vietnam War, Olds is regarded as one of the finest Air Force leaders in history, notably by his desire to lead from the front and teach by example. In his memoirs, Olds discussed his constant frustration with careerism and the impending fate of being promoted to staff duties, ending up out of the fight. While staff work allows for major changes to be made across a fighting force, the absence of battlefield leadership dismayed him. He frequently rejected authority, often brazenly, and while he didn’t progress as far as other fighter-type officers due to his somewhat unprofessional candor, in hindsight he’s regarded as one of the greatest warriors in air combat. I hope Maverick’s current status as a Captain after 30 years is focused of his fighting the system to be the best direct leader for his people, instead of being the result of the system beating down on field grade officers. While this theme is a massive discussion on leadership that is too great to be addressed in this write up, I believe delving into this philosophical arena would at the very least make Top Gun: Maverick a more meaningful sequel.
Maverick’s interactions with top brass opens the door to meaningful discussion on what it means to be a combat leader
Going back to the more fun-side of Top Gun, the last shot in the trailer is of a CGI F-14. Since the US doesn’t fly the aircraft at all, a popular internet theory is that Maverick will be facing off against Iranian F-14’s in the finale. The irony of this possibility is too perfect in my mind. At any rate, I do hope the movie as a whole is able to improve upon its predecessor. It’s great to hear reports of how mind blowing the visuals will be, but will the subject matter legitimize the movie beyond a soft reboot? I certainly hope so.