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Top Gun: Maverick ••••

Movie Greg Scott
Top Gun: Maverick


Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it only took 36 years to make the sequel to the 1986 film, Top Gun.

Let’s cruise into Tom Cruise’s latest adventure.

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is helping test a new Mach10 superjet but progress has been too slow for Admiral Cain, who wants to shut the testing project down. When Maverick gets wind of Cain’s arrival, he decides to test the jet before it is ready, and of course he is successful. Cain is about to dishonorably discharge Maverick, but instead tells him that he’s needed at the Top Gun instruction base at the orders of Maverick’s old pal Iceman.

Back at Naval Air Station North Island, Maverick returns to his favorite bar which is now owned by Penny Benjamin, an old flame of his. A “next generation” of fighter pilots come in, among them is “Rooster” – the son of Maverick’s best friend and co-pilot “Goose.” But “Goose” was killed in Maverick’s first Top Gun training mission. Now, Maverick feels responsible for Rooster. Maverick leaves to prepare for tomorrow’s activity – training this next generation, and Rooster, for an “impossible mission.”

Greg, thirty years ago, in a nice 1992 film called The Firm, we saw a young Tom Cruise sprinting down the streets of Memphis, trying to get away from the bad guys. Now here we are in 2022 and Tom Cruise is still sprinting from bad dudes, this time in a faraway unnamed country. Cruise may be 60 years old but he’s one of these Hollywood heroes who has an eternal physicality. Personally I can’t wait until 2052 when he’s 90 and still running, perhaps with the help of cybernetic implants.

What this is telling me is that more than anything else, Top Gun: Maverick is a film about denial. The idea that Tom Cruise, at age 60, can keep up physically with 25-year-olds, and even surpass them, is pretty ludicrous. Yet there is Maverick, not just smarter and stronger than everyone else, but also without a single gray hair. Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers everywhere are cheering about the laws of nature being violated here.

Maybe to appreciate Maverick, we must return to the dictionary definition of maverick: “an unorthodox or independent-minded person.” When you compare this to the definition of a hero, there’s definitely overlap. Heroes are also deviants, people who dare to defy social norms in pursuing the “right” thing to do. The tricky part comes when realizing that villains also defy norms. Thus it comes down to right versus wrong, which alas, is always in the eye of the beholder.

Maverick is an interesting hybrid – is he the action hero of the movie, or is he the mentor? It turns out that he’s both, the dream hero of the elder set who long to stay relevant long after their bodies have decayed. He starts out as the mentor but when the only plan for a successful mission is scrapped, Maverick hijacks a fighter jet and proves the plan’s viability. So is Maverick himself in denial – or is it Tom Cruise who can’t face the reality of his age?

Scott, you’ve definitely jumped right to the heroics of this film – quite the maverick yourself. If we look back at Maverick’s beginnings we’ll see that Top Gun: Maverick hits all the same notes. The plot points are essentially the same, but this time Maverick is not the restless young man trying to prove himself, and in need of mentorship.This time, he’s the time-honored hero and now must mentor those coming up.

And to say the plot points are the same is no understatement. We start with Maverick defying orders and performing feats of glory, then he returns to Top Gun School, then he rides his motorcycle, returns to the bar to sing songs with “the boys,” has a training session in the hanger, plays volleyball on the beach, must rush out to solve some problem (before the training is complete), and saves the day – only to have a tough trip home.

This time, instead of just an overbearing CO, he has a protector in “Iceman” – his old nemesis and now advocate admiral. And, rather than looking out for himself, Maverick is protecting Rooster from afar. And, he’s trying to make amends with his old flame, Penny.

The original Top Gun showed a young man flying against a ghost – that of his father who was shot down under suspicious circumstances in Viet Nam. That young Maverick was trying to impress his dead father. THIS, older Maverick is flying against the ghost of his lost comrade “Goose” – whose death Maverick still feels responsible for. And in this new role, Maverick takes on the role of (Goose’s son) Rooster’s protector. Strangely, Maverick also needed protecting by his old friend Iceman (Val Kilmer).

There are a ton of problems with this film’s attempt at diversity which I will let more qualified voices address. It’s sufficient to say that this is still a white man’s film, much as Top Gun was in the 80s. As such, it appears to be aimed at the same 20-somethings – only now they’re all in their sixties. Likewise, there are a ton of plotholes and impossibilities surrounding the military and geopolitical elements of the film. I’ll defer to others on those matters, as well.

Well said, Gregger. One key to Maverick’s success is that the story features plenty of time-honored tropes and archetypes. These images and ideas tap into primitive areas of our brains and teach us what kinds of people and situations we can expect in this weird thing called Life. Here are some notable archetypes:

  • The renegade
  • The single mom
  • The dying friend (Iceman)
  • The belligerent and intolerant boss
  • The betrayed underling, Rooster
  • The nerd (Bob)
  • The jock (Hangman)

Also, the movie rather successfully gives out some good advice, especially about finding a “heroic balance” – a topic I’ve written about recently. Examples in the film include finding a balance in the following areas:

  • between thinking versus going with one’s gut
  • between maximizing success of mission versus maximizing chances of bringing all the fighter pilots back alive
  • between participating in the mission versus mentoring those in the mission
  • between the gifts of the aircraft versus the gifts of the person piloting the aircraft

My rating of this movie is quite high, as I believe it deserves most of the accolades it has received. Top Gun: Maverick is the perfect summer popcorn flick. In fact, as Greg will tell you, during the movie I consumed a revolting amount of popcorn from the most humongous tub you can imagine. Tums did a heroic job of reviving me afterward. The movie deserves 4 out of 5 Reels and Maverick himself earns 5 out of 5 Hero points.

Scott, you mentioned “thinking versus going with one’s gut” and all I could hear during that scene was “use the force!In fact, the entire “impossible mission” was a clone of Luke Skywalker’s mission at the end of Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope. There’s the long ravine (just like beggars canyon back home), the turrets along the sides, the dropping of a missile into an “exhaust port,” and pulling up hard at the end of the run. To say Top Gun: Maverick stole from the best, is putting it mildly.

There are a number of “mirror characters” from the original Top Gun. Rooster resembles Goose physically and Maverick in sensibility. Hangman is basically the new Iceman. Iceman is basically “Viper” (originally played by Tom Skerritt) who looks over Maverick from afar. And to a lesser extent, Penny is the new “Charlie” (originally played by Kelly McGillis).

As we have discussed in other reviews, the hero’s journey is basically a young-man’s story. The hero starts out inexperienced and lost, and through his adventures becomes the hero he needs to be. It’s hard to create a hero’s journey out of a senior citizen. But Top Gun: Maverick succeeds. As is often the case, the seasoned hero becomes the mentor. Maverick has returned to Top Gun school to be the mentor to a new crew of pilots. But as the film nears its end, the mentor becomes the hero. He must reluctantly take control of the mission and lead his fledglings to victory, and to safety. And finally, he gets the girl and flies off into the sunset. This may be a new story pattern: The Mentor’s Journey.

I enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick very much. The story structure hit all the right plot points at just the right time. Despite having a lot on its plate (Maverick’s problems with authority, Maveric’s guilt over Goose’s death, Maverick’s relationship with Rooster, Maverick’s relationship with Penney, and not the least Maverick’s relationship with his own legacy), this film didn’t seem to leave anything behind. All the plot points were nicely tied up – and in just over 2 hours. I give Top Gun: Maverick 4 out of 5 Reels and 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie Greg Scott
Top Gun: Maverick

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