I am perhaps rather late in publishing a review of Top Gun: Maverick as it will soon be leaving cinemas however what I have wrote here is less of a review and more of an analysis of the series. I have tried to keep spoilers for the new film at a minimum. However I will discuss in full the plot of the original film.
Top Gun became instantly iconic upon its release in 1986. This 80s classic tells the story of United States Naval Aviator: Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise ) and his Radar Intercept Officer, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards).
While stationed on the USS Enterprise in the Indian Ocean and flying an F14A Tomcat – Maverick and Goose have a rare encounter with two enemy MiG-28s ( a fictional aircraft).This dangerous encounter leads to Maverick and Goose being entered into TOPGUN – a school for elite fighter pilots.
Here Maverick demonstrates not only his incredible skill as a pilot but also his defiant attitude.He also begins a fierce rivalry with Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) – a perfectionist pilot and heavy critic of Mavericks dangerous methods. Through the course Maverick continues to compete against Iceman and push his own limits as well as the limits of authority. During the completion for the Topgun trophy Mavericks F-14 flies through Icemans Jet Wash – the plane suffers a flame out – leading to an uncontrollable spin from which our protagonists can not recover.Maverick and Goose jettison from the doomed aircraft but in process of doing so Goose collides headfirst into the jettisoned aircraft canopy and is killed instantly.The scene in which Maverick franticly calls out to Goose and desperately tries to keep him afloat before the rescue team lift his lifeless body into a helicopter is perhaps one of the most tragic scenes in all of cinema. Although a board of inquiry clears Maverick of any wrongdoing he is overwhelmed by guilt and looses his nerve. His comrades on the course try to console him however he considers leaving the course.Unsure what to do Maverick visits his instructor Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) for advice. Viper reveals classified information on the death on Mavericks farther – something thats always been a mystery – and tells him that he can be a great pilot if he regains his confidence. The following day Maverick graduates from the program and Iceman is awarded the Top Gun trophy. Celebrations are cut short however and several of the newly gradated pilots are suddenly deployed to the USS Enterprise due to a crisis situation. They are required to provide air support after a disabled communication ship has drifted into hostile waters.The pilots are met with resistance leading to the climax of the film – a tense dogfight between American F14s and several enemy MiG-28s – during which Maverick overcomes his guilt and regains his confidence. Upon their triumphant return Maverick and Iceman share their newfound respect for one another. Then feeling he has moved on – Maverick tosses Goose’s dog tags overboard.
Despite now being thirty six years old the movie is still as fresh and exciting as it was in 1986. Its easy to see it as a camp 80s movie but this is excusable. Its the product of its era and it ages like fine wine. The soundtrack fits perfectly. The film is perfectly directed by Tony Scott – images of F14A Tomcats flying into limitless space channel the Faustian Culture-Spirit. Of course Maverick embraces this spirt more than anyone else – with his need for speed, his love of danger, his defiance, his ability to push against the odds and of course his overcoming. He is Übermensch in a jet fighter. The MiG is a symbol of Faustian mans technology developed and used against him by an unknown but hostile civilisation. Despite these Spenglarian themes the film is optimistic. Maverick and his comrades overcome all and defend civilisation.After many delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic this unexpected sequel arrived in cinemas earlier this year. Over thirty years after the events of the first film – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is now a Test Pilot for the United States Navy – flying an experimental hypersonic scramjet. As he arrives at the base ready to take flight he is informed that Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) is on his way to shut down the scramjet program early in favour of funding more unmanned drones. But since the Rear Admiral has not yet officially shut the program down – Maverick takes flight and pushes the jet beyond its intended limits. This destroys the prototype from which he narrowly manages to escape. We quickly learn that despite being bestowed many honours throughout his career his repeated acts of insubordination have prevented him from reaching any rank higher than captain. His old rival Iceman – now commander of the U.S Pacific Fleet -has repeated protected Maverick from being court martialed or permanently grounded.Hammer chastises Maverick for his reckless actions and tells that soon pilots like him will be extinct. Hammer sees the rise of drone technology that will eventually makes pilots like Maverick obsolete. Technology will eventually surpass man and remove the thrill and danger that Maverick loves. But he knows this time has not yet come. Once again Mavericks career is saved by Iceman who has him stationed at NAS North Island. Once there he is briefed on his new mission. The Navy has been assigned to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant situated deep depression of a canyon, defended by Surface-to-air missiles and fifth-generation fighter jets. Once again Faustian man is threatened by the technology he created. However the pseudomorphic enemy threaten to surpass Faustian mans technological ability. It is down to Maverick to devise a plan of attack and train a group of elite Top Gun graduates for the mission. He is shocked to discover that one of his new students is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) – the son of Goose. The presence of Rooster sends Maverick into a state of internal conflict. Rooster has his own conflicts to overcome regarding Maverick – the death of his father and his own ability as a pilot. Once again, we are presented with characters fighting both internal and external battles while training for the seemingly impossible mission.
The Culture-spirit is once again manifest on cinema screens in the truly epic and fitting sequel. The themes are very similar to that of its predecessor however updated to fit the current era.The high stakes and the struggles of Maverick and Rooster makes the film tense and gripping.It couldn’t have been easy following the footsteps of the late Tony Scott however Joseph Kosinski did an amazing job as director As I’d previously stated the first film managed to pull of several 80s cliches and this film is no different – its filled with the cliches of contemporary cinema but some how makes them work. Its clear to see that both films are the product of their era. I will criticise and say that the sequel has a few to many throwbacks to the original. Its also missing the overtly homoerotic themes that were so heavily present in the 1986 film. I think the Top Gun films are some of the greatest cinematic works ever produced. Rumours circulate that a third film could be added to the franchise. Its possible – after all at one time even Tom Cruise denied the possibility of a Top Gun sequel.
Oswald Spengler once wrote: “One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be — though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain — because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone.”
Top Gun is the product of Faustian Culture-Spirit and once our civilisation fades into ruin there maybe no one left to understand it. But the Top Gun films are optimistic and perhaps like Maverick we can defy the odds.