Pilot gives “Top Gun: Maverick” the thumbs up.
BY GEORGE BERNARD ’23
“Top Gun: Maverick” was released into a tough environment: movie theaters were half-empty and after two years of delays, expectations were sky-high (pun intended). As a pilot myself, I was particularly drawn to the movie because of how much I enjoyed the original. Despite the adversity, the movie became a smash hit because it does an exceptional job at balancing character development, action and humor that exceeds expectations. Over a decade in the making, the film was crafted to perfection and has become my favorite aviation movie. Not only is “Top Gun: Maverick” a fantastic sequel to the 1986 original, it is a show of American exceptionalism and power delivered better than any precision bomb could.
Compared to the original, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, is more caring for others, showing compassion for his colleagues in the Darkstar program and acting as a father figure to Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Goose’s son. Although he is more caring, Maverick doesn’t lose his characteristic ego and confidence, regardless of the situation. The action is near constant throughout the movie, whether it is Maverick going over Mach 10, practicing low altitude flying, playing football on the beach, or stealing an F-14 Tomcat from an enemy airbase, it is impossible to look away from the screen. Dispersed throughout the intense scenes, there are many well-placed jokes to relieve the tension. The movie also does a great job at calling back to the original without feeling like a repeat, including only a few seconds of flashbacks and despite fundamentally still being about airplanes, every flying scene is different and exciting.
In the box office, the film has been breaking records since its release on May 27, the movie has grossed $662.5 million domestically and $1.3 billion globally putting it in seventh and 13th place respectively. It also is the highest grossing movie released on Memorial Day weekend in addition to having a 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The reason it is so popular isn’t just because it is entertaining, it’s because it is a patriotic movie. It came out at perfect time, Covid was resurging, inflation was climbing rapidly and gas was hitting $5 per gallon. People wanted a movie to make them feel good. Furthermore, in a time where a majority of Americans believe our country is going in the wrong direction, the movie reminded people of what makes our country great. A diverse group of highly talented pilots from the most prestigious flying school in the world competing to serve on a mission to protect our allies. Scenes of Cyclone risking his career for the good of the mission, Maverick downing far superior enemy aircraft in an F-14 and Hangman rescuing Maverick and Rooster remind people of their own ideals and values. The display of American military might against a threat reinvigorates a sense of patriotism and respect for the men and women who bravely serve our country that has been waning recently.
Notwithstanding the excellent storytelling, the undeniably best part of the movie is the flying. The movie gives the most authentic feeling of being in a F/A-18 Super Hornet going over 700 mph less than 100 feet from the ground that any of us will get. At the insistence of Tom Cruise, the movie never uses CGI to animate an airplane, although they do use computers to digitally change the appearance of three airplanes by putting a digital “wrapping” over F-18s to make them look like a different airplane. They did this for the Darkstar aircraft which doesn’t exist, the Su-57, a brand new Russian aircraft, and F-14, as there are no airworthy ones left. The audio captured from the engines during carrier operations is intense, but seeing four F-18s flying in close formation just a few feet from the ground just under the speed of sound through the Cascades Mountains of Washington is truly stunning. Moreover, the shots from the cockpit are amazing, showing the effects of the fast accelerations and how little room there is for error.
Lastly, as a pilot myself, I really appreciate the effort made to make the film accurate in terms of aviation terminology, air traffic control communications, procedures and aircraft capabilities, things most movies get atrociously wrong. In all, I would give “Top Gun: Maverick” a 10/10 and it will certainly become a go-to movie for years (maybe decades) to come.