Synopsis: Top Navy pilots compete for placement in a classified mission; meanwhile, their instructor battles top brass. (Streaming on Netflix, Paramount Plus and Amazon Prime as of November 2022)
Top Gun: Maverick catches up with Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) decades after Top Gun (1986). Top Gun took itself very seriously, but its laughable dialog and melodrama made it a comedy for the ages. I’m pleased to announce that Maverick contains many of the same elements: dazzling flight footage, stilted conversations, cheesy songs, team sports played shirtless at the beach, and commanding officers who don’t appreciate Maverick!
More than thirty years after Maverick’s initiation into the Navy’s elite pilot training program, Top Gun, he’s still in the Navy and still breaking rules. He’s a test pilot for the Dark Star jet which is a super cool-looking hypersonic aircraft. But now there’s a problem in the person of Rear Admiral Cain (Ed Harris) who wants the project’s money for his own drone program. He has no respect for pilots and contends they will soon be obsolete. Maverick gets the news when he arrives at work, and Cain is en route to the base in California’s Mojave Desert. The only way they can keep the project going is if the jet can reach Mach 10.
Mach 10 means nothing to me, but the way the guy said it, I could tell that Mach represented an awesome speed, so Mach 10 would be Awesome x 10. Pretty impressive. And dangerous. I figured this out because Maverick said he would do it right now and the guys were all like: No, Maverick!! Can he do it? And if he does, will he buzz right over a scowling Cain when he storms out of his car looking for Maverick? I think you know the answers.
But I haven’t told you the best part… (Well, first, remember that Maverick’s flying partner Goose died in Top Gun.) So, when Maverick is zooming along somewhere between supersonic and speed of light — maybe he even smoked right through the Earth’s atmosphere or gravity, for all I understand about aviation and physics– he closes his eyes for an instant and whispers: Talk to me, Goose. Do you understand? When he is close to the heavens, he is close to Goose and Goose Angel is inspiring as hell. Wow. Back to Earth…
Of course, after Maverick touches down, he gets scolded by Cain. Standing before the Rear Admiral in a base office, Cain reads aloud the pilot’s uber impressive file, rattling off all his commendations and citations. When he asks Maverick who the hell he thinks he is to break the rules, Maverick gives a borderline cheeky answer, but follows it up with a “sir,” so he doesn’t get in too much trouble. His punishment is that he is being sent to San Diego to be an instructor at Top Gun.
Maverick doesn’t want to teach, he wants to fly! But he does seem pretty cool with being back in San Diego. He races his motorcycle near a jet taking off, but we can tell that he’s matured because he’s smiling zestfully instead of glowering like he was back in ’86 when he was having communication problems with his physics lecturer/ lover. Maverick has a new lover now, or he did a few years ago when he was in San Diego. Her name is Penny and she has a daughter who looks about fourteen years old. Maverick is not the father. This way we can keep the focus on Maverick’s need for speed and not boring back child support paperwork.
Maverick hasn’t seen Penny since he shipped out to Bosnia (and Iraq). He stops by the bar she owns, wearing a muy sexy aviator jacket. Another woman might be a little surprised when her ex shows up at her work out of nowhere, but not Penny. She gives him a sly smile and they soon launch into some non-witty repartee. Penny is like a flinty noir dame, but also an empowered 21st Century woman who runs her own show. She agrees to friendship, but no sex. (How long do you think this will last?) That’s okay with the audience because it’s plain to see that Penny/Jennifer Connelly and Maverick/Tom Cruise have no chemistry.
Maverick needs to meet with the new commanding officer of Top Gun and it’s none other than Jon “Mad Men” Hamm. In Maverick, he’s Vice Admiral Simpson. His pilot call name was “Cyclone.” And he is a real kill joy! He tells Maverick that he must train 12 pilots (and then choose the best 6) to go into enemy territory in three weeks and take out an underground uranium enrichment facility that is poised between town steep mountains. But then he forbids Mav from letting the pilots fly below 500′ feet (or was it 50′?) or teaching them to dogfight against enemy pilots or while away the days playing sports at the beach! Just go back to your ad agency, Don Draper! More on the beach sports later…
Maverick first catches sight of some of the pilots at Penny’s bar. It’s packed with armed services personnel and Penny seems to have no employees. Somehow, she manages to serve everybody drinks and keep the horrible 1970’s songs blaring. The pilots evince a sense of camaraderie whilst taking the piss out of each other with rivalrous putdowns. They’re a good-looking and diverse bunch with call names that seem to be their whole identity: Payback, Phoenix (the lone woman), Fanboy, Coyote and–my personal favorite– Bob. There is also an Iceman 2.0. (Iceman was Maverick’s pilot nemesis in ’86.) This guy is “Hangman” but his call name could just as well be “Cockiest Bastard.” He’s always talking sh** to the other pilots and menacingly flashing his superbly orthodontured and whitened teeth. (Have fun and choose your own call name. Mine would be Deep Fry.)
As Maverick takes in the scene, in walks someone he knows. I think I recognize that mustache… Dear God, it’s Goose’s son: Rooster. If you are not sure it’s him, check out the Hawaiian shirt–just like Goose used to wear. If you aren’t convinced that this is Rooster Goose Jr., watch what he does after fending off a barb from Cockiest Bastard. He sits down at the piano and gives a rousing rendition of “Great Balls of Fire.” I was appreciative when there was a flashback from Top Gun of Goose playing that same song. To add to the fun, somehow the other pilots gathered ’round know all the words to the sixty-year-old tune and sing along.
The next day they all gather on base for the first day of school! After sauntering up to the podium, Maverick asks if everyone has read the F-18 jet manual (sort of like assigned summer reading). Hell, yeah! Then, in his first act as Professor Maverick, he bins the manual. This is surprising until you hear him tell the students his first rule: Don’t think. Just do. This is probably Tom Cruise’s Scientology mantra.
Maverick breaks all sorts of precedents with his pilots. He tells them that the enemy has Fifth Generation aircraft (whatever that means) so they will need to practice all sorts of death-defying stunts like flying mere meters above the ground and climbing straight up vertically until G forces make it feel like their face is melting. All while flying at multiple Mach speeds. (Basically, Mach 1 is equal to the speed of sound, 331.29 meters per second or about 760 mph.)
One day, Maverick goes to his former rival, and now friend, Ice Man (Val Kilmer). Ice is an Admiral now and Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Of course he is! Ice is at home on sick leave, but he still has time for his Top Gun buddy. Mav says that the students can be a handful. In fact, Rooster Goose Jr has a grudge against Maverick because he thinks he held up his career. Ice is very wise and assures him that: The Navy needs Maverick. The kid needs Maverick. (Time for the audience to laugh and/or cry.)
For many people, the highlight of Top Gun was the shirtless beach volleyball scene. Maverick honors those remarkable moments with a shirtless beach football game. Well, the women who are pilots wear beachy sports bras. All of the guys –which is who the camera lingers over– have shaved chests and the same golden hued oil sprayed on their skin. I don’t know if Navy pilots all have super ripped abs, but the Hollywood actors who play them do. O, and everyone looks great in their Aviator shades.
There are tough times ahead as the training draws to a close. I won’t tell you what happens with Mav & his love interest except to say that watching them sailing was more involving than watching them make out. And you will definitely be pulling for Maverick and his best recruit, Rooster Goose Jr to reach some sort of understanding because at one point the latter doesn’t fight fair. He makes a jab at Mav: No wife. No kids. Ouch! I feel like this was a low blow and that he was talking about Katie Holmes and Suri.
Here is one spoiler that you need to read: the overseas mission is a complete failure with Maverick messing up and Rooster Goose Jr getting blown to bits. Ha! Just kidding! Do you really think that Maverick will fail?! Have a little faith. And the next time you fly –whether it’s on a big lumbering commercial jet or in your personal Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird –show some respect for all the aviators and whisper, “Talk to me, Goose.”
P.S. Supporting players include: Miles Teller as Rooster, Charles Parnell as Warlock, Monica Barbaro as Phoenix, Glen Powell as Hangman/Cockiest Bastard and Lewis Pullman as Bob (his IRL dad is Bill Pullman who was POTUS in the summer classic Independence Day).
P.P.S. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest jet in the world! It can travel at Mach 3.4 or over 2,500 mph.