The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Top Gun: Maverick – A Reflection and Review, Flying into the Danger Zone With A New Generation

“Fight’s on. Let’s turn and burn.” – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Three decades after the events of Top Gun, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has become a test pilot, and after a test flight ends with the destruction of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky sends Maverick over to train TOPGUN graduates for an upcoming assignment to destroy an illegal uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. After meeting his students and defeating them in dogfighting exercises, including Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Maverick reunites with Penny Benjamin and reveals that Rooster’s mother had asked him to keep an eye on him and guide him away from being a pilot. Torn between allowing Rooster to fly and respecting his mother’s wishes, Maverick decides to speak with Iceman, who’s afflicted with terminal throat cancer. Iceman suggests that Maverick must let go of the past. When Iceman dies from his illness, and after a training accident, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson relieves Maverick of his role and resets the mission parameters, making the initial flight to the target longer. However, Maverick seizes an F/A-18 and demonstrates the flight is possible against orders. Cyclone determines that the assignment must be completed, and with the time constraints, decides to entrust Maverick with flying a part of the mission. Although the strike is successful, Maverick is shot down, forcing Rooster to save him, and in the process, Rooster himself is shot down, as well. The pair end up stealing an F-14 and destroy the pair of Su-57s intercepting them, but run out of ammunition and flares. At the last moment, pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin saves the pair, and they return safely to their carrier. Later, Rooster helps Maverick work on his P-51 and, while looking at a photo of their mission’s success, watches as Penny and Maverick take a sunset flight in the latter’s P-51. Releasing over three decades after 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick (Maverick from here on out for brevity) is a phenomenal sequel that has earned its praises and accolades in full – in a rare occurrence, Maverick is an instance where the sequel surpasses the original. Maverick is a superior emotional and visual experience over its predecessor, fully capturing Maverick’s character growth as he learns to promote teamwork and entrust the future to youth. This sentiment is shared by professional critics and movie-goers alike; besides a tepid romance between Maverick and Penny, the remainder of the film hits consistent home runs, with a gripping story, solid thematic elements and authentic aviation sequences making the movie a masterpiece to behold.

Over the course of its runtime, Maverick is a film about the dynamic between older and younger generations. On one end, Maverick speaks to putting one’s faith in the next generation, and allowing younger minds to step into roles of responsibility. At the same time, Maverick also indicates that youth should not be so hasty in dismissing experience – it is to general surprise when Maverick schools the TOPGUN graduates in exercises, surprising even the cocky Hangman and defeating him in a dogfight. Even Natasha “Phoenix” Trace makes the remark, wondering who’s going to be teaching the best of the best. While youth often believe that they’re ready to handle anything and are eager to jump straight in, an experienced professional will hang back, assess a problem and then draw upon their prior knowledge to decide how to best approach a problem. Although the TOPGUN pilots have more vigour and faster reflexes than Maverick, Maverick makes up for this in being able to anticipate his student’s actions and plan accordingly. By impressing the TOPGUN graduates, Maverick shows them that learning is an ongoing process, and learning never really stops. On the flipside, because of his promise to Rooster’s mother, Maverick is afraid to let Rooster fly to his full potential, and even interfered in his application process. It is only upon hearing Iceman’s advice, “let go”, that Maverick is able to see Rooster as a full-fledged pilot and select him for the mission. In reality, veterans often can have a tough time entrusting tasks to youth: it’s natural to feel protective of the people one is asked to look after, but there comes a point where it’s important to let youth test their own strength, and have faith in their ability to get things done. Maverick demonstrates this best when Rooster, on an unexpectedly impulsive act, flies back and saves Maverick from being blasted by a Mi-28 Havoc. After he’s shot down, when Maverick demands to know why Rooster flew back, Rooster retorts that Maverick had taught him to “don’t think, just do”. In this moment, Maverick is completely taken aback, but recovers – evidently, Rooster is competent and capable. Maverick thus suggests that young and old minds, contrary to what internet articles suggest, can get along – young people should be open to learning something from old minds, and old minds should have more faith in young people, trusting them to get things done in a mix of old and new ways.

Maverick is also a visceral show of what leadership looks like. While Maverick himself has had a history of insubordination, which had prevented him from advancing to flag rank, viewers are shown that this insubordination occurs because, since Goose’s death, Maverick has become more mindful of the people around him. This is made clear to viewers right out of the gates during the Darkstar test: when Maverick learns the Darkstar program is about to be scrubbed, he decides to go on a test flight anyways and comments on how, if he doesn’t defy orders to stand down, the program will go under and take the team with it. Maverick is willing to put himself on the line to ensure everyone else is safe. A good leader is someone who puts others ahead of themselves, and while from a command perspective, Maverick is appropriately-named, those who work with him are willing to do so precisely because Maverick is not a glory-seeker; he just wants to make sure everyone succeeds. This is seen again when he designs the mission parameters for the canyon attack – Maverick’s insistent on the fact that the flight be short so that the attacking aircraft have the most opportunity to evade the enemy defenses and return home. Maverick’s experiences with Goose ended up shaping him into a leader, and while this makes him appear very unreasonable, to the point where Cyclone is all too happy to dismiss Maverick after an incident during training, Maverick has one other trait that makes him a valuable leader: he is able to walk the walk, on top of talking the talk. Maverick’s test run impresses all of the TOPGUN graduates, and even Cyclone begrudgingly admits that the mission, as Maverick defined it, is technically possible. A good leader always leads by example, and can do the things they expect of their subordinates, and by showing the TOPGUN graduates that this mission is achievable, the mood suddenly changes, as a formerly impossible mission suddenly becomes a challenge that the candidates are curious to see if they can overcome. Throughout Maverick, Maverick shows that Iceman was right; the other admirals and leadership may not see Maverick as an asset, but Maverick’s traits actually make him invaluable, and it is these leadership qualities that ultimately make the mission successful. In this way, Maverick is a highly inspiring film, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that leaders are people who can do the things they expect of their subordinates, put their subordinates first, and are able to inspire subordinates to better themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the 2000s, the top film experiences were the Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight trilogies. Avengers: Infinity War and EndgameFirst Man, Dunkirk and Interstellar were my top picks for the 2010s. Here in the 2020s, things start off strong with Top Gun: Maverick, and ahead of the film’s release, I watched the original Top Gun so I’d be familiar with things. The original film is a fair experience, but things do feel a little less cohesive. In spite of this, the film was still enjoyable, and the music was especially good. Maverick, on the other hand, is on a whole different level.

  • The film actually opens similarly to 2018’s First Man, which had Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting an X-15 and struggling to get it back into the atmosphere during a test flight. From there, the remainder of the film was a powerful portrayal of Armstrong’s journey to being the first man on the moon. Maverick starts with Maverick (Tom Cruise) testing the experimental “Darkstar”, a hypersonic ramjet aircraft intended to reach speeds of up to Mach 10. Although Lockheed Martin representatives vehemently deny Darkstar is based on any real aircraft, it does resemble the SR-72 prototype.

  • Maverick features numerous callbacks to the original Top Gun: as Maverick reaches the stipulated speed of Mach 10, he whispers to himself, “Talk to me, Goose”: in Top Gun, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had been Maverick’s WSO, but died during an accident when their F-14 suffered a flameout. Both Maverick and Goose had ejected, but Goose broke his neck on the canopy, and since then, Maverick regretted not being able to save his friend. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a military court, Maverick continues to be haunted by this failure.

  • As Darkstar reaches Mach 10, Admiral Cain arrives with the aim of shutting the programme down, disappointed by its failure and anticipating that unmanned drones would soon replace human pilots. This concept is not explored in greater depth in Maverick, but Ace Combat 7 delves into the topic in great detail and suggests that drones or no, human pilots continue to be relevant since they can make decisions automaton cannot. On the topic of Ace Combat 7, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC set was released to accompany the film, and I’ve been eying it precisely because it lets me to fly the Darkstar aircraft, along with Maverick’s custom F/A-18.

  • When Maverick pushes Darkstar past its operational boundaries, its airframe disintegrates. Viewers have been very critical of this scene: ejecting conventionally at Mach 10 would liquify the human body, and Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich claims that, because this one scene isn’t survivable, the entire movie was undeserving of its praises. In the story, the Darkstar aircraft was likely equipped with an ejection capsule, similarly to the F-111 Aardvark; it’s always amusing to see people like Fighteer taking themselves so seriously, when they lack the ability to reason through things and properly walk others through their thoughts.

  • For someone who still moderates Tango-Victor-Tango to this day, while I appreciate Fighteer’s devotion to a meaningless pursuit (conversation at Tango-Victor-Tango has intellectual value the same way Spontaneous Generation is a valid scientific theory), it is a little surprising to see someone with a complete lack of literary knowledge take such an interest in fiction. I have previously argued that works of fiction like Maverick don’t need to be realistic, but rather, internally consistent: so long as the rules of the fictional world are not broken, and so long as a work can convey its message, it will be successful.

  • The only aspect of Maverick that didn’t work quite as well was the romance between Maverick and Penny: in the original film, Maverick’s attempts to impress instructor Charlotte Blackwood was a part of the story’s way of fleshing out Maverick’s character, but here in Maverick, Penny feels like she came out of the blue. Had the film omitted this piece, I feel that its themes and messages would not have been diminished in any way.

  • On the other hand, the rocky relationship Maverick has with Goose’s son, Rooster, is a central part of the film. On their first day, tensions already run high – Rooster holds Maverick accountable for Goose’s death, and Maverick wishes that Rooster would’ve chosen any other profession besides following his father’s footsteps, a wish his mother had made. The other pilots are shocked to see Maverick as their instructor, having watched him get thrown out of Penny’s bar the previous evening after he made a gaffe and wasn’t able to pay the tab, per house rules.

  • Owing to these initial impressions, the TOPGUN graduates are pretty confident that they can hold their own against Maverick, and during the first day of exercises, Payback suggests upping the stakes after hearing Maverick’s exercise conditions: the graduates must work together to shoot him down before he decides to shoot back. Two hundred pushups is a lot, and the young aviators are confident that they’ll have no trouble besting Maverick.

  • This scene was set the The Who’s iconic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Like its predecessor, Maverick has excellent music, but unlike Top Gun, the film uses existing music – Top Gun had several pieces written specifically for the film, including Kenny Loggins’ iconic “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” and the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. My favourite piece on the original soundtrack, however, is Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” because its iconic opening riff inspired the theme to Ken’s stage in Street Fighter II.

  • Were I in the TOPGUN graduate’s shoes, I’d be nervous to hear Maverick casually accept the terms of the wager: he quickly disappears off the radars and flies between the two F/A-18s from underneath, timed perfectly to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”‘s iconic YEAH moment. Maverick is all business, but the movie has moments of levity to remind viewers that while the TOPGUN graduates are all skilled aviators, and their assignment is deadly serious, they’re still human at the end of the day. It’s a clever way to lighten the film up in the early stages.

  • Maverick uses the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that entered service in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat, which featured in Top Gun. The Super Hornet was chosen in the film, over the F-35 Lightning, on the grounds that the newer aircraft and their high-tech suite of electronics wouldn’t be suited for the mission, but in reality, the F-35 is a single-seater, and this wouldn’t allow the film to have been filmed with real pilots. Further to this, the F-35 was designed to launch its ordnance from high altitudes at a distance, so using them would’ve simply meant hanging back and launching missiles, rather than going in for a high-octane low-altitude run.

  • Rooster’s “Not this time, old man!” is one of my favourite lines in the film: having just prevented Maverick from getting behind Payback and Fanboy, Rooster attempts to engage Maverick, but ends up being “shot down” in the exercise. Moments like these are a great way of showing why it isn’t a good idea to underestimate anyone: while Maverick’s reflexes and physicality aren’t what they were thirty years ago, he makes up for this by knowing his aircraft and knowing how other pilots react in certain situations, allowing him to act accordingly.

  • There are a large number of TOPGUN candidates in the beginning, but seeing which characters got more speaking roles hinted at who would be selected to participate in the mission. Among the characters is Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). I was very pleased with how her role was handled in the film – she’s presented as a confident and skilled pilot in the skies, and she’s also got a good sense of humour, even when under stress. Phoenix’s WSO is Bob (Lewis Pullman), a quiet fellow whose call-sign’s meaning is left open to interpretation, and whose name might be a clever callback to the Bob Hoover story.

  • As the story goes, after being shot down behind enemy lines, Hoover was taken as a prisoner of war, escaped during a prison riot and then managed to find a pistol. After reaching a German airfield, he held a mechanic at gunpoint and forced him to start up a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, then proceeded to fly it over to the Netherlands. This actually lines up with how the end of Maverick goes, so a part of me wonders if Bob was named after Bob Hoover. Here, watching the other TOPGUN graduates taking a selfie while Rooster is doing the pushups was an amusing sign of the times; smartphones didn’t exist back in 1986.

  • More amusing was what happened after Maverick bests all of the arrogant and brash airmen, prompting Bernie “Hondo” Coleman to remark that “it was all fun and games in that selfie”. A chief warrant officer who worked with Maverick on Darkstar, Hondo joins Maverick in the TOPGUN programme. The whole point of the dogfighting drills here is to test how pilots and WSOs work together as a team under pressure, and also to prepare them for the sort of flying they might be up against when in the air over hostile territory.

  • When it’s Phoenix and Bob’s turn to go up against Maverick, they’re paired with Hangman (Glen Powell). Hangman is easily the cockiest of the bunch, being the only pilot with a kill to his name, and his first act is to ditch Phoenix and Bob, leaving them to be shot down. Hangman’s remarks to Bob and Phoenix are mildly disrespectful, speaking to his character and reminding viewers of a younger Maverick. Again, speaking to Maverick’s experience, he comments on how “leaving your wingman” is something he’d not seen in some time.

  • While Hangman proves a formidable pilot capable of some skillful manoeuvres, without a wingman to help him spot, Hangman is surprised by Maverick, who ends up shooting him down. The importance of this moment is to show that individual skill only takes one so far – having been around the block for some time, I can speak to this. As a developer, my skills lie in mobile platforms, and while I am capable of doing a few things with backend and web client code, I count on other members of the team to ensure those aspects are working smoothly.

  • Once the initial exercises are done, the story in Maverick steps up when Rooster goes up against Maverick a second time. Maverick’s up to his old tricks, and decides to fly inverted, daring Rooster kick the party off. In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Goose had done this to an enemy combatant, taking their photo with a Polaroid camera before flying off. The scene really serves to show the sort of animosity between Maverick and Rooster: it turns out that Maverick had intervened and delayed Rooster’s application to the naval academy.

  • The resentment in the moment causes the normally-cautious Rooster to begin flying much more recklessly, and the pair are locked in a spiral down to the hard deck. The hard deck refers to a preset altitude in which aircraft during training are not permitted to go below, otherwise, it counts as an impact with the ground. This element had been a point of discussion during Top Gun, when Maverick had dipped below the hard deck to get the kill on Jester – strictly speaking, if Jester was below the hard deck, this would be counted as a ground collision, and the exercise would end. Thus, there was no need for Maverick to continue pursuing.

  • The tense exchange between Rooster and Maverick suggests that both are having trouble dealing with their respective pasts; Rooster is more open about things, whereas Maverick attempts to talk Rooster down from things even as he himself struggles to deal with what had happened to Goose. Conversations like these give a bit of insight into the characters and, when they’re set during a tense moment, such as a dogfight, it allows a film to show, rather than tell: the way Rooster and Maverick fly and move both reflect on their internal turmoil, with the small difference being that at this point, Maverick is experienced enough to identify things are going bad and is willing to pull out before anything can happen: he breaks from the dive moments before Rooster does. In the end, Rooster is unable to outmanoeuvre Maverick and is shot down yet again.

  • Maverick (and Top Gun) remain highly dramatised accounts of what being a naval aviator is like, but as a work of fiction, one must allow for the presence of creative liberties to be taken in order to facilitate the plot. I’ve previously discussed this before; as long as a work is internally consistent, then even if there are overt elements of fantasy one knows to be impossible in reality, they can still accept it because it remains within the bounds of what the writer has defined. However, even when a work is internally consistent, there remain some people who adamantly insist on analysing it for flaws.

  • As it turns out, if a work of fiction fails to engage with an individual at the emotional level, one will instinctively attempt to rationalise why. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence to do this, and where one cannot readily explain why they are unable to relate to a work, they will fall back on picking at the small details. This would explain why Fighteer immediately picks apart the Darkstar scene as “unrealistic”, and why Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review griped about K-On! The Movie: the respective films simply don’t appeal to them, but because it takes maturity to do introspection, neither Reckoner or Fighteer are able to articulate why a work didn’t click with them personally. Their displeasure thus manifests as gripes about trivial details that have no bearing on the story.

  • I have stated before that it’s perfectly normal not to like something, and this stance hasn’t changed. However, when people use realism as the reason for why, I now know that they’re probably having difficulty in expressing themselves. I concede this isn’t easy to do: for instance, Stella no Mahou didn’t work for me, and it took a few days for me to determine that the payoff at the end of the journey wasn’t consistent with what I’d previously experienced. At a personal level, the anime didn’t succeed, but I simultaneously note that some folks might like it anyways. Back in Maverick, Maverick spends a bit of time with Penny, and while I will hold the story could have worked without the romance piece, Maverick courting Penny does have a nontrivial impact on him by showing him there is a world outside of his career.

  • The Su-57s in Maverick are referred to as “fifth-generation fighters” exclusively. The ambiguity of the foreign power with the illegal uranium facility in Maverick was a brilliant way of avoiding any political controversy, and shows that writers can indeed keep politics out of their work without impacting its quality. Here, the enemy nation is irrelevant: what matters is the presence of an assignment that drives Maverick and Rooster’s growth. While some people insist that all fiction is political by definition, I disagree. At their core, works of fiction are about individuals within a given system, and depending on the story, politics may or may not be relevant.

  • One of Maverick‘s most moving moments was the return of Val Kilmer as Iceman; now an aging admiral with terminal cancer, Iceman is unable to speak, but still retains a very healthy amount of respect for Maverick. The pair had been rivals in Top Gun, but developed professional and mutual respect for one another following their first combat sortie together. Having seen what Maverick can be like at his best, Iceman had kept Maverick around, knowing he could do the things that needed to be done. Maverick treats Kilmer and Iceman respectfully: Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and has found it difficult to speak since then, and this was woven into the film to create a very poignant meeting.

  • The fact that Maverick seeks out Iceman for advice shows how he’s changed: no longer cocky and self-assured, Maverick occasionally acknowledges that he needs help from others, and similarly, when his conversation with Iceman ends, and Iceman asks, “who’s the better pilot” in jest, Maverick simply smiles and embraces his old friend. Maverick is best known for its aviation sequences, but interpersonal moments act simultaneously as callbacks to the original film, as well as giving Maverick a way to acknowledge the older actors and their contributions.

  • Despite knowing the stakes, the training exercises aren’t going well: the mission entails flying through a narrow canyon to evade enemy surface-to-air missiles, popping up and delivering a pair of precision strikes with laser-guided munitions, and then escaping before enemy Su-57s can engage them. During one drill, Payback passes out from g-LOC and nearly crashes, while Phoenix and Bob both are forced to bail following a bird strike. No matter how many times the pilots try, they seem unable to fly the stipulated route in under two minutes and fifteen seconds.

  • The turning point in Maverick comes when Rooster confronts Maverick over the latter’s decision to impede his application into the naval aviation programme. Maverick had done so to honour his word to Rooster’s mother, but now finds himself at a crossroad; if he sidelines Rooster on this assignment, Rooster will resent him for the remainder of his days, but if he chooses to select Rooster as one of the pilots and Rooster is killed, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of having seen both his best friend and his son’s deaths.

  • According to interviews, when Val Kilmer was shown the sections of Maverick he appears in, he was moved by how things were done, and director Kosinski, upon seeing Kilmer’s reaction, felt that they’d gotten right such a critical moment in the film. After Iceman dies from his illness, Cyclone removes Maverick as the instructor and changes mission parameters in light of the incidents during training. If Maverick were to be entirely faithful to reality, this would be the end of Maverick’s time in the film: an instructor dismissed from an assignment won’t be returning.

  • However, assuming that viewers accept Maverick as a work of fiction, they’d be treated to one of the most thrilling moments in cinema this side of the 2020s: after Cyclone explains the updated mission parameters, the TOPGUN graduates suddenly hear a transmission from Maverick, who’s taken a Super Hornet and is now flying the course. When the range controller informs Maverick he’s not scheduled for a run, Maverick’s reply, “I’m going in anyways”, earns him a “nice” from Phoenix. As Maverick pushes his F/A-18E to the limits, the students, along with Cyclone and Warlock, suddenly find themselves cheering Maverick on internally.

  • I’ve heard that Maverick’s breathing during the whole sequence is actually deliberate, a means of forcing air into the lungs and stave off hypoxia. From a cinematography point of view, these moments really emphasise how taxing flying is on the body. To put things in perspective, we feel our heads spin when a commercial aircraft banks more than ten degrees, and in science fiction works, technologies like G-force dampeners are supposed to nullify the extreme forces that occur as a result of the demanding manoeuvres pilots engage in.

  • As Maverick nears the simulated target, the entire room waits with bated breath, hoping that Maverick will successfully hit the target. For this exercise, Maverick is using the laser module on his F/A-18E to designate the target, making a successful bulls-eye strike all the more impressive. For the actual run, the aircraft will fly in pairs: a front aircraft will drop the bombs, and a supporting aircraft will provide the laser. When the training bombs, characterised by their blue colouration, strike their target, the entire candidate group is impressed.

  • Warlock’s silent fist pump says it all, and in the aftermath, Maverick’s demonstration the mission could be done changes the tenour of the film. Of course, Maverick’s actions are not without consequence; his career’s been dotted with reckless acts of insubordination, and this latest stunt earns him yet another reprimand from Cyclone, who comments on how Maverick’s choices have left him in a difficult position. On one hand, following protocol means discharging Maverick dishonourably, but on the other, Maverick’s actions here show that the mission is doable.

  • In the end, because the consequences of allowing a rogue nation to achieve nuclear capabilities far outweighs the need to discipline Maverick, Cyclone’s decision ends up being a relatively simple one. He assigns Maverick to fly the lead aircraft and asks him to pick his pilots. Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy are selected for the mission. With the mission now set, the fun and games in Maverick ends as the film becomes deadly serious. For the viewers’ benefit, the mission outline is given to viewers again: the supporting fleet will launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at the enemy airfield to cripple their aircraft, and Maverick’s team will fly in and destroy the target before the patrolling Su-57s can intercept them.

  • Maverick and Rooster share one more personal conversation before taking off from the carrier: Maverick promises they can chat after everyone comes back in one piece. Throughout Maverick, Maverick had emphasised the importance of coming back alive, and this mindset had stemmed from his own experiences. While this meant making the mission requirements seemingly unreasonably demanding, it’s Maverick’s way of expressing how he values life following Goose’s death. With these personal thoughts set aside, it’s time to get all of the aircraft in the air.

  • Upon seeing the mission for myself, I was immediately reminded of Ace Combat 7‘s Cape Rainy mission, which required players to fly through an extremely narrow canyon to evade enemy radar, while at the same time, avoiding searchlights placed throughout the canyon. Viewers familiar with Ace Combat immediately saw the similarities, and after watching Maverick, immediately went about recreating the film’s most iconic moments in-game. Project Aces saw these similarities and released the Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Ace Combat 7, adding six new aircraft, ten Maverick-themed emblems and twelve call-signs.

  • The DLC ordinarily retails for 26 CAD, but past sales have seen prices drop as low as 13 CAD. At this price point, I feel that it would be worthwhile, and I am now waiting for the Steam Winter Sale before I add the Maverick set to my library; during the Winter Sale, purchases also give players event cards, and since I do enjoy jazzing up my Steam profile, I feel that I can wait a few more weeks before I fly Darkstar or Maverick’s custom F/A-18E for myself. Having said this, I am quite excited to do so: Darkstar equips pulse lasers and can reach a maximum speed of 5000 kilometres per hour.

  • Mach 4 is only 40 percent of what Darkstar in Maverick is capable of reaching, but even this renders the aircraft brazenly overpowered: the AIM-9 Sidewinder has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, so in theory, if an enemy aircraft fires on Ace Combact 7‘s Darkstar, evading the missile would simply be a matter of opening the throttle and accelerating. In fact, this is how SR-71 Blackbird pilots were taught to deal with missiles: after surface batteries detected the aircraft, it’d be too far away to hit by the time the missiles were ready.

  • Back in Maverick, the Tomahawk missiles impact the airfield, and this causes the patrolling fifth-generation fighters to immediately divert and head back to defend the uranium site. Although Maverick and Phoenix are on track, Rooster begins falling behind after spotting the surface-to-air batteries. The unnamed enemies in Maverick use S-125 Neva/Pechora missiles, which are Soviet-era weapons that were designed to hit smaller, more mobile targets. I imagine that the missiles seen in Maverick are the V600 variant, which have a fifteen kilometre range and carries a sixty kilogram warhead. V600s have a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, so F/A-18E/Fs are not outrunning them.

  • Maverick’s experience allows him to reassure his fellow pilots: when the fifth-generation fighters begin diverting, Maverick remarks they’re headed to defend the uranium plant, and the S-125 batteries remain on guard. After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Rooster opens his aircraft’s throttle, allowing him to make up lost time. According to the air speed indicator, Rooster begins reaching 800 knots. This corresponds to roughly 1400 kilometres per hour, an impressive speed considering how narrow the valley is.

  • The computer imagery used to brief the pilots had made the canyon seem narrower, and the mountains look steeper, than they did in reality. This doesn’t mean that the flight was a walk in the park, but for me, seeing the actual terrain itself helped to put things in perspective. While Rooster, Payback and Fanboy follow from the rear, Maverick, Phoenix and Bob prepare for the first strike. They pop up over the ridge, invert their aircraft and bring their planes into a dive. Having dug around, there’s more to this manoeuvre than the cool factor; it’s done to maintain positive loading and prevent the airframe from failing, as well as allowing the pilot to maintain consciousness.

  • Here, the GBU-24 Paveway IIIs can be seen on Maverick’s pylons: these laser-guided munitions carry a two ton warhead and require a beam from a designator to lock onto their target. In reality, the Paveway III is indeed accurate enough to be guided down a ventilation shaft so long as the laser is not lost. Military tacticians comment on how a single B2 Spirit carrying the BLU-109/B bunker buster would’ve completed the mission more readily, and while this is true (I would’ve probably recommended a Tomahawk strike), it is akin to wondering why the Eagles didn’t just carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor.

  • Common sense causes fiction to break down, and while this is important in reality (I favour simple solutions over complex ones), it also takes the fun out of a story and diminishes its ability to convey a specific message. Taking a more convoluted route allows for characters to grow, and this is one area where Maverick did unexpectedly impress in. Being the most soft-spoken and low-key of the TOPGUN graduates means that Bob has my respect: although he’s a skilled WSO, he lacks the same bravado and swagger as the other pilots, preferring to do his work in the background. By having Maverick select him as a part of the strike team, Maverick acknowledges that the quiet folks can walk the walk even if they choose not to talk the talk.

  • The more subtle lessons about teamwork, trust and humility are present in Maverick, even if they can occasionally be buried by the more bombastic, thrilling moments, and having now taken the time to give thought to both Maverick and the Yuru Camp△ Movie, I can see why there might be a case where the two films might be compared against one another, especially since both were quite successful. Both movies deal with people coming together to achieve something against the odds, persevering and overcoming both external and internal challenges.

  • Such themes are hardly unique to either Maverick or the Yuru Camp△ Movie, but the films do share quite a bit in common despite being in totally different genres. This has led Hinataka, a writer for the blog Netorabo, to claim that when compared side-by-side, the latter is a movie that “surpasses” the former as being the best film of 2022 without any additional explanation or context. Since Hirakata never elaborates, I conclude that this remark was probably an off-hand comment; Hirakata is free to enjoy movies however he wishes.

  • Film opinions can and will vary from individual to individual, but things become trickier when Centcom08 repeated this statement at Wikipedia. To the casual reader, it would set the expectation that the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a technically superior film or possesses a message that’s more cohesive and meaningful than what Maverick presents. In reality, neither film is better than the other; the Yuru Camp△ Movie excels in presenting an incremental tale of perseverance and making the most of the hand one is dealt, while Maverick is a story of trust, teamwork and learning to let go of the past.

  • Between this and the radically different premises (Maverick never goes camping with Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy, and Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena aren’t about to take on fifth generation fighters), I don’t feel that such a statement should be taken as anything more than a personal opinion. While a valid opinion, it should be common sense that this is by no means the end-all. While I am tempted to sign up for a Wikipedia account and strike that particular line from their Yuru Camp△ Movie article with due haste, I am aware that users like Centcom08 spend every waking moment monitoring the page – any changes I make will be reverted within minutes. I have better things to do than drop to Centcom08’s level, but I will remark that the Wikipedia article on the Yuru Camp△ Movie is unreliable and filled with factual errors.

  • Back in Maverick, after Bob provides the laser that allows Maverick to hit his target, Rooster follows up so he can drop his Paveway IIIs down the hatch. When Fanboy reports that his laser is malfunctioning, Rooster decides to drop the bombs blind. As luck would have it, both bombs find their mark, and seconds later, the entire uranium enrichment facility collapses. The moment this happens, the enemy forces are now aware of their presence, and all of the S-125 sites come to life, filling the air with missiles. In the chaos, it’s all the pilots can do to evade the missiles, dropping flares in a bid to throw them off.

  • When Rooster runs out of flares, Maverick sacrifices himself to keep Rooster alive. In the process, one of the V-600 missiles hits him. The moment brought to mind the likes of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson) as Chris Burnett, although flares and missiles behave a little more plausibly here in Maverick: the missiles in Behind Enemy Lines switch between heat-seekers and radar guided modes at times, allowing them to turn around and ignore flares, and they appear to fire buckshot, whereas real missiles carry an explosive warhead.

  • However, viewers generally agree that despite the lack of realism in Behind Enemy Lines, the scene where Burnett and his pilot, Jeremy Stackhouse, evade the surface-to-air missile does capture the intensity and terror that accompanies air combat. Since Behind Enemy Lines captured this well, it can be said to be authentic, even if it isn’t realistic. I have found that a lot of folks who demand realism in their fiction oftentimes are conflating lack of realism with a story they can’t relate to or connect with at an emotional level.

  • Despite being a solid story from a narrative perspective, Maverick cannot be said to be realistic by any stretch. After Maverick is shot down, he survives and finds himself face to face with a Mi-28 Havoc. He manages to somehow evade 30 mm rounds from its Shipunov 2A42 autocannon and survives long enough for Rooster to show up and shoot it down. In the process, Rooster himself is shot down, and he manages to eject. In another situation, the odds of survival would be quite slim, but viewers must set this aside and accept that, if Maverick were realistic, the film would’ve probably ended an hour earlier.

  • It is necessary that some aspects of a story be contrived such that one can be granted a satisfyingly experience. Here, Maverick manages to catch up to Rooster, and after their initial shock wears off, Maverick devises a plan for getting them back home. The lighting and tone surrounding the moment is evocative of how Behind Enemy Lines had felt after Burnett and Stackhouse were shot down, but in that film, the story had been about how Burnett evades capture in the Balkans, and here, both Rooster and Maverick are only shot down late in the game. Maverick’s plan is as bold as it is daring: see if there’s any airworthy planes left at the airfield their forces just took out and use one of them to get back into the skies.

  • At this point in the film, the reasonable viewer accepts that this is the only route Maverick and Rooster have for getting back home, and spots that, given how an earlier briefing had mentioned that F-14s might be present, opens the floor up to an exciting possibility: seeing Maverick and Rooster fly an F-14 as a clever, well-written homage to the original Top Gun. Indeed, this is exactly what Maverick has in mind, and after sneaking up to a hangar unseen, he and Rooster get one of the F-14s online. For Maverick, it’s the return of an old friend, but for Rooster, who’s accustomed to the F/A-18 and its glass cockpit, the F-14 feels ancient.

  • This scene in Maverick was reminiscent of the Yuru Camp△ Movie‘s finale, which had similarly seen the return of an old piece of hardware from the originals; when Rin’s motorcycle develops a fault, her father suggests that she fall back on her original ride, the Yamaha Vino, and it ends up playing a big role in the film’s climax. Having seen Maverick first, it was nice to see echoes of Top Gun in Yuru Camp△ Movie, although here, I note that an appreciation of the similarities between the two movies despite their drastically different premises is about the extent of my wish to compare the two films.

  • In typical Maverick fashion, both aviators are airborne after a harrowing takeoff: Maverick has used the F-14’s variable sweep wings to generate more lift and accommodate for a very short takeoff, surprising Rooster. To emphasise this, the F-14’s front landing gear is knocked off, but for the present, Maverick and Rooster are aloft, to the surprise of the command staff back on the carrier. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without dogfighting in a live environment, and now that they’re in the skies, the patrolling fifth-generation fighters intercept the pair.

  • Any experts or fans of military aviation will immediately recognise the Su-57, a Russian multi-role fighter that began development back in 2010 and entered service in 2020. Although widely considered to be inferior to the American fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the Su-57 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the F-14 owing to superior avionics. In an engagement, what would likely happen would be that the Su-57 would simply fire a missile from outside visual range and score a kill before the F-14 could even flinch. Moreover, even though the Su-57 lacks the same the same thrust vectoring that the F-22 possesses, it still has an impressive turn rate and would easily overcome the F-14 in a dogfight.

  • The idea of an F-14 going toe-to-toe against an Su-57 is the sort of exercise that military fans love thinking about (experts are more concerned about how their hardware stacks up against hardware that’s presently in service, versus against older hardware), and in fact, reminds me of the thought experiments I did regarding hypothetical matchups like pitting a single M1A2 against twenty Tiger Is, or a head-to-head battle against the Panzer VIII Maus. For the most part, comparing technology from different periods is akin to comparing video cards more than two generations apart: the newer technology comes out on top every time.

  • When the Su-57s show up, Maverick reasons that at least for the moment, the pilots don’t really know what’s going on and attempt to hand signal to them. While pilots do know hand signals so that they can continue to communicate in the event of a radio loss, or during an exercise, it is possible that the Su-57 pilots operate on a different set of standards, ones that Maverick and Goose are unfamiliar with. Some folks with a background in aviation translate the pilots’ signals as requesting them to “divert to heading 3-3-0”, suggesting that they’re to defend the facility from further attack.

  • Thus, when Maverick signals he’s not understanding the message, the other Su-57 prepares to engage the F-14, which they now interpret as being under hostile control. The setup here is a bit of writing that allows Maverick to shoot down one of the Su-57s and take it out of the fight: in a prolonged dogfight, the F-14’s odds are extremely slim, even with a good pilot at the stick, but since the F-14’s M61 Vulcan is simply an older version of the M61A2 that newer generation aircraft carry, it’s not inconvincible for an F-14 to disable an Su-57 with a well-placed shot, the same way a Tiger I could score a mobility kill against an M1A2 that was standing still.

  • Much as Top Gun had previously done, the hostile pilots wear helmets with tinted visors. Protagonists wear clear visors simply so we can see their expressions: in reality, all helmets have tinted visors, but this is another instance of how being realistic would diminish the film’s impact, similarly to how portraying the combat performance differences between an F-14 and an Su-57 would prevent the film from telling its story. Once Maverick and Rooster realise their ruse isn’t going to work, Rooster persuades Maverick to give this fight everything he’s got.

  • Spurred on, Maverick uses the element of surprise to disable one of the Su-57’s engines, and immediately breaks off. In a moment of pure savagery, Maverick manoeuvres his F-14 so that the damaged Su-57 shields him from the other fighter’s missiles, and this results in the first of the Su-57s being taken out of the fight. With the second pilot dead-set on taking the rogue F-14 out, it’s an all-out fight. The entire scene is set to some of the tensest music I’ve heard throughout the whole of Maverick: with Hans Zimmer listed as a composer, there is no surprise that the incidental cues in the film are well-suited for the moments they accompany.

  • While motion blur means that it’s difficult for me to get good screenshots in a live-action movie, some of the stills for this post turned out quite well. This is the biggest challenge I face whenever writing about live-action; in anime, this isn’t a problem since everything is smooth. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of difficulty in writing this post; cutting down the screenshots to a manageable number was probably the biggest challenge, and originally, while I have had the pool of screenshots and an idea of the post’s contest ready since late October, it’s taken some effort to distill everything into a post that isn’t the size of a graduate thesis.

  • One of the most thrilling moments during this dogfight happens when the Su-57 suddenly executes what appears to be a flat corkscrew. Immediately, viewers are reminded that Maverick and Rooster are dealing with a highly skilled pilot who isn’t just depending on his aircraft’s technology to get by. Maverick spots this and decides that it’s time to go for a lower altitude, claiming that the terrain will confuse their adversary’s targetting system. Assuming that the Su-57s in Maverick is carrying the R-77, this holds some truth: the R-77 is a radar-guided missile, but some versions are outfitted with infrared seekers that use radar to acquire an initial lock. By flying closer to the ground, the Su-57’s radar system is prevented from quickly acquiring its target.

  • Maverick ends up getting behind the Su-57 and uses his guns to damage its engine, causing it to crash. Only in a film could such an old aircraft stand any chance against a current-generation fighter, but it is a thrilling show of skill. In fact, the mindset of going up against a fifth generation fighter with an F-14 is equivalent to watching Graham Aker fighting the Exia to a standstill with a Flag, or seeing Char Aznable giving Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II trouble. The idea of skill being able to overcome technological disparity is a staple in fiction, offering a satisfying experience.

  • Rooster cheers after seeing the second Su-57 crash into the canyon’s ledges. Moments later, he’s able to get the radio on. Having Rooster act as Maverick’s WSO is a direct callback to the original Top Gun and shows how Maverick and Rooster have both overcome their pasts to be able to work together as a team, much as how Maverick and Goose originally had. For Maverick, Rooster has become a full-fledged pilot in his own right, while Rooster now sees why his father was able to work well with Maverick. However, even after getting in touch with the carrier, the fight’s not over yet.

  • A third Su-57 appears on their nose, and with their F-14 out of missiles, guns and countermeasures, it’s all Maverick can do to keep the fighter off them. During the dogfight, the F-14 takes a few hits. The portrayal of aircraft guns in Maverick is one of the few gripes I do have about the portrayal of things: the M61 Vulcan fires with a distinct buzzing noise rather than the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, while the Su-57 is armed with the 30 mm GSh-30-1, which is a slower-firing autocannon that can destroy enemy aircraft in as few as three shots. The fifth generation fighters appear to fire the same guns as the F-14, and moreover, despite taking three hits, the F-14 continues to fly.

  • This is yet another moment created to maximise dramatic effect, and it is actually quite rare for movies to correctly depict aircraft guns, so I will clarify that the guns have no bearing on my overall enjoyment of the movie. Realising that there’s no other way, Maverick orders Rooster to eject, but the ejection handles are damaged and fail to fire. Having come so far, Maverick is filled with regret at not being able to protect Rooster. However, moments after the Su-57 fires one of its missiles, it’s blown out of the sky. Hangman has come to the rescue, and while he was chosen to be a reserve pilot, he ends up being given permission to sortie and cover Maverick and Rooster.

  • Although Hangman is portrayed as being arrogant and self-assured, at the end of the day, all of the TOPGUN graduates are on the same side and work towards the same goal. The rivalries between the candidates is secondary to the fact that everyone is fighting on the same team, and this is a piece of Top Gun I’ve always loved seeing: a healthy rivalry encourages growth, but when the chips are down, everyone has one another’s backs. On the topic of Hangman, Glen Powell had previously appeared as a trader in Dark Knight, and he will be starring in Devotion, which portrays naval aviators in the Korean War.

  • I’m suddenly finding myself excited to watch Devotion: the Korean War isn’t portrayed all that often in film, but it’s also a critical part of the Cold War. The film opened a week ago in North America, and I might just go catch a screening if time allows (I do have a fair amount of vacation time banked up). Failing this, I imagine that Devotion will be available for streaming in the new year. Back in Maverick, after ensuring Maverick and Rooster are okay, Hangman breaks off and heads back to the carrier for a landing. Since Maverick had broken the nose landing gear while taking off earlier, his landing will be a little trickier.

  • As a bit of a clever callback to Maverick’s tendency to buzz the tower after a successful flight, he ends up doing exactly this, causing Cyclone and Warlock to duck for cover. Previously, doing this has landed Maverick in hot water, but here in Maverick, the successful operation means that this is probably the last thing on Cyclone’s mind: all that matters is that their hit was successful, and everyone’s come back in one piece. I’ve heard that carrier landings are one of the hardest parts of being a naval aviator, and things only become more tricky if the carrier is bobbing up and down in rough waters.

  • Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector captures the details that are involved in touching down on a carrier, and through reading the novel, I became aware of the fact that aviators will prefer to increase power when touching down. This is because if the aircraft misses any of the arresting wires on deck (I think this is called a “bolter”), it has enough power to climb back into the air and try again. Of course, this beats coming in too low. Since Maverick’s experienced, and since the oceans seem quite calm, the technical aspects of a carrier landing aren’t shown; Maverick and Rooster’s return to the carrier has the same feel as returning home after a difficult drive.

  • Overall, I found myself immensely satisfied with Top Gun: Maverick, as it tells a solid, self-contained story, is respectful to its predecessor and is accessible to both old and new viewers alike. The story isn’t something that demands familiarity with the original Top Gun, but folks who’ve seen the original film will immediately appreciate all of the references made to the original movie. Moreover, despite being a film about the navy, Maverick manages to elegantly handle the matter of politics: for this movie, the biggest enemy is actually within oneself (fear and doubt), with the hostile nation and pilots acting merely as the driving force for Maverick and Rooster to overcome their inner dæmons.

  • While Maverick has been criticised for glorifying the American armed forces and acting as propaganda promoting the military’s actions, I’ve always felt that war films are simply just a highly visceral way of portraying a given theme, the same way that first person shooters are simply a game of resourcefulness and being observant. The healthy mind is able to make a distinction between fiction and reality, and here, I would argue that the themes of Maverick are actually not too different than the themes from 2015’s Creed, which saw Adonis Creed enter the ring and fight to create his own legacy with help from Rocky, who had similarly been reluctant to train Creed initially.

  • The ending of Maverick does prompt the question of whether or not Top Gun will continue in any way: Miles Teller has expressed interest in a follow-up film, and given the quality of Maverick, I am curious to see what such a film would entail. On the flipside, Maverick is successful mainly because it tells a self-contained story that respectfully wraps up elements from the original Top Gun, and a continuation is not strictly necessary simply because Maverick closes things off on such a decisive note.

  • Observant readers may have noticed that in my screenshots, letterboxes appear in some stills, but are absent in others. This is because the action scenes were filmed in IMAX, which allow more to be shown. For dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio is a standard 21:9. The hybrid approach allows a film’s most critical moments to completely immerse viewers, and admittedly, this can make for some inconsistencies in a screen-shot heavy review: when I wrote about Dark Knight Rises back during the summer, I elected to go purely with the IMAX stills.

  • However, this had also been because that particular post was an unconventional discussion. For Top Gun: Maverick, a more ordinary review, I utilise a mixture of stills so I have a chance to cover all of the thoughts on my mind. I admit that my talks can be on the long side, but this is primarily a consequence of a given work providing a lot to consider. For readers in a rush, reading the paragraphs will give a complete insight into what I make of something; the figure captions are meant to provide various thoughts, trivia and asides.

  • With this in mind, I’m not about to change the way I blog: I believe that celebrating fiction and what one enjoys is best achieved by being thorough. While lengthier posts can be discouraging to readers, I contend that this is a matter of UX. This is why my posts are structured the way they are. Everything important, I provide up top, and then I use the screenshots and figure captions to talk about details that are not relevant to the more important topics. The conclusion at the end then sums up my personal thoughts and allows me to speculate on what future directions look like, or otherwise address elements that aren’t quite as important to readers.

  • It goes without saying that Maverick was a superbly enjoyable film for me, and having now written about the film in full, I am filled with an inclination to go back and revisit both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7. I am glad to have taken the time to lay down what made the movie so entertaining for me, and while Maverick does seem far removed from my typical predisposition for slice-of-life anime, it is always fun to branch out and explore different forms of media every so often.

  • Since Maverick opened with Maverick working on his vintage P-51, I’ll conclude this post with a screenshot of him taking it out for a flight with Penny. This just about brings this talk on Top Gun: Maverick to a close. This is going to be my last post of November; I was originally planning on writing about Itsuka Ano Umi de, but production issues shook things up somewhat. Entering December, readers can expect more posts on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, a few special topics posts, and my thoughts on Itsuka Ano Umi de once the fourth episode airs. Before any of that, however, I do have a talk on Battlefield 2042‘s third season lined up. The game’s come a very long way since last year, and the latest additions make the game feel like a proper Battlefield title.

There is a reason why Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top movie – the themes are inspiring, the flight sequences are phenomenal, and elements from the original Top Gun make a return. Unsurprisingly, it is 2022’s highest grossing film, and the film is nearly universally acclaimed. However, when Netorabo’s Hinataka suggests that the Yuru Camp△ Movie surpasses even Maverick in terms of enjoyment in their review of the former, eyebrows are raised – Hinataka doesn’t explain what specifically about the Yuru Camp△ Movie makes it the superior film. Both films, despite their radically different premises, actually share quite a bit in common. The Yuru Camp△ Movie and Top Gun: Maverick both are set some time after their original, deal with an ongoing assignment that requires Maverick, Chiaki and their respective teams to pull through and get things done in creative ways, and similarly see the return of an iconic piece from their original works (in the Yuru Camp△ Movie, Rin’s Yamaha Vino makes a comeback, and in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick and Rooster steal an F-14). However, whereas the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a highly cathartic experience which gently reminds viewers of what it means to be an adult, Top Gun: Maverick is meant to be a thrilling and inspiring adventure that shows viewers what leadership and trust look like. The two films are quite different in this regard, and where the Yuru Camp△ Movie is meant to portray its story in a relatable context, Top Gun: Maverick uses a much more dramatic story to convey its themes in order to fire up viewers. As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is endlessly quotable, and scenes from the film are endlessly rewatchable. The Yuru Camp△ Movie reminds me of the fact that I’m probably conducting myself in a reasonable manner, but Top Gun: Maverick shows me one vivid example of what leadership looks like. In conjunction with the fact that I’m rewatching moments like Maverick flying the course in the two minutes and fifteen seconds, or managing to take on a pair of Su-57s in an F-14, on a daily basis, and making bad jokes about real life situations with lines from Top Gun: Maverick, it is clear that the two movies cannot be compared side-by-side as Hinataka does. Consequently, in response to Hinataka’s comment, I would counter that Top Gun: Maverick isn’t “surpassed” by the Yuru Camp△ Movie in any way, and in fact, I would suggest to readers that both movies are worth watching on the basis of their own distinct merits.

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