Top Gun Maverick is a Heartfelt Tale of Learning to Let Go
In one of the greatest sequels of all time, of one of the most successful action films in decades, the biggest lesson isn't to be the best fighter pilot in the world but to complete the impossible mission of letting go of what holds one down. This past Summer, Top Gun: Maverick finally took off into theaters, becoming a roaring success, but its theme of letting is a challenging lesson that can finally give wings to those afraid to fly.
For those that care about the movie and haven't seen it yet, yes, Top Gun: Maverick is the real deal and easily places itself as not only one of the very best movies of 2022 but perhaps one of the best sequels ever made, right up there with the likes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by Tron Legacy and Gears of War commercial director Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick is a movie that takes the familiar and greatly builds upon it, with a heartfelt story, well-written characters, and some of the best cinematography ever put to screen, with the greatest practical effects ever achieved. Audiences will cheer and feel their heart race with every roar of the F/A-18 fighter jet and feel every G-force as an elite team attempts to pull off an impossible mission. It has laughs, it has thrills, it has tragedy, but between the aeronautical combat moments and Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand," your heart will cheer.
Between the dogfights and high-speed training, there is also a very vulnerable story to tell of Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a tale of tragedy and heartbreak that turns into a tale of renewal. This turns Top Gun: Maverick from a strong sequel to an excellent one, deconstructing the character with a story we can all connect and relate to, as one doesn't have to be a top-tier fighter pilot to understand tragedy and the difficulty of letting of from something so immeasurably sad. However, it's one of the most important lessons that can be learned from the stories of our own lives.
In the first Top Gun of 1986, Maverick is a hotshot combat pilot who has his mind on being the best fighter pilot in the Navy while wooing a certain intelligence agent. With his REO Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, the two participate in Top Gun, the nickname for the Navy Fighter Weapons School. The duo fly with the best pilots in the Navy to earn the coveted Top Gun trophy. During training, a tragic accident occurs when Maverick and Goose's F-14 loses thrust in both engines and enables an unrecoverable flat spin. In a bid to save their lives, they eject and escape the doomed plane. Tragically, Goose crashes into the canopy during the ejection process, killing him instantly. Maverick would be cleared of any wrongdoing, eventually muster up, and rise from the tragedy, finishing the competition in second place before later deploying and successfully winning an air-to-air engagement with an enemy force. In the context of Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick, he has since become a legend. He has been flying for thirty years as both a combat aviator and test pilot, participating in various military operations from Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom. Still, the tragedy haunts him, and the impact it had on Goose's wife and kid would only add to that emotional stress. This is seen at the beginning of the movie, as Maverick pushes the envelope of the experimental Darkstar plane and whispers those words, "Talk to me, Goose."
Top Gun: Maverick is a movie about letting go, and letting go has to be one of the hardest things life has to offer. We have all experienced something incredibly awful and something that we wish to forget. Sometimes, it's something that is never asked for and just happens. A car accident, a storm, losing a job, but there are moments in our lives where something occurs, and we can't help but think in the back of our minds that it is us that caused the bad thing. A friendship that comes to an unexpected and terrible end. The end of a long-term relationship. Being let go from a job after pouring your very best into it. A creative synergy suffering a falling out to which there is no return. Military, civilian, this is a very human thing that anyone and everyone can and will experience. Worst still, every thought of that feeling feels like a venom that toxifies the mind, body, and spirit, no matter how determined one is willing to move on from.
Top Gun: Maverick simplifies the complexity of this feeling into a very simple premise: Maverick needs to let these feelings go if he is to successfully train this elite attack force for the impossible mission of stopping a hostile nuclear-powered enemy. Among the strike group is Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, the son of Goose, who holds strong resentment for Maverick. The training is proving immeasurably difficult, not just for the skill required for the mission but the emotional stakes that have been presented. With emotions running high and the strike group on the edge of falling apart, Maverick is at a crossroads as to what to do until a chance meeting with Tom "Iceman" Kazansky brings clarity. Iceman is once again portrayed by Val Kilmer, as he did in the original movie, but sadly, the actor was struck by throat cancer in 2017, and while in remission, it cost the actor the use of his voice. Writing the real-life condition into the story, Iceman is dying of cancer after having a storied career in the Navy as the Commander of the Pacific Fleet. With their last meeting, Iceman imparts these words of wisdom "It's time to let go." But even Maverick says, "I want to, but I don't know how."
As hard as letting go is, there is a brightness in the darkness. One can feel a willingness to let go. The pain, sadness, frustration, all of it feels like something that needs to be removed, but for most, if not all of us, we simply don't know how. That answer is complex and exclusive to each person, but ultimately, it's something we must figure out for ourselves. However, as seen in the movie, sometimes, it takes a good friend to help show the way. Maverick confesses his demons and struggles, and Iceman, once a rival, instills in Maverick that "Rooster needs Maverick. The Navy needs Maverick." In the context of the movie, Maverick needs to prove that the mission, while remarkably challenging, can be done and that the past no longer holds a grip on the present and the mission that is to come. It's a surprisingly vulnerable moment in a movie that looked to be another by-the-numbers sequel, and it accomplishes this profoundly, perhaps being the story we need in the current climate.
We've all made our mistakes, and we feel the results of those mistakes like a poison that makes us feel ill. We want it to go away, but we can't find out how. As a civilian, I've made mistakes too, more times than I can count, and sometimes, I often find myself asking if it was my fault and is there anything I could have done different? This compounds further doubts at times, that maybe, no matter what I do and what I did I'll always be rendered the problem or rendered not good enough for anything. I've had missed opportunities, broken dreams, denied applications, and even had a geek culture website kick me out for not having correct opinions. Sometimes, I feel like it is me that can't seem to right the ship and fly right. But, perhaps, as Top Gun: Maverick has put it, you have to learn to let go. Otherwise, you can't do what you need to do, and others may be let down as well.
It's the hardest thing. There is no game plan. No solution that can be googled or a roadmap to letting go. It's something you have to know that you want to do, then find a means to do it. Letting go is necessary for growth and "leveling up" in life, but like a boss fight, or a mission involving F/A-18 flying through canyons at blackout speeds, you have to learn, unlearn, then approach that challenge with everything you got. Only then can you fly at Mach 2 with your hair on fire and accomplish any great challenge that comes across.
I can't say for certain what it will take for those reading this article that what why need to do to let go. Some mistakes and tragedies carry wounds that will be carried for a lifetime. In this day and age, it seems like every stop is trying to prevent you from letting go. Like Maverick, though, it can be done. You can shed the chains of the pain that stayed with you. You just have to be willing to take off and fly harder than you ever thought possible.
Top Gun: Maverick is now available digitally and on Blu-Ray.