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Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Top Gun, roars into theaters Summer 2020

There are movies, and then there are movies that fundamentally change lives. There will always be movies that viewers will ever be fond of, and then there are movies that broke and shattered the expectations of a movie to become not only infinitely watchable but to raise the bar on how films are made. Most importantly, these films make a statement about the culture we live in and may enact positive, wholesome change. On May 12, 1986, Tony Scott, Dom Simpson, and Jerry Bruckheimer paired with actor Tom Cruise and a supportive ensemble to create the American action drama, Top Gun. Now, 33 years later, Tom Cruise dons his flight suit again as Lt Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Top Gun. The trailer was released at San Diego Comic-Con this past Friday, delighting and exciting con-goers as well as enthusiasts of the original.

Tom Cruise returns as Pete ” Maverick” Mitchell, a legendary instructor in the world of naval combat and military aviation. He is the only pilot known to have had three successful air-to-air kill in the last 40 years. He has been known to push his aircraft to every known limit possible. Contrary to what was said to him long ago, his ego, and ambition are writing checks that can be cashed. And so it was for the past 30 years that Maverick has been an instructor, teaching the lost and forgotten art of dogfighting. That is, until now, in a new digital age of unmanned warfare and unconventional operations. Drone, special operations, and unmanned vehicles are new and controversial progressions in warfare.  New battlefields and methods to combat lead to the construction of new and more advanced planes. These planes need to be helmed by the best and brightest that America has to offer, and this generation of pilots is much more vocal than the last generation of potential pilots. Maverick may have been a cocky pilot himself, but this is a new and dangerous battlefield, and if candidates don’t think they are the best, they will not survive. Now the responsibility of these pilots rests on his shoulders, and it will be up to him to prepare them for the battles of tomorrow.

While the synopsis is still unknown, USA Today’s Bryan Alexander reports that the film will be a “love letter to aviation.” As Maverick faces a new team to train, he faces the question on the necessity for pilots and the notion that pilots may be removed from warfare altogether to be replaced by drones and unmanned craft. Members of the original cast will return, including new actors and actresses into the ensemble cast. The trailer showcases a brief outline of what is to be expected. Hot-shot pilots, military intrigue, a pilot facing his destiny and inevitability, and face-melting camera work of military aircraft.

In fact, most of the aircraft footage seen in the trailer uses very minimal CGI, with much of it being shot in practical effects. The trailer showcases breathtaking shots of the F/A 18 Hornet, taking off from an aircraft carrier and a squad in formation just feet above the are extremely sharp canopy shots, where Maverick is donning the classic black helmet with red and white stripes, while successfully flying the Hornet. Chances are, these shots are CGI’d or spliced shots, but the other shots appear to be authentic and real, with the pilot operating their craft with unerring accuracy.  One nice tease at the end showcases the classic F-14 Tomcat, the staple aircraft of the original movie, now long -since retired from military service.

The return of Top Gun may appear as yet another tiresome sequel, as is the pattern of movies these days. However, Top Gun Maverick is a very different kind of sequel, and it bears with it the legacy and ambitions set by the original movie. The original Top Gun was innovative from a filmmaking standpoint but poignant, profound, and encouraging in its storytelling and message. From a filmmaking standpoint, Top Gun as real as it gets, sharply authentic in its shooting and depiction of air-to-air aerial combat. Working directly with the United States Navy, military advisors and consultants were brought on board to create a believable and engaging depiction of aviation maneuvers and combat dogfighting. Real pilots took to the pilot’s seats of the F-14 Tomcat, F 5 Tiger, and the A-4 Skyhawk, with crews working to mount cameras on the actual aircraft, as well as use additional aircraft to create this authenticity. Very little of the movie was CGI or green-screened, a testament to the power of imaginative and innovative filmmaking.

From a storytelling viewpoint, the movie struck the chords between fun, enjoyable, but also, heavily reflective. Between the shirtless volleyball shots, the classic one-liners, and one of the best soundtracks of the 1980’s, there was a story of young man whose ego and cockiness hide a painful absence within him. In the movie, Maverick’s father is revealed to have been a Navy fighter pilot, having heroically sacrificed himself in the skies above Vietnam. Maverick is discouraged about himself and his potential, chasing a ghost and feeling he can never fill the legacy of his dad, making him emotionally reckless. This is further compounded when he loses his wingman to a fighter training accident. Top Gun came at a time when Americans needed to believe in their armed forces again. The Vietnam War had left cultural scars on the nation, especially in regards to how veterans were treated upon their return to The States. Top Gun, along with other films at the time, such as Rambo, helped reinstill confidence in the military and the men and women who serve., as well as a newfound respect for veterans. Top Gun was about closure, moving to the future, and making peace with the past.

It is uncertain Top Gun: Maverick will strike the same exact story as the timeframe is significantly different, but it does pose itself to be a movie that gives us the thrills and excitement as its predecessor, while also provided an intelligent and heartfelt story. Having seen the trailer, I’m prepared to go mach three with my hair on fire. Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters June 2020

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