In yet another sequel to a film of old, “Top Gun: Maverick” is a much anticipated return to the movie world of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, some 33 years after the original film took place.
The very premise of the movie alone forces us to suspend at least some disbelief, as the first trailer pointed out that somehow, more than three decades after the events of the first film, Maverick has managed to stay in the Navy and avoid any sizeable career progression.
I’ll level with you: there’s no truly realistic way to frame the idea of a fighter jock staying at the stick for close to 40 years, unless we’re talking about getting flight hours in for a command level position. In fact, with ol’ Maverick’s history of flying different platforms and mounting successful air combat operations from aboard a carrier, there’s a solid chance that the Navy would have groomed him into a Strike Group commander at this point, hoping to leverage his combat experience in preparation for the possibility of the next great near-peer conflict.
But instead he’s relegated to flight duty — which isn’t a role one lands in as a shitbird (or crappy service member). America takes its fighter ops, fighter jets and the safety of its carrier personnel pretty seriously. That means Maverick must still be demonstrating a high degree of proficiency and professional conduct, while not doing either well enough to get tossed a promotion-bone even a few decades late.
Movie logic tends to find ways to dismiss the logical career progression of a Navy man. For example, James Kirk, of Star Trek fame, first had to find new and creative ways to get around his new rank of Admiral in order to get back into the fight. The franchise eventually just settled on pretending no one in the original cast ever saw any real appreciable changes in rank — despite saving the Federation (and the galaxy) on more than one occasion.
Maverick’s career progression seems to mirror Kirk’s in a way: coupling a general disregard for regulation and decorum with a seemingly superhuman ability to complete a mission that leaves fist-shaking commanders with no other recourse but to keep each protagonist in the cockpits of their respective hot rods. Does the logic hold water out here in the real world? Not really — but in Hollywood, it plays. In fact, I’d be willing to accept the idea that “Top Gun” exists in the same universe as those original Star Trek movies, and it was precedents set during the Cold War (and forthcoming World War) that helped to inform a culture that prized Kirk’s brand of “cowboy diplomacy” centuries later.
Whether it’s the same universe or not, it’s safe to say that the way Navy careers progress in these movies isn’t quite like the real world. If we’re willing to accept that conceit, then we just need to look for reasons that Maverick would be passed over for promotion, as boards convened each year since Ronald Reagan was in office. And to be honest… it’s not hard to find some.
“Top Gun” was a pulse-pounding exploration into the world of fighter-jockery, but it’s long been my belief that Iceman, not Maverick, was the hero of the movie. Like most antagonists in 1980s movies, Iceman was vilified for being cocky… but also for being good at his job. Unlike Maverick, who shouldn’t have been allowed to fly while he was suffering from debilitating anxiety attacks, Iceman demonstrates not only a high level of proficiency at the stick, but continuous concern for regulations and the safety of his fellow pilots.
Even in Maverick’s hero moment, as he closed with a real dog fight that could have resulted in the deaths of his friends, he froze up. Yes, once he got his shit together he put on one hell of a dog fighting clinic… only to once again demonstrate a distinct disregard of regulations with his victory fly-by of the carrier’s tower at the end.
Does it make sense to celebrate firing the first shots of a Cold War turned hot? Is this the beginning of World War III? None of these questions got answers before Maverick strutted off into the sunset like a hero that ended a war, rather than one of the poor fools that were there to see the next big one start. I get that in the “Top Gun” universe that incident didn’t seem to precipitate World War III. But at that moment — just after the fighting ended — there would be no way to know that quite yet. It makes those dramatic high-fiving shots at the end of the first “Top Gun” feel weird when you imagine the possibility that nuclear ICBMs are being prepared for launch as the characters celebrate.
All this is to say that, sure, Maverick’s flying abilities might be second to none (as the newest trailer seems to suggest). Yet, his blatant disregard for regulation, his issues with mental health and his apparent disregard for the safety of his fellow pilots would have all gotten him sent home here in the real world. But in the barely-sane Star Trek universe… sure, maybe he’s just setting a Kirk-like precedent.
In any case, the new trailer looks pretty rad to me.