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Top Gun: Maverick - Plot, References, Observations

Stats and Start

Top Gun Maverick is the sequel to the 1986 hit Top Gun. It opened on Memorial Day Weekend, 2022.[i] It made over $126 million on that weekend in the U.S. and Canada. As of July 17, 2022 the film’s worldwide gross is over $1.2 billion, the highest 2022 box office total.[ii] The film had a $170 million budget. Top Gun cost $15 million to make and its worldwide gross was less than $400 million.[iii]

Top Gun Maverick requires a lot of suspension of reality. The many Top Gun references enhance the viewing experience, but seeing the original isn’t necessary to enjoy watching Top Gun: Maverick. Before the movie begins there’s a video where Top Cruise welcomes the audience. His enthusiasm shows he enjoyed making the movie.


[i] Memorial Day is the last Monday in May. That weekend is the unofficial opening of the summer, and box office summer, season.

[ii] Box Office Mojo, 2022 Worldwide Box Office - Box Office Mojo, last accessed 7/17/22.

[iii] International Movie Database, Top Gun: Maverick (2022) - IMDb, last accessed 7/10/22.

The Plot

The movie begins with almost the same opening scroll as Top Gun. The word “insure” is replaced with the grammatically correct “ensure”. The words “and women” was added because the U.S. Navy now has women fighter pilots.

The story begins with Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) getting ready to test a hypersonic aircraft. He learns Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) is going to close down the program because the aircraft didn’t yet meet a milestone. Maverick takes off in the aircraft to meet that milestone.[i]

Maverick is transferred to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center aka TOPGUN.[ii] The Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Tom “Ice” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), ordered the transfer.[iii] The U.S. Navy has been tasked to take out a difficult, and heavily defended, target in three weeks. Maverick is to train recent #1 TOPGUN graduates for the mission.

The mission candidates, half will be chosen for the mission, include Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Rooster’s father, Goose, was Maverick’s Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Goose died in an air crash when Rooster was about four. Maverick stopped Rooster’s appointment to the Naval Academy. Rooster is too cautious.

Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) is sure of himself and knows how to antagonize Rooster. Hangman has an air victory to his credit. Others point out it was a Soviet Union era aircraft.[iv] Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman), a Weapon Systems Officer (WSO), wears glasses. His looks and behavior make it appear he’s a cross between “Washout” and “Dead Meat” from the comedy Hot Shots. The women candidates are Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro) and Lt. Callie “Halo” Bassett (Kara Wang).[v]

There is a military funeral with the always moving Missing Man flyover. The star performers are the F/A-18s, with supporting roles by an F-14 Tomcat and a P-51 Mustang. Tom Cruise owns the P-51 and flies it in one of the scenes.[vi] The battle scenario includes a simultaneous attack by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Maverick’s love interest is Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). She has been Maverick’s on again, off again, love interest since before he entered TOPGUN as a Lieutenant. She has a teenage daughter, Amelia (Lyliana Wray), from a failed marriage.[vii] There is a PG love scene that ends with a humorous twist.


[i] The aftermath is reminiscent of a scene from Kill Bill: Volume 2.

[ii] The Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center is at Naval Air Station (NAS)Fallon, Nevada. The movie has the location as NAS north Island, California. The film has one scene by and another on the Pacific Ocean.

[iii] Kazansky had the call sign “Iceman” in Top Gun but is referred to as “Ice” in Top Gun: Maverick. Val Kilmer is identified as “Ice” in the Top Gun movie credits.

[iv] On June 18, 2017 Lt. Commander Michael “Mob” Tremel, an F/A-18 pilot, shot down a Syrian Su-22.

[v] A curiosity is Kara Thrace (Starbuck) is the top pilot in the Science Fiction series Battlestar Galactica.

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[vi] A second seat is among his P-51K’s modifications.

[vii] Penny’s behavior gives a strong indication she was married to Amelia’s father, but it’s not conclusive.

Top Gun References – Top Gun Spoilers

In both movies Maverick does something that is right but annoys his superior. After reprimanding Maverick, the superior tells Maverick he’s going to TOPGUN. Maverick meets his love interest at the bar. In Top Gun this was the first time he saw the woman, Charlie (Kelly McGillis). In Maverick, he has known Penny for decades. Penny is only mentioned. She was as an admiral’s daughter who Maverick buzzed.[i]

Lieutenant Tom Kazansky, was the pilot to beat in TOPGUN. He got the callsign “Iceman” because he didn’t make mistakes. In a dogfight this would frustrate his opponents and they would make a mistake and Iceman would win. In Maverick, Hangman and Rooster are in competition. Hangman, like Maverick, is willing to take a chance. Rooster, is careful not to make a mistake.

Rooster was Goose’s (Anthony Edwards) unnamed son in Top Gun (Aaron & Adam Weis). Maverick and Goose’s F-14 went into an uncontrollable flat spin. Goose was killed when he hit the canopy on ejection.

Both movies have aircrew in a sports event where Maverick drops out of the game. In Top Gun it’s to visit his girlfriend. In Maverick its apparently because of age. The love scene is a lot steamier than Maverick. It seems to push the limits of a PG rating.

After Top Gun’s climax Iceman acknowledged his respect for Maverick. Top Gun ends with Maverick meeting Charlie again, with the indication it would be a lasting love. It seems ironic their love song is, “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.


[i] He flew low over the family’s house.

Observations and Comments

Top Gun came out when the United States was getting over the “Vietnam Syndrome”. The U.S. military had clear technological advantages over its potential enemies. The F-14 Tomcat was superior to Soviet built aircraft. Maverick had a briefing that pointed out the F/A-18 was no match for 5th generation fighters. The U.S. Navy has lost the hard-earned technological edge.[i]

Having a sexagenarian combat pilot and a captain being on active duty in the U.S. Navy for over 40 years seems incredible. There are exceptions. In the mid-80s there was at least one officer, not an admiral, who put in over 40 years with the U.S. Navy. Major General Kanamat Botashev, a 63-year-old retired Russian pilot, flew combat missions in Ukraine in 2022. A Stinger missile shot his Su-25 Rook down and killed him.[ii]

Wo-1 Bernie ‘Hondo’ Coleman (Bashir Salahuddin) appears outside of weight standards. Having military characters appearing overweight or hair out of regulations tend to annoy military members. In reality military members don’t always adhere to hair and appearance standards. The U.S. Navy earned a reputation for having people who were far beyond what other services believed was presenting a military appearance. Other services also have overweight people in their ranks. There is a difference between how military people appear and how they are supposed to appear.

Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd wearing glasses and having a neutral call sign was an excellent choice. Not all fighter aircrews look like something out of Hollywood central casting and have cool sounding call signs. Some WSOs and even pilots wear glasses. A Captain Pete Mitchell would more likely have “Mitch”, “Piper” or “Pan” as a call sign than “Maverick”.

“Thirty-plus years of service. Combat medals. Citations. Only man to shoot down three enemy planes in the last 40 years. Yet you can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts, you refuse to die. You should be at least a two-star Admiral by now, yet here you are. Captain. Why is that?” – Rear Admiral Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson

Maverick’s response, “It’s one of life’s mysteries, sir”, is an example of an intelligent answer to a stupid question. Many people had more impressive records than Maverick, stayed in the military for many years, and didn’t achieve the high ranks one might expect. The top scoring American ace of the Vietnam War, then Captain Jeffrey S. Feinstein, entered the service in 1963 and retired in 1996.[iii] He also served as an Airborne Command Element Director on an E-3 Sentry in Operation Desert Storm. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.

“Only man to shoot down three enemy planes in the last 40 years” is an example of an accurate statement that’s factually wrong. Cyclone was admonishing Maverick, not giving him a history lesson. It’s reasonable for him to make that statement instead of, “Only U.S. Navy pilot in the last 40 years, still on active duty, to down three enemy planes.” “Merlin” (Tim Robbins), who was Maverick’s Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), would also have been credited with three kills. The franchise seems to ignore “back seaters’” kill tally. In the real world, no U.S. Navy aircrew member has scored more than one air victory since Vietnam.


[i] As of July 6, 2022 the U.S. Navy had 566 F/A-18 Hornets and 26 F-35 Lightning IIs.

[ii] 63-Year-Old Retired Russian Fighter Pilot Shot-Down in Su-25 Over Ukraine by Howard Altman, May 24, 2022, 63-Year-Old Retired Russian Fighter Pilot Shot-Down In Su-25 Over Ukraine (msn.com), last accessed 7/16/22.

[iii] The Air Force credited Lt. Col. Feinstein with 6 kills. He was a Weapon Systems Officer.

Those with 3 or more air victories 1979-2019

-List not difinitive
-Ranks are at the time of the last victory or highest achieved rank

PilotAir VictoriesConflictService

Colonel Cesar Antonio Rodriguez

2xMiG-29, MiG23

Iraq '91, Kosovo

USAF

Major Bob Wright

3xJ-1 Jastrebs

Bosnia

USAF

1Lt. Robert William Hehemann

2xSu-25, PC-9

Iraq '91

USAF

Captain Thomas N. Dietz

2xMiG-21, Su-22

Iraq '91

USAF

Flt. Lt. David Henry S. Morgan

2xA-4, Puma

Falklands

FAA

Lt. Stephen R. T. Thomas

2xDaggers, Mirage

Falklands

FAA

Lt. Cdr. Nigel David Ward

Pucara, Dagger, C-130

Falklands

FAA

Brigadier General Amir Nahumi

7 from 1981-82, 14 total.

Lebanon

IDF

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Robert Sacchi

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