Top Gun Maverick: The Movie of the Summer?


Samantha Grabb, Editor

As fun as it was, summer is now officially over. We are venturing into October, the start of Autumn, and experiencing the resurgence of pumpkin spice lattes and horror movies. It’s college application season, and I have one university in mind: Fighter Weapons School. Or, as the flyers call it: Top Gun (Maverick).

Making 1.454 billion USD at the box office, Top Gun: Maverick is a certified mega-hit. After its initial release on May 27th, it became the highest grossing movie of 2022, and the fifth highest of all time. It was, without a doubt, the movie of the summer. But the question remains: Why was it so popular?

A few weeks ago, I decided to finally go to the theater, get myself a big bucket of popcorn, and see what all the fuss was about. And what I saw surprised me. 

On my way in, I was informed by the man selling me the tickets that Top Gun: Maverick was “one of the best movies out right now.” This set a high bar, as I figured this was a man who knew his movies. He was also very tall, which only added to his authority.

The movie opens with Tom Cruise flying a plane. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m far from an expert at the technological aspects. But he was going very fast. 

We learn as the film goes on that Cruise’s character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, is making a vain attempt to save the jobs of many working on new flight technology. He takes a plane up into the air to show the capabilities of the tech, as well as demonstrate to the audience once more his “need for speed.” This scene has the added purpose of making sure we are aware that he is a very macho cool guy who has no fear or weakness. His little stunt lands him in hot water, and he is sent back to where it all began: Top Gun.

Here, he is forced to confront the ghosts of his past: The son of a copilot who died on his watch, an old flame, and the traumatic memory of his horrendous rendition of “Great Balls Of Fire.”

Now, I won’t deny that this film was entertaining. The swelling of the soundtrack as Maverick soars through the sky never fails to evoke wonder, and the film at times manages to strike a comedic tone. Yet as I sat in the chilly theater, I couldn’t help but notice the myriad issues with it.

For one, the female characters were almost nonexistent. This movie didn’t just not pass the Bechdel test, it flunked it. There were only two somewhat central female characters compared to a rousing seven male ones. One was Tom Cruise’s love interest, played by Jennifer Conelly, whose only traits were wearing Gap outfits and running a bar, while the other was the only visible female fighter pilot, who didn’t have any personality at all. Played by Monica Barbaro, who did her best with the very, very little she was given, she just mostly stood there, half-smirking, as the male characters around her got all the character development. It was insulting, and strangely unaddressed.

I won’t be discussing the outlandish plot of the film, solely because I believe that movies are about escapism. Is it unlikely that Tom Cruise and Miles Teller could run their way through an enemy base and then steal a plane? Sure, but it was fun to watch, and that’s really all that matters.

The other major dilemma of the film was that it was half an hour longer than necessary. And all the filler material, the clips that could have been cut, were all Tom Cruise wish fulfillment. The opening scene, which was incredibly long, had no other purpose than to show the audience how cool Maverick is. All the flying scenes, which admittedly, were brilliantly done, were excessive, and the movie was self-indulgent with its references to the original. Its runtime could have easily been 30 minutes shorter, and the movie as a result could have been much more engaging.

All of these thoughts swirled around my mind as I walked out of the theater. I couldn’t understand what it was that made this movie special, what distinguished it from every other 2022 release. 

I still don’t understand the appeal. Perhaps Cruise stumbled upon a fortuitous combination of nostalgia and perfect timing and just completely lucked out. 

Whatever it was, whatever force catapulted Top Gun: Maverick to extreme popularity, the fact remains: If you can get over some light (heavy) misogyny and some minor (major) pacing issues, it’s worth a watch, even if just to experience the cultural phenomenon.

Top Gun: Maverick Passes Black Panther as Fifth-Highest Grossing Movie – Variety

Cover photo credit: IMDb