A Brief Review of the Main Theme Of "Top Gun: Maverick": Time
Author's Note: In this review, I use a lot of material from my last blog post of 2022, The End of Memory. Feel free to give that a read too! It's the best piece of personal writing I've put out in a while after reading it again in preparation for this post.
I recently re-watched Top Gun: Maverick (very rare for me) and decided to review the movie's main theme: time!
The Cruise-led movie revolves around this theme, and here are three scenes to me that truly capture its impact on the film.
Scene 1: Admiral Hammer vs. Captain Maverick
We first get introduced to the importance of time by the post-Darkstar flight interaction between Rear Admiral Chester 'Hammer' Cain (Ed Harris) and Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise).
I cannot understate how important this scene is in the movie. Watch it again and again if you have to to get the point it's trying to make. (Unfortunately, I can't find a transcript of their conversation, so you'll have to watch it in its entirety.)
Hammer reviews Maverick's distinguished service record yet openly wonders why the latter is still only a Captain. A fair question to pose! Maverick attempts to deflect with a joke, but Hammer presses the point further.
Maverick yields. "I'm where I belong, sir."
It was a sincere yet telling response. Maverick doesn't want to move on. That line cuts so deep on so many levels and in so many different directions that one can only think its writing and delivery were engineered with the same precision and expertise he relies on to fly the Darkstar.
Tom Cruise is a master actor. Give this man his flowers!
Back to the story itself, as the conversation doesn't end there. Hammer expresses his view of human pilots and their future obsolescence. The Navy won't need pilots anymore, with autonomous military aircraft and drones beginning to come into the picture.
Hammer drops this line on Maverick's head, "The future is coming. And you're not in it."
Powerful. Harrowing. Hammer speaks with an air of inevitability.
After sending Maverick off to return to Top Gun, he ends the conversation, stating, "The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is heading towards extinction."
Maverick wryly responds, "Maybe so, sir. But not today."
It was such an incredible scene. I loved it from start to finish. What irritated me about this movie, however, is that the subplot of automation introduced by Hammer is dropped for the rest of the movie. Top Gun: Maverick was great, but it could have been even greater if they explored this subplot to its conclusion by exploring the future of automation in combat operations and how Maverick reacts to that.
But I digress...moving on to the next scene!
Scene 2: Captain Mitchell Briefs The Top Gun Graduates On The Mission
If the movie's theme isn't obvious yet, Maverick even says it himself here as he briefs the twelve elite Top Gun pilots for the first time on the mission parameters: "Time is your greatest enemy."
The way Maverick breaks down this mission is so clear and straightforward and shows his strategic mindset. Operating deep within heavily-fortified enemy territory to reach a nearly impenetrable target requires stealth and finesse.
If you can't take your enemy head-on, what better way to strike at them than by hitting them first and before they can respond?
Leading Maverick to reiterate the same point: "This makes time your greatest adversary."
This scene is great because it makes the theme obvious to the core plot and the various subplots and interactions that Maverick has with other characters throughout the film.
Scene 3: Iceman Helps Maverick Move On By Letting Go
L.T. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) short but memorable interaction with Maverick was a standout moment in the movie for me. It's the most impactful because Iceman's words transform Maverick's relationship with time, and thus with Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, Goose's son.
Maverick cannot move on from Goose's death in the first movie, leaving him overprotective of Rooster to the point where it damages their relationship and the latter's career.
Iceman types on the computer: "It's time to let go." Maverick has to let go of his fear of Rooster dying and his regret that he couldn't do more to save Goose.
Maverick doesn't have a healthy relationship with his past, which clouds his judgment until Iceman gives him the wisdom to forgive himself and do what is necessary to help Rooster succeed.
It's a beautiful, touching sentiment between former rivals now turned friends. Beautiful.
Iceman's intervention saved Maverick and, ultimately, the mission itself.
They say revenge is best served cold; the truth is also. We could all use an Iceman in our lives.
10/10 scene. What more is there to say? Maverick can move on in life as a person because the weight of the past no longer holds him down. His future in all aspects becomes open and brighter because he took the time to let go.
I'm so glad I'm alive in an era where this movie was made. It's a near-perfect action thriller from start to finish. If anything, it perfectly reflects our times (read The End of Memory for a more detailed explanation of this point).
Top Gun: Maverick - 10/10. Will watch it again!