Highway to the Danger Zone

Good morning, Aviators! This is your captain speaking …

On Monday evening, I was in the cinema again to watch “Top Gun: Maverick” for the third (and probably last) time, at least on the big screen. It’s been a whole ass time since a film got me that way. The last one? “The Dark Knight”.

A friend of mine and I were watching “Top Gun: Maverick” in the preview already at the end of May and we had a real blast doing so. The audience that evening was top notch as well, which only added to the experience. By then, I already knew that I had to watch it again. HAD. TO. No ifs or buts. It was a must. A couple of days later I indeed found myself sitting in the cinema again, ready to be re-united with Maverick, Rooster, H_ngm_n, Phoenix, Coyote et al. And just like the first time, I left with a grin in my face.

It is therefore no surprise at all – even more so if you know me – that the whole thing …escalated a wee bit. As in, I got myself some TOP GUN merch, a book about the F-14 Tomcat (to this day, still my fav fighter plane, even though she’s been retired by now), a little F-14 model plane …the whole nine fucking yards. Yeah, well, can’t help it – I have been into aviation from early childhood on.

And just as I type this, I am of course listening to the “Top Gun” OST, which will be followed by the “Top Gun: Maverick” one. As you do. Good ole 80s music … but you know my “obsession” with the 80s.

So yeah. I spent a whole lot of time reading about “Top Gun: Maverick”, and while I was doing so, I came across an instagram post by British author Matt Haig who basically NAILED. IT., and I was like, “Yes! THIS!” He, too, left the cinema with a grin on his face, and wrote that the original “Top Gun” from 1986 was one of his old loves. And while the first film is about loss, grief and friendship – I mean, we all feel Maverick when Goose, his ever so faithful friend and RIO, dies in a tragic accident. Maverick blames himself for it, something inside him breaks, and he even quits Top Gun, handing the No 1 spot to rival Iceman.

The new one is about forgiving, overcoming and …healing. During the film, you accompany Maverick on his journey when confronted with a ghost from the past, as he meets Rooster who is Goose’s son, and his conscience torments him again. Goose’s widow had specifically asked to pull Rooster’s papers to the Naval Academy, which Rooster of course blames Maverick for. H_ngm_n, who reminds me a lot of Iceman, eventually finds out about what ties the two men. H_ngm_n thus also feels – not just because of his skills as a pilot – to be superior to Rooster and is sure to be called up as Maverick’s wingman in the operation the pilots are being trained for. (At this point, can I just say that I LOOOOOOOVE Phoenix? She’s tough as nails and an absolute badass!)

It is also about a second chance. For Maverick to prove that he cannot just fly test planes, but also that he is the only one who is capable of training the young pilots for the mission. Which is also what Iceman tells him:
The Navy needs Maverick. The kid needs Maverick. That’s why I fought for you. That’s why you’re still here.” (source) And trust me – those scenes with Iceman … I had a lump in my throat, given that Val Kilmer actually did lose his voice to his cancer which is beautifully integrated in the film.

For him and Penny, an old love interest of his, whom we very shortly already met in the first film (I leave it up to you which scene I mean).

And of course for his relationship with Rooster. Can and will Rooster forgive Maverick for what he’s done in the past? Or will the two men forever be estranged, even though Maverick took care of Rooster after his Dad died? And although Rooster tells Maverick that his Dad believed in him and he wasn’t going to make the same mistake, the answer is – Maverick trusts him enough to make him his wingman in the suicide mission that awaits them. (Much to H_ngm_n’s annoyance that he’s only the second fiddle.)

I also mentioned the healing aspect. This also goes hand in hand with the overcoming, and second chance. Maverick is finally able to make peace with his past. Just as Iceman also types on his computer: “It’s time to let go.”
He eventually trusts Rooster for the mission although he had his doubts. Even when he himself is dismissed from his job as their teacher, he proves that he still has it in him. The fire is being fueled again, he shows the Navy what he’s really made of and brings all of his pilots home safely. In the end, Rooster even saves his life: “It’s what my Dad would’ve done!”

That was the – for me – decisive moment: not just that Rooster was chosen to be Maverick’s wingman, but also that he came to the rescue when Maverick was shot down in the dog fight. That was the moment when you could feel (well, at least I did so) that Maverick and Rooster both had healed. Healed from the guilt about the tragic accident that caused Goose’s death and, in the long run, pulling Rooster’s papers. Healed from the hurt Rooster felt for all those years about what Maverick had done to him. In the final scenes you can see them both working on Maverick’s Mustang plane. They are a team again. Friends. Father and son, almost. Mentor and scholar.

After watching it for the second time, I knew I was going to see it a third time as well. Just to have a good time and be in my Happy!Place again. And just like the first two viewings, I still had the absolute fucking chills as soon as the opening chords of Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun Anthem” came on. I was totally immersed once again, although I of course knew what was going to happen. I could simply leave everything behind for the duration of the film. And yes, while it IS about military, it gave me some comfort. Sounds probably totally paradoxal, I know, but at the end of the day, what matters is that I enjoyed myself. I chuckled, laughed, almost cried – the whole nine fucking yards.

As Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates says: “Captain Mitchell. You’re where you belong. Make us proud.

You’re where you belong.

I felt that. I belong to the film. Not in the way of being a part of it on screen, but because of how “Top Gun: Maverick” made me feel. At this point, I would like to thank TPTB, aka everyone who was involved in making the film a reality. THANK YOU for giving me something to hold on to, to find joy in, to make me happy. It sure made 2022 a lot better.

…That fear that’s inside you will lift, give it time…

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