The Beautiful Nostalgia of “Top Gun: Maverick”
Legacy sequels are made with one goal in mind: make as much money as possible, banking on the nostalgia of the original IP. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in such movies. From Ghostbusters: Afterlife to Matrix: Resurrections, studios are discovering that a quick way to attempt to make bank is to cash in on property that has a “proven track record”. But, every now and again, in the slog of remakes, re-imaginings, and legacy sequels, we get a movie that not only serves that purpose, but manages to become its own thing. Top Gun: Maverick is one such movie.
We’ll start at the beginning. Top Gun: Maverick (which I will be referring to as Maverick from here on) is a really good movie. And that is a rare thing among legacy sequels. I can only think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I count it as a legacy sequel) as a movie that still works as a really good movie if the pre-existing IP didn’t exist. The characters feel like people. From Maverick to the trainees, even Cyclone, who exists as the story’s “antagonist”. They all feel real, and not like flat 2D caricatures. The tension between Mav and Rooster at no point feels forced and out of place and, because of that, the resolution of that tension has emotional weight. It means something. This movie is full of emotional moments that the characters earn during the run, as opposed to feeling like checkpoints that they “have to” hit. The little anecdotes sprayed throughout the movie help sell the idea that these characters, Maverick in particular, haven’t just been sitting frozen in carbonite for the last 36 years. They have lived. They have loved. And some of them have lost. This is perhaps the only legacy sequel in existence that is better than the original movie.
Second point, Maverick uses its nostalgia, and uses it well. One of the triumphs of Spider-Man: No Way Home was how Jon Watts and the writers used the 20 years of Spider-Man movie history to augment the story and add (for lack of a better word) spice to the movie. And Maverick has that in spades. From the somewhat obvious, like Goose’s son’s callsign being “Rooster”; to the more subtle, like the scene on the carrier at the end of the movie. Mav hugging Rooster being reminiscent of Mav hugging Iceman. All these things help add depth and feel to the movie. And even beyond that, the story itself benefits from the nostalgia and callbacks. Mav and Rooster flying in an F-14 at the end of their reconciliatory arc leans heavily on this. And then there’s the beach scene. We all know the one. It wouldn’t have been Top Gun without that scene and the filmmakers knew it. So, we get what on its face is a gratuitous scene where these beautiful people frolic on a sun-bathed beach. A scene that exists as a callback to that iconic volleyball scene in the original movie. But beyond the surface, that scene acts as a catalyst. That is the moment where the recruits stop seeing each other as competition and start making their way towards being an actual team. That is the scene where Mav begins to take some ownership of his role as a leader and educator. That scene, wrapped in bundles of nostalgia and freshened up with a banging OneRepublic song and crisp 1080p visuals, exists as one of the major emotional pillars that make this movie work.
Maverick is a legacy sequel, and as a legacy sequel it did the job it was supposed to, grossing over $1.4 billion globally according to Box Office Mojo. But it’s also much more than that. It is a brilliant, engrossing, and endearing movie that had no right to be as good as it was.