February 05, 2023

The Top Gun: Maverick Review

In honor of our recent discussion of the Hornet family, it seems worth discussing the type's recent outing on the big screen, which I watched on a recent flight. I found Top Gun: Maverick to be a confusing movie. On one hand, it's very much more of the same Top Gun formula. There's a fairly absurd story and lots of pretty aerial scenes. In a lot of ways, Maverick could almost be a remake of the first, with some updates for modern sensibilities, but with a plot involving the son of Goose (the RIO from the first movie) and the addition of the Death Star run to the film's climax.

But the weird thing is that while I loathed the original Top Gun, I didn't actually hate this one. Yes, it's extremely silly, but it seems to have passed through what I will refer to as the Battleship Transition. Instead of my brain insisting on taking it seriously and thus tearing things apart, I can basically sit back and enjoy it. At best guess, this is because the plot is clearly more ridiculous from the beginning. We see the movie open with Maverick as a test pilot at Edwards (he is not the type of person who ends up as a test pilot), working on a new hypersonic plane. As befits his callsign, he takes it out just before the local Admiral can shut the program down and takes it to Mach 10.4, which results in the plane blowing up, and Maverick walking into a bar. John Schilling's theory is that he actually died at this point and the rest of the movie is the way his life played out afterwards. It makes as much sense as anything else to explain what happens in the rest of the movie.

After he gets back, he's sent to Top Gun at NAS North Island1 to train a group of Lieutenants (no idea why there's nobody of higher rank) for a mission to strike a nuclear enrichment facility in an unnamed country that is clearly Iran, given the fact that they have a few F-14s. The approach is heavily defended by SAMs, and GPS jamming means that the F-35 is useless for reasons that are not entirely clear, so Super Bugs have to fly down the Death Star trencha winding canyon with a giant crater at the end and drop a proton torpedolaser-guided bomb down the thermal exhaust port.2 Oh, and they're on a tight time limit because fifth-generation fighters (Su-57s) are nearby, and they can't afford to fight them. Why the F-35s they have (some are shown during the carrier ops footage at the start of the movie) can't help is never really made clear. Maverick is tapped to train the pilots, who include Rooster, Goose's son. There's a lot of tension there, because Maverick at one point pulled Rooster's application to Canoe U, which somehow set his career back years. No, I don't understand it either, except that maybe ROTC isn't a thing in this universe.

After Iceman (who was commanding PacFlt) dies, other Admirals with a more realistic view of him try to pull Maverick from the mission, but he steals a jet and does the simulated mission successfully, proving it's possible and forcing them to let him fly lead. He picks Rooster to lead the second element, each of which is accompanied by an F/A-18F with a targeting pod. They manage to fly the trench and destroy the target, aided by a Tomahawk strike from USS Leyte Gulf on the nearby airfield to take out most of the Su-57s.3 But leaving the crater forces them into the envelope of the SAMs, which turn out to be SA-2s with unusually fast response times and IR guidance, at least judging by the fact that they're using flares to try and draw them off. Also, apparently someone forgot to put fragments in the warheads, given how close a lot of them detonate to the planes that survive. Eventually, Maverick is shot down while drawing off a missile meant for Rooster, then is saved from a Hind by Rooster, who in turn is shot down by a SAM. They decide that the best way to deal with this isn't to wait for the CSAR helo. Instead, it's steal an F-14 from the airfield that got attacked, a plan that somehow works instead of failing spectacularly. They then dogfight with two Su-57s that were airborne when the strike hit, shooting down both, before another pilot saves them from a third and they trap in the barrier to much celebration.

Almost every element of this is absurd, and there's a couple things in the movie that bother me a bit, but the overall absurdity makes it a lot less irritating. I avoided seeing this movie in theaters because I didn't want to risk giving money to the makers if it was like the first one, but I almost regret not seeing it on the big screen for the aerial scenes alone.

1 Note that this is distinct from the real TOPGUN (one word, all caps, don't ask), which relocated to NAS Fallon in Nevada when NAS Miramar was handed over to the Marines in the 90s.

2 To be clear, I am not kidding about dropping a bomb down the exhaust vent.

3 I have mixed feelings on the strike. On one hand, it's nice that they actually acknowledged that the Navy has other assets and even used one in a way that mostly made sense. On the other, pretty much every aspect of how the Tomahawks looked was wrong. On the gripping hand, this was to set up something later, so I don't give too much credit.


  1. February 05, 2023Anonymous said...


    Goose (the wingman from the first movie)


  2. February 05, 2023cwillu said...

    Should have struck out “thermal exhaust port”, followed by the correction of repeating “thermal exhaust port” :D

  3. February 05, 2023bean said...


    Oops. Fixed.


    That would have been better, yes.

  4. February 05, 2023Bernd said...

    Do they still make horrible cuts to in-flight movies? Or is that not a thing now that it's not on a central projector?

  5. February 05, 2023cassander said...

    the F-35s were useless because they couldn't target laser guided bombs. Which was true when the script was written. why they couldn't have escorting fighters is less clear.

  6. February 06, 2023Emilio said...

    @Bean "But leaving the crater forces them into the envelope of the SAMs, which turn out to be SA-2s with unusually fast response times and IR guidance,"

    They looked MORE like SA-11 to me...

    Not perfectly, eh...

  7. February 06, 2023bean said...


    I think that's mostly gone now that they stream to either seatback screens or your phone.


    It was a pretty small screen, and I am not an expert in Soviet SAM recognition. You could be right.

  8. February 06, 2023Mike Kozlowski said...

    "Yes, it’s extremely silly, but it seems to have passed through what I will refer to as the Battleship Transition. Instead of my brain insisting on taking it seriously and thus tearing things apart, I can basically sit back and enjoy it. "

    ...The judges would also have accepted, "If you're wondering how they eat and breathe, and other science facts, just repeat to yourself "It's just a show - I should really just relax." ;)


  9. February 07, 2023Jack said...

    @cassander They still could have used JDAMs. Unless exhaust ports migrate like coconuts. ;p

  10. February 07, 2023bean said...

    GPS jamming was explicitly called out in the movie. "And F-35s can't target LGBs" was the part they didn't say and I didn't know offhand.

  11. February 08, 2023cwillu said...

    https://man.fas.org/dod-101/sys/smart/jdam.htm suggests that JDAMs can operate without a GPS fix, with a higher CEP. Which is probably sufficient in-universe explanation for this nit to fail picking, but one must at least try to pick nits to determine if they can be picked.

    “Once released, the bomb's INS/GPS will take over and guide the bomb to its target regardless of weather. Guidance is accomplished via the tight coupling of an accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) with a 3-axis Inertial Navigation System (INS). The Guidance Control Unit (GCU) provides accurate guidance in both GPS-aided INS modes of operation (13 meter (m) Circular Error Probable (CEP)) and INS-only modes of operation (30 m CEP). INS only is defined as GPS quality hand-off from the aircraft with GPS unavailable to the weapon (e.g. GPS jammed). In the event JDAM is unable to receive GPS signals after launch for any reason, jamming or otherwise, the INS will provide rate and acceleration measurements which the weapon software will develop into a navigation solution. The Guidance Control Unit provides accurate guidance in both GPS-aided INS modes of operation and INS-only modes of operation. This inherent JDAM capability will counter the threat from near-term technological advances in GPS jamming.”

  12. February 08, 2023bean said...


    The problem is that the INS mode is considerably less accurate than the GPS-enabled mode. The thermal exhaust port was small enough that I'd expect even normal GPS-guided JDAM is going to be a bit marginal (the obvious answer there being to drop a bunch). While I don't have exact details on JDAM guidance with INS, but WCMD (which I believe is basically the same INS system, but without GPS) is rated at around 20 m accuracy. Which is enough for a lot of soft targets, but not enough for hard targets.

  13. February 08, 2023Matt b said...

    I enjoyed the sequel (and like you did not really like the first one, for many reasons you had mentioned in your ~review~ rant.

    Yes there are some thing that don't make sense, but it was at least enjoyable despite that, and I was able to suspend enough disbelief to do so.

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