Aviation movie review: Top Gun: Maverick

**Zero spoilers ahead**

Tom Cruise famously called Top Gun: Maverick "a love letter to aviation." Two years ago when the release was scratched due to coronavirus restrictions, I sighed and said, "oh well it'll be out eventually."

That sigh turned out to be much more than a passing emotion.

The movie was awesome. Like really awesome. Anybody could go and enjoy the heck out of it, even fighter pilots.

The plot had its cheese, the tactics were questionable, and I found myself bored with some of the character development, but if you're going to see Top Gun for Academy Award-winning elements in any of those, you've stepped into the wrong theater.

A love letter to aviation is spot on for what this movie was. The actors and producers made a great deal of fuss about the training and realistic flying sequences and the impact on the actors' bodies. Aviation magazines have been covering the unique methods for filming the movie. And a couple of glory shots of Cruise's personal P-51 for the film don't hurt, either.

My sigh two years ago quickly became literal tears of joy during the flying scenes. Knowing what they went through to capture those shots and how long we all waited to see this thing, it was legitimately exciting to watch the real F-18s fly low-level or dogfighting. I got an extra grin knowing those are some real Navy bubbas conscripted into this work and they probably thought it was pretty cool, despite all of the cliches.

I was struck by Cruise's apparent excitement for the role. He's always flashing that movie star smile, but it felt like he cared about this movie considerably more than the Mission: Impossible series, for example. We are all well versed in his passion for aviation, and I think that part of his personal life really came through in the overall excitement for the movie, both for the actors and the viewers.

I am also struck by how mum everyone I know who has seen it has been about the movie. Probably no pilot is willing to sound uncool raving about a Hollywood film about flying, but there appears to be a real gentlemanly approach to this one, like nobody wants to give anything away to anyone else by talking about it. It's like everyone feels the same way I do and they want other pilots to be as wowed by it as they were.

Because we know those F-14 and Su57 scenes are CGI (only Iran has "flying" F-14s and the Su-57 is still so new, neither likely to be made available to an American filmmaker) takes exactly nothing away from the movie, and its homage to aviation. 

They talked breathlessly about the real Gs, real speed, etc., etc., but I noticed a different detail: the sweat. The actors seemed to be sweating in every scene, and I don't really think it was sprayed on makeup stuff. It's hot wearing all that crap--flight suit, LPUs, G-suit, and so on--and even air conditioning in the plane won't keep someone from dripping with sweat under all that G strain and muscling a fighter jet around. Heck, I sweat profusely on a cold day in my Citabria pulling 4 Gs.

It's that aspect of the movie that struck me as the real love letter to aviation: nobody who loves to fly cares a whit about the sweat, the smell of jet fuel or exhaust, the tedium of fueling, pulling it out of the hangar, tracking down a mechanic to work on stuff, or cutting those checks every month, if it just means that we can fly the thing just a few hours every month to soak in the enjoyment of whatever mission our particular airplane brings us. That's the true visceral experience that Top Gun: Maverick brings us. And like any good love letter, it brings out the accompanying emotions with it.


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