Top Gun: Maverick: 6 Big Ways Tom Cruise’s Sequel Improves The Original Film

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Warning: SPOILERS for Top Gun: Maverick are in the air. For those that haven’t seen the movie yet, feel free to land on another twist-free runway at CinemaBlend. 

Top Gun: Maverick had a hell of a task ahead of itself, even before it was confirmed to be happening. The mythic legend of director Tony Scott’s 1986 original made it so that any sort of sequel would be walking on thin ice if it wasn’t made with the right intentions. Through the people who worked on Tom Cruise’s long-awaited return to the Maverick character, the perfect sequel was realized in time to make the 2022 movie releases

What’s even more impressive is that Top Gun’s legacyquel actually improved the image of the original movie. To discuss why this is the case, we’ll need to both walk down memory land and discuss the here and now. If you’re still looking to remain spoiler-free, head to our official review of Top Gun: Maverick or some other piece of coverage that doesn’t dig into the twists involved. Otherwise, it’s time to fly right into the heart of what makes director Joseph Kosinski’s long awaited follow-up the perfect companion piece. 

Val Kilmer in Top Gun

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun: Maverick Gives New Meaning To The Original Film

On its own, Top Gun has built a legacy as a brotastic ‘80s movie with fighter pilots that aims to deliver a fun time with some moral lessons on the side. For decades since its release, you could find people quoting it readily, with Kenny Loggins’ theme song “Danger Zone” playing at the right times. If you look deeper into that original movie, you’ll find that there are themes that aren’t as spelled out as some would hope, which only got hazier because of the reputation Top Gun continued to earn over the years. 

Top Gun: Maverick not only returns Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) to the big screen, it give him a lot of baggage to deal with. Goose’s death is only part of the equation, as a lot of other elements of Tony Scott’s previous installment find new depth in the modern day. As a result, Paramount+ subscribers going back to watch Top Gun will find that its events have added weight.

Tom Cruise flying a jet in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Captain Pete Mitchell’s Past Is His Greatest Enemy

The wounds of the past have not healed by time we see Top Gun 2 reintroducing Maverick. Still at the rank of Captain and flying a supersonic fighter prototype that needs to hit Mach 10, Pete continues to talk to his former wingman in the sky whenever he needs help. Cocky as he may be, Captain Pete Mitchell’s greatest enemy is his past. 

Even his scuffles with Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) put his history on trial. Maverick’s defiance of authority still rings true in Top Gun: Maverick, but Captain Mitchell is more vulnerable than ever; even going as far as reminding Cyclone that he should be training his recruits to do one more thing: “to come home.” Everyone who knows Top Gun knows why that's incredibly important to the still brash Maverick, as it's a lesson he learned firsthand. 

Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards in Top Gun

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Dealing With Goose’s Death Also Gives Maverick Another Form Of Closure

Watching the death of LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) is still one of the biggest action movie heartbreaks of the ‘80s. To recall that memory in Top Gun: Maverick could have been used merely an emotional shorthand to show just how broken Pete Mitchell is. In facing this ghost of the past head on, Maverick is actually given closure in another respect. Something that Top Gun mentions, but doesn’t make too much of a deal about, is how Pete Mitchell is an orphan of aviation himself. 

Viper (Tom Skerritt) tells him about serving with his father, Duke Mitchell, during Vietnam, in hopes of inspiring him to keep going. Top Gun: Maverick allows Pete to hand that torch down to Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), informing him of his father’s bravery in combat. Captain Mitchell may be trying to make up for his own perceived mistakes with Goose, but he’s also trying to mentor the next generation to heal his own pain.

Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun’s Most Iconic Moments Return In Maverick For The Right Reasons

Top Gun: Maverick does love to talk about the good old days, and lifts moments straight from Tony Scott’s iconic film for its own usages. Miles Teller’s rendition of “Great Balls of Fire” recalls Anthony Edwards and Tom Cruise singing that very tune way back when, and the iconic volleyball sequence has now given way to the even more shirtless “dogfight football.” Again, these moments aren’t just fan service gimmies, as they actually serve a purpose. 

The community of Top Gun’s titular fighting school is born on the back of those earlier traditions. In order to let Maverick truly heal, he has to embrace the lessons of those moments, good and bad. It’s what inspires him to teach his new team of young aviators teamwork, courtesy of a jovial beach bound sporting event. 

Though it’s also worth noting that after decades of existing as a throwaway reference in the previous film, Top Gun: Maverick introduces us to Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly). Showing us just why that relationship was so iconic in the first place, it's another example of digging into franchise lore and fleshing out the stuff we didn't previously know.

Val Kilmer in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The Big Iceman Cameo Delivers Top Gun Maverick’s Ultimate Message

If any moment had the potential to devolve into mere fan service, it had to be the appearance of now-Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer). With Tom Cruise personally pushing for his Top Gun: Maverick casting, Kilmer’s return had quite a bit of pressure riding on its inclusion. With a short scene, and through the inclusion of the actor’s actual battle with throat cancer in his character’s backstory, the heart of Top Gun 2’s message lands its best punch. 

Visiting his dear friend, and the man who has helped prevent him from being drummed out of the Navy, Maverick has a heart-to-heart with Iceman at home. Sensing that his enemy-turned-friend is still carrying around Goose’s death around in his soul, Admiral Kazansky types out a familiar message: 

It’s time to let go.

From the moment right after Goose’s death, as Maverick still held his friend’s lifeless body in the middle of the ocean, he’s been told that he has to let it go. The greatest stumbling block for Pete Mitchell’s entire life and career has been his refusal to process the death of Nick Bradshaw. Tom Kazansky saw it, and before his own passing, he had to try one more time to land that lesson. The message of Top Gun: Maverick is the same as the one presented in its predecessor; and Captain Mitchell finally reads it loud and clear.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

(Image credit: Paramount)

Top Gun: Maverick Is The Perfect Completion Of This Tom Cruise Franchise

Thankfully, Captain Pete Mitchell learns his lesson at the end of Top Gun: Maverick. At least, that’s what it seems like, as he’s now flying high with Penny Benjamin and has repaired his relationship with Rooster. Perfectly closing out the Top Gun duology, the second movie’s enhancement of the first only makes it more important to quit while it's still ahead.

Addressing the wounds of the past while also highlighting Maverick’s flaws during his Top Gun days, this legacyquel is the epitome of the very practice. Returning to Captain Pete Mitchell’s life was more than just an exercise in nostalgia; it was a chance to close off his story after it started with such an iconic first film. Bookending each other perfectly, with the right echos of the past, we really don’t need any follow-ups to Top Gun: Maverick

Then again, who’s to say there isn’t another good idea that could result in some future brainstorming. At the very least, you can count on Paramount to at least try to come up with a Top Gun 3 concept after this past weekend saw the film score Tom Cruise’s best opening weekend yet. For now, you can catch the potential conclusion to this saga in Top Gun: Maverick, which is currently in theaters. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.