Top Gun: Maverick, a Worthy Prequel to Oblivion
I finally saw Top Gun: Maverick tonight and it was everything I hoped it would be: adrenaline, spectacle and Tom Cruise blowing things up. A perfect prequel to one of my favorite movies: Oblivion.
Joseph Kosinski has a story to tell, apparently, and I’m here for all of it. Yes, I’m more than a few months late to seeing Top Gun: Maverick but I blame that on the fact that I live on an island in the middle of the ocean with exactly zero theaters. But tonight, I fixed that problem and I was excited to see the latest installment in The Jack Harper Chronicles.
Commander Jack Harper, aka “Captain Pete Mitchell”, aka “Maverick”, got a back story. One that I’ve always wondered about as a super fan of the movie Oblivion: how is it possible that this dude, Tech 49, is such a badass?
Now I know: he’s Captain Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick. I know right? Yeah, I know: Rob’s been to the dispensary a bit too much this week. But then again — see if you can figure out which one is Jack Harper and which one is Pete Mitchell…
Copy Tech 49, Be Careful Out There
In the opener of Oblivion, Jack Harper discusses his life as Tech 49, in charge of drone maintenance and pilot of a pretty badass alien jet plane. As he gets ready to take off on the day’s patrol:
Tower, comm check… drone maintenance technician 49 hydro rig support, all bubbleship systems are green… I’m good to go.
Copy Tech 49 you’re cleared be careful out there…
No you’re not…
You’re right… I gotta work on that
At which point Jack executes a groovy bubbleship backflip off the launch pad. Something I think Pete Mitchell would be proud of…
I mean seriously… is this really a coincidence?
Precursor to the Invasion
One thing I loved about the new prequel, aka Top Gun: Maverick, is how it set the scene for the alien invasion from The Tet. If you haven’t seen Oblivion I might be giving a few things away — but the deal is this: aliens invade Earth and blow everything up and Maverick, sorry — Jack Harper — not only failed to save us, he was cloned and reprogrammed to wipe humanity out! Bummer!
OK so back to Top Gun: Maverick. What Captain Mitchell didn’t know when going on that suicidal mission, attacking that base in the hills guarded by drones and “fifth generation fighter jets” is that those super groovy advanced jets that no one asked about or cared what country they were from? Yeah you guessed it: from The Tet!
Aliens I tell you! ALIENS!
As I mention before: Joseph Kosinski has a story to tell. He wrote Oblivion and also produced and directed Top Gun: Maverick. It’s not that much of a stretch to see that he’s doing a Tarantino on us and creating a post-apocalyptic sci-fi macho military cinematic universe in which Tom Cruise saves, then blows up, then saves the world again.
If anyone could save us, then kill us all, then save us again — it’s Tom Cruise.
Look: I’m a child of the 80s as is Kosinksi and I get it. We have father issues! In Oblivion, Jack Harper is the worst of the toxic male identity while also being the best. He and his clones literally destroy all human life but then — behold! In a moment of clone lucidity he is redeemed and “dies better, facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods”.
There are a lot of us Gen-xers out there that grew up wishing for a parent that was a heroic fighter pilot. Or, you know, that would maybe just show up and take us to a movie on the weekend. Might be sharing too much, but hey — that’s how I grew up. I’m guessing Kosinski did too, because his films celebrate the Absent Father Hero We Wish We Had.
The whole thing between Rooster and Maverick, Goose being dead, Maverick being a lifelong bachelor… I mean it’s not Shakespeare in terms of paternal drama, but whatever it hits home. It’s a GenX thing and it hit me in the feels. Stop judging!
So yay Jack! I mean Pete! He’s the dad that Rooster never had and, by extension, some of us in the audience. He’s a hero and does heroic things and I (honestly) love the treatment of the older male that’s not a doofus/crook/playboy. Let’s face it: men my age have had their asses kicked over the last few decades — rightly so in many cases. That’s not an easy thing to explain to a little human who calls you daddy. You want to be everything to them, to earn their trust and love, and…
OK that went deep again. I love my kids and Top Gun brought that to the surface. I like seeing a positive male/father role model and I wish there were more… like Malcolm Beech
Malcolm Beech, aka Warlock
One of the weirder characters in Oblivion was Malcolm Beech, callsign Warlock:
I loved his role in Top Gun: Maverick but I think they could have rounded the character a bit more in both films. I mean… it’s a post-apocalyptic world but you somehow found cigars?
Warlock believes in Maverick and you can see that throughout the movie, the dude is like “if we ever get blown up by aliens, I’m going to find this guy and see if I can deprogram one of his clones!”
In both movies, he clearly admires Pete/Jack:
Your instructor is a TOPGUN graduate with real-world experience in every mission aspect you will be expected to master. His exploits are legendary. And he’s considered to be one of the finest pilots this program has ever produced. What he has to teach you may very well mean the difference between life and death. I give you Captain Pete Mitchell. Call sign “Maverick”.
The Enemy Without a Name
The first Top Gun movie made a point of not naming who the enemy was during the dog fight in the climactic scene, although many believe the flag represented North Korea:
Despite the markings, North Korea is still a good guess. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson had more than one writer working on the Top Gun script. Along with Proser’s draft, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. were hired to write another draft of the screenplay for the film that initially identified North Korea as the threat that Maverick and Co take on in the thrilling finale
Top Gun: Maverick does the same thing, but makes it even more vague:
In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the enemy is depicted as a rogue nation that possesses a fleet of fifth-generation fighter planes and is attempting to enrich uranium to develop nuclear weapons at a fortified site hidden in forbidding mountainous terrain.
A “rogue nation” that’s trying to develop nukes. Reminds me of the opening dialog from Oblivion:
60 years ago, Earth was attacked. We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone’s been evacuated. Nothing human remains. We’re here for drone repair. We’re the “mop-up crew”.
Seems clear to me that Pete Mitchell and friends were sent to the alien landing site with the goal of blowing up anything that looked like it was from a different planet, hopefully averting invasion. Unfortunately Rooster decided to take a quick nap during the flight and Maverick had to do the trope-y self sacrifice… but then…
He somehow made it! Maverick was shot down at 300 feet altitude but landed in some seriously soft fucking snow and woke up without a scratch!
Doesn’t that seem hard to believe? INDEED friends — it is hard to believe. What really happened is that Maverick’s DNA was stolen … somehow. Maybe they cheek-swabbed him while he dozed in that super soft snowdrift or tickled his fancy — who knows.
I Guess Everything’s… Cool Then?
In the first Top Gun, Pete Mitchell blows up a few jets and then there’s a party on the carrier deck — yay we won! In the real world we would have been facing one hell of a diplomatic nightmare, if not all out war.
This is another “plot hole” that critics of the first movie like to raise: what happened after the big dog fight?
The answer is usually something like “who cares, it’s a movie get on with your life”. I can dig this answer, but I think I have a better one…
Pete Mitchell disappeared, emerging later as Jack Harper. He knew the alien enemy and had created a team to thwart their attack in Top Gun: Maverick, so it seemed perfectly obvious that later, when the aliens got serious and blew up the moon, Jack would form another team and they would all fly up to the Tet.
Nice and tidy. I love how prequels can tie up loose ends — don’t you?