Top Gun: Maverick Beat Sheet Analysis
After 12 years in development, which was stalled by the original director’s untimely suicide and Covid, Top Gun: Maverick arrived in theaters on Memorial Day 2022. It has since grossed 1.4 billion dollars worldwide, making it the most successful Tom Cruise movie of all time, as well as the most lucrative sequel.
The first Top Gun was pitched by the producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, as “Star Wars with jets.” The sequel definitely takes this to heart and borrows liberally from Star Wars: A New Hope with regards to its death-defying mission. And to be fair, Star Wars borrowed liberally from the 1961 film, The Guns of Navarone, about an impossible commando mission to remove a strategic gun emplacement that an army and a navy could not.
Top Gun: Maverick is the way to make a sequel—not a remake, reboot, or retread, but an actual story where the primary character evolves. Are you reading this, studio executives and producers? The best example I can think of previously was James Cameron’s sequel to Aliens (1986) with Ellen Ripley’s evolution. I’d argue that Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is a more relatable character in this film than the young, cocky, and brash version of himself in the previous. He’s older and slightly wiser, a person, like the rest of us, fighting against time, and haunted by past mistakes.
So, let’s get to it! Here’s the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet Analysis of Top Gun: Maverick!
Story by: Peter Craig & Justin Marks
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie
Based on the characters created by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
STC genre: Golden Fleece (Epic Fleece)
STC cousins: Star Wars, The Guns of Navarone, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Saving Private Ryan, The Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark
Logline: After 30 years, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell still pushes the envelope as a top naval aviator, but must confront ghosts of his past when he leads TOP GUN’s elite graduates on a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those chosen to fly it.
1. Opening Image:
— Montage of fighter jets zooming off an aircraft carrier to the rocking sounds of “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins. It’s a call back to the original film, Top Gun, and also a preview of the exciting world we’re about to enter.
— Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell lives in an Airstream trailer inside an old airplane hangar. He’s fixing up a World War II-era P-51 Mustang. He’s a man who lives in the past. And he’s also haunted with the death of his radar intercept officer (RIO), LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw.
2. Theme Stated (later in Act One):
— Maverick receives an official military dressing down by stony-faced Rear Admiral Cain (Ed Harris). He says, “The future is coming—and you’re not in it.”
— Maverick is living in the past. He will need to change to be a part of the future—his future.
— The gruff admiral ends the scene with, “The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction.”
— To which Maverick, being Maverick, quips: “Maybe so, sir, but not today.”
— Maverick dons his old leather fighter pilot jacket and climbs on his antique Kawasaki Ninja GPZ 900R motorcycle to test out the Darkstar, a hypersonic stealth scramjet. Maverick works as a test pilot. He should be a two-star admiral by now or a senator, but due to his consistent insubordination and guilt over Goose’s death, he’s in a stasis = death. He has Six Problems That Need Fixing, as Blake used to say.
— Against the wishes of Rear Admiral Cain, who wants to drop the manned pilot program in favor of automated drones, Maverick takes up the Darkstar. It’s a Mach 9 test day, but he must get it up to Mach 10 to keep the program going. His philosophy is that it’s the pilot over the technology.
— Maverick achieves Mach 10 with the Darkstar. But Maverick being Maverick, he can’t help himself—he has to push it to Mach 10.4. The supersonic jet can’t take it and explodes!
— Maverick miraculously survives.
— In Admiral Cain’s office, Maverick, who was to be grounded indefinitely, is being reassigned. Due to having “friends in high places,” which in this case is Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, he’s reassigned to Top Gun.
— Maverick arrives at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, “Fightertown USA.”
— Meets no-nonsense Air Boss Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm). (An obvious homage to the late producer Don Simpson of the previous film.) And a slightly more understanding Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell).
— They brief him on the situation. The Navy has been tasked with destroying an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant, which sits in a deep depression at the end of a canyon. It is defended by SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), GPS jammers, and what appear to be fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57 fighters. Maverick devises a plan to attack with two pairs of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. He learns that he will not take part in the strike. Alternately, he’s to train an elite group of Top Gun graduates assembled by Admiral Beau Simpson.
— One of them is the son of his lost partner, Goose: Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller).
— Maverick’s shaken. If he doesn’t take the assignment, he will never fly again and no longer be a part of the Navy. Talk about high stakes. Being a naval aviator is the only life he knows!
6. Break into Two:
— Maverick agrees, saying “yes” to the Catalyst. What choice does he have? Not only is this a point of national security, being a top-flight aviator is the heart and soul of who he is.
7. B Story:
— Maverick shows up at The Hard Deck, a beach bar where Navy pilots hang out and enjoy drinking. He shares a moment with his former girlfriend Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). He’s shaken when Rooster shows up looking exactly like his father in a Hawaiian shirt and aviator shades. These two characters, along with Iceman (Val Kilmer), will help teach Maverick about letting go of the past.
— If you really wanna get down into the deep-dive specifics, I’d say there are four story lines in this film in descending order of importance. (A) Maverick vs. The Navy (and himself) (B) Maverick vs. Rooster (C) Maverick and Penny (D) Rooster vs. Hangman. Each of these set-up and pay off in the Finale. But, for simplicity’s sake, we’re just sticking to the good ol’ B Story here.
8. Fun and Games:
— In a moment that matches the original film, Maverick shows up to teach the pilots (who threw him out of Penny’s bar earlier for not having enough money to pay their tab).
— Cocky Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) is the new Iceman for this iteration. There’s also Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman), Lt. Reuben “Payback” Fitch (Jay Ellis), and Lt. Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia (Danny Ramirez), among others.
— Maverick explains the mission. He takes them up in the air and out dogfights them all. They underestimate him because of his age—it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot!
— Hangman and Rooster clash. Rooster can’t stand Hangman’s reckless attitude. Hangman criticizes Rooster’s prudent flying.
— Rooster blames Maverick for his father’s death. Maverick’s hesitant to further interfere with Rooster’s career, but the alternative is to send him on the extremely dangerous mission.
— And because of the massive egos of the Top Gun pilots, they cannot work as a team. Since Maverick was never a team player, he doesn’t know how to inspire them to work together.
— Maverick and Penny go sailing together. As an admiral’s daughter, she shows him the ropes of being a boater. A romance’s is rekindling.
— False Defeat: Maverick is failing. He can’t inspire his pilots and they’re failing the training course, which will cost all of their lives, raising the stakes.
— He’s called to Admiral Kazanzky’s home. Iceman has terminal throat cancer and can barely speak. In a moment where A and B Stories cross, Iceman tells Maverick he must let go of the past. A hard pill to swallow for the eponymous Maverick.
10. Bad Guys Close In:
— Maverick gets an idea to play “dogfight” football with his pilots, where they play offense and defense together with two pigskins. It’s the obligatory “volleyball abs-on-the-beach” scene that we had in the last film.
— Admiral Simpson questions Maverick’s motives.
— Maverick assures his commanding officer that it will work.
— Also following the sweaty beach scene is the sex scene between Maverick and his love interest. Maverick confesses that he had promised Rooster’s mother that he would stop her son from being a pilot. He never told Rooster as he didn’t want him to resent his mother like he does Maverick.
— Penny’s daughter shows up unexpectedly and Maverick has to jump out the window, being caught by the teen anyway. She warns Maverick to never leave her mother again.
— Back on the training ground, and sky, Maverick works with his team.
— They still can’t hit the target or make the time.
11. All Is Lost:
— After a bird strike, Phoenix and Bob go down. Their jet crashes. A whiff of death.
— Maverick and Rooster have words. All the resentment Rooster has bubbles to the surface.
— Frustrated by Maverick’s lack of success with the team, Admiral Simpson takes over training and grounds Maverick. The rebel captain is finished in the Navy.
— Iceman passes away and can no longer protect Maverick.
12. Dark Night of the Soul:
— As Admiral Simpson takes over, relaxing the “impossible” times of the mission that will likely get the team killed…
— … Maverick makes the unauthorized run on the training ground himself. This echoes his earlier stunt with the Darkstar.
— Maverick successfully completes the mission in record time—it can be done!
— In the admiral’s office for insubordination (again), Simpson knows the only success for the mission is to re-instate Maverick as team leader.
13. Break into Three:
— Maverick is on the aircraft carrier heading toward the unnamed enemy. As he’s alone, he says “Talk to me, Goose,” still holding onto the past and tying A and B Stories.
This long third act has two Five-Point Finales: The “Storming of the Castle” and then “Escape from the Castle.” (It’s my belief that this extensive third act that we’ve been building up to, and spending so much time and tension in, adds to the film’s overall success as a story—and financially!)
14A. Five-Point Finale #1: Storming of the Castle
— Gathering the Team: Maverick chooses his team. Phoenix and Bob, Payback and Fanboy. And, for his big move, Rooster as his wingman.
— Executing the Plan: The aircraft carrier launches Tomahawk cruise missiles as the four F/A-18E Superhornets fighters leave. The missiles will cripple the airstrip so the enemy cannot launch fighters.
— High Tower Surprise: After the missiles strike, two enemy fighters are alerted, and come closing in.
— Dig, Down Deep: Maverick and his team maneuver through the rocky valley with echoes of rebel X-wings in Star Wars: A New Hope attacking the Death Star.
— Executing the New Plan: Maverick and Rooster manage to destroy the target, and survive the surface-to-air missiles. However, as Maverick saves Rooster’s life, he’s shot down. Believing Maverick’s dead, the remaining three Super Hornets head toward the aircraft carrier.
14B. Five-Point Finale #2: Escaping of the Castle
— Gathering the Team: Maverick wakes up. He survived. An enemy Mi-24 gunship helicopter zeroes in on him. Boom! Rooster has gone back for him! He saves Maverick. Except he’s shot down by a SAM. Maverick and him link up. What’s next?
— Executing the Plan: Behind enemy lines, they need to fly out. It’s the only way back home alive. They steal an F-15 Tomcat. This is a call back to Top Gun as it’s what Maverick flew with Goose, now Rooster, as his radar intercept officer (RIO). They manage to escape on the bomb-cratered runway.
— High Tower Surprise: The two enemy Su-57s fighters from earlier arrive. They’re too fast and formidable for the relic F-15.
— Dig, Down Deep: Maverick and Rooster must work together. Rooster reminds Maverick of his own advice—it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot. Maverick manages to destroy the Su-57 fighters by outflying them.
— Executing the New Plan: Out of countermeasure flares, missiles, and bullets, the crippled F-14 Tomcat flies toward the aircraft carrier. But one more Su-57 shows up. They’re done for without any weapons and over open ocean. Maverick tells Rooster to eject to save him. But Rooster’s ejection seat doesn’t work. Thankfully, just like Han Solo in Star Wars saving Luke from Darth Vader, Hangman shows up and blasts the enemy. Maverick and Rooster crash onto the carrier deck safely.
15. Final Image:
— In the following days, Rooster helps Maverick restore his P-51 Mustang. He notices a photo of his mission’s success with Maverick, pinned next to an identical one with his father, Goose, and Maverick from Top Gun.
— Penny shows up in a vintage Porsche 911 to welcome Maverick home.
— And the FINAL IMAGE is Maverick and Penny taking up the repaired P-51 Mustang. It’s a metaphor of Maverick fixing his past and moving on. Flying off into the sunset with Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” playing over. He’s healed his old wounds and has transformed into a better man.