Flying in Formation

Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is used to flying solo. Decades of accolades have been awarded to him for his bold maneuvers in high speed aircraft. Living up to his callsign, his superiors in the U.S. Navy constantly threaten to discipline the rogue pilot, or worse, approve him for a promotion that would ground him forever. His unmatched skill makes him difficult to pin down, however, so he continues to push the edge of what these multi-million dollar machines can do, relying only on his talent, luck, and a few well-placed calls from good friend, Admiral “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), to keep flying in the danger zone.

But Maverick didn’t always fly solo. “Goose” Bradshaw was the ace pilot’s wingman until a tragic accident left Maverick behind, along with Goose’s wife and young son. In the intervening years, Maverick has become even more independent. Working to test the American military’s cutting edge aircraft, he makes sure the only person he needs to rely on is himself. That is, until he’s put on a new mission. A dangerous foreign power has a nuclear facility that needs to be destroyed and no one pilot will be able to do it alone, not even Maverick. For this mission, he’ll need to bear responsibilities he’s been running from his whole career—a challenge that will refine him in ways he never thought possible.

Accepting the Mission
In this film, we see many men and women asked to take on jobs and responsibilities that they are not used to and to use techniques that go against their instincts. Maverick, for example, hates being an instructor and even got kicked out of the job decades before. “I wasn’t expecting an invitation back,” we hear him say. “They’re called orders, Maverick,” comes the reply from his less-than-thrilled superior.

We often do not get to choose the responsibilities we have to shoulder in our day-to-day life, which can fill us with a sense of resentment towards others, including the authorities in our lives. Though there is tension (and often anxiety) about the tasks ahead, we see no such attitude from the pilots in this movie. There is a mission, and they are the only ones who have a chance to complete it. No matter what personal concerns or frustrations they each might have, at the end of the day, they have to get the job done or else many innocent lives will be in grave danger.

The struggles faced by the average person probably do not include life-or-death combat maneuvers, but the decisions we make to bear or shirk our responsibilities carry the same moral weight in the eyes of God. “The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much,” we’re told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:10, NASB). We also know that those whom the Lord sees honoring what he has given us to care for will receive greater responsibilities over time (Matthew 25:23). There is also one great responsibility we have all been given: the Great Commission. This mandate from God is a non-negotiable order to go out into the world and make disciples in his name (Matthew 28:19-20), and our attitude and actions in pursuing this goal have the potential to change others’ lives entirely. Similar to Maverick, however, this is a mission we cannot fulfill alone.

Don’t Abandon Your Wingman
Opinions and personalities clash openly and often in this movie, as everyone agrees on the goal but disagrees in nearly every way possible on what should be done to complete this mission. Maverick thinks the other pilots should be ready to take more risks. “Rooster” Bradshaw thinks they should slow down and be more calculated. Admiral “Cyclone” Simpson disagrees with just about every teaching technique Maverick uses, and a pilot with the callsign “Hangman” wonders if this team can even come together with all ego and insults involved.

To anyone who’s been inside a church for more than five minutes, this probably sounds pretty familiar. It is absurd how little progress the body of Christ can make sometimes, even though we all have been given the same commission by God. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that the Church would become one in the same way he and the Father are one (John 17:21). Yet we often let disagreements keep us from this unity and from furthering God’s mission on earth. This is not to say that conflict does not occur. Solomon used the visceral example of iron sharpening iron to describe human relationships (Proverbs 27:17), which means that sparks will sometimes fly. When this happens, though, it is important to remember that we are all part of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and we were not made to work to the glory of God alone. Each individual is uniquely designed by God (Psalms 139:13-14), and every person is critical to the work we have been gifted to do. We see this reflected in the film as well with the more timid characters learning from the bolder to be courageous; and the impulsive lone rangers are taught by their peers when patience is necessary. Ultimately, the team built is greater than the sum of its parts, ready to tackle any mission thrown their way.

Staying on Target
There are few films as synonymous with action, patriotism, and nostalgia as the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. It was in the top-ten grossing films of the eighties, putting it on par with the biggest Marvel movies and other massive film releases today. Hollywood was not the only place to benefit from this film however, as the United States Navy saw its recruitment numbers increase by 500% the following year. The movie is considered by many to be a classic celebration of the American individualist spirit, with its fast-talking and faster-flying protagonist rebelling at every opportunity while chasing his need for speed. This has made the film a fun flick to come back to for an adrenaline-packed joy-ride, but a difficult one to recommend to younger audiences, especially when also considering the crass banter pervasive throughout its run-time.

It comes as a pleasant surprise, then, that this long-expected sequel not only delivers on the thrills and memories set up by its predecessor, but also includes well-articulated themes of responsibility and teamwork—all with surprisingly less vulgar content than the original film. We see actors portraying selfless service members willing to swallow their pride for the good of their goal, their team, and their country. It is not often one can find positive values lionized so clearly in a Hollywood picture.

While this film may again inspire another massive wave of young men and women to serve in the armed forces, it serves to inspire each of us to aim for higher targets. It is easy to forget in the midst of our busy lives the mission God has given us for the short duration of our stay on this earth (1 Peter 1:17, NASB). In the end, just like Maverick and his fellow pilots, we in the Church have to learn to embrace the responsibilities given to us by our heavenly Father, pushing past personality conflicts and minor disagreements to pursue his glory together.

By Keegan Brittain

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Keegan Brittain

Keegan Brittain is a full-time employee at Summit Ministries who loves engaging in the pop culture space through the lens of apologetics. He holds a B.A. in Organizational Leadership from Northern Kentucky University & is currently working on a M.A. in Applied Apologetics with an emphasis in Cultural Engagement at Colorado Christian University. Keegan lives in Colorado Springs, CO & enjoys discussing ideas, media, & how they interact on his Twitter & Letterboxd which are both under @ks_brittain.