Top Gun: Maverick may be a movie about fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy, but its primary conflict isn’t between warring nations. In fact, the movie is so unconcerned with the nature of war that the enemy country is never seen. No, outside of the usual Tom Cruise movie conflict of people thinking his character isn’t awesome and coming to accept that he is awesome, the primary struggle in Top Gun: Maverick is between Maverick and Rooster, the son of his former radar intercept officer Goose.
In the 1986 original, Goose’s death consumes Maverick with guilt, temporarily preventing him from graduating from the Top Gun program or flying a dangerous mission. In Maverick, we learn that Maverick promised Goose’s widow that he would prevent their son Bradley from becoming a fighter pilot. And yet, Bradley not only distinguishes himself as a first-class pilot but also becomes a student in Maverick’s class in the film.
Despite a very pronounced mustache, Miles Teller bears little resemblance to the actors who played his parents in the original film, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan. In fact, Teller’s brooding and bitter performance carries none of the goofy energy Edwards brought as the guy happy to stand in Maverick’s shadow.
That is, until an important early scene at the local pilot’s bar, where Rooster leads patrons in a rousing rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” The sing-along establishes Rooster as both cocky and well-liked by his friends. As the crowd gathers in close (if you needed a reminder that this movie was shot pre-pandemic), Rooster only grows more electrified, replicating the Killer’s wild boogie-woogie style. For Maverick, the moment reminds him again of what he’s lost. Director Joseph Kosinski thus interjects footage from the first movie into the scene in the finished version of Maverick, showing us Goose performing the same song while young Bradley (originally played by Aaron and Adam Weis) watches along.
For those who want to watch Teller rock without the sentimental world-building, Paramount has released a video of the performance (which you can watch below). At just over two minutes long, the clip shows Rooster’s squamates rocking along, including Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, Danny Ramirez’s Fanboy, and Lewis Pullman’s Bob. None of the shots show us Teller’s hands actually at the piano, suggesting that for all of Tom Cruise’s demands for realism during the shoot, the actor did not actually become a rock and roll virtuoso for the role. However, Teller does get time to strut at the end, as he dances in rhythm as the crowd chants his name, suggesting Rooster has done this shtick before at the bar many times before.
The video comes as Top Gun: Maverick continues to do blockbuster numbers, breaking the box office records set by previous Tom Cruise movies and topping Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as the most popular movie of 2022. For some, it might be gratuitous for Paramount to follow such clear success with promos such as the “Great Balls of Fire” video, but others see the victory lap as well-earned. After all, the movie weathered numerous COVID-related delays to finally appear in theaters, silencing all doubters by being awesome—appropriate for a Tom Cruise movie.
Plus, some folks just want to see the younger hot shot TOPGUN pilots get their groove on without Maverick’s bad vibes interceding from outside the bar. Rock on, Rooster and enjoy the show.
Top Gun: Maverick is in theaters now.