“Top Gun: Maverick” stars Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer. Releasing on May 27, 2022, the film has Pete Mitchell training a new generation of Navy aviators.
The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who also directed “Tron: Legacy”, “Oblivion”, and “Only the Brave”, and it is a sequel to the 1986 film “Top Gun”. Audiences got the need for speed back in the 1980s, thanks to a small movie that pushed Tom Cruise’s career to new heights. Tony Scott’s “Top Gun” is one of cinema’s national treasures for people who grew up in that decade. While it wasn’t a critical hit when it first came out, it gradually grew into a cultural phenomenon due to its astounding aerial sequences, soundtrack, and Cruise’s magnetic performance. Less than 40 years later, the world of “Top Gun” is soaring back into our hearts as it becomes the latest nostalgia-filled classic to get the legacy sequel treatment. Well, at least it’s better than getting a remake. “Top Gun” is one of the films that I neglect to go back to every so often. It’s not that I didn’t like it or anything. It’s because it didn’t have enough moments for me to revisit other than people flying their jets in the sky. The last time I watched “Top Gun” was nearly ten years ago when my family and I attended the IMAX 3D re-release for my birthday. That was one birthday present I’ll never forget. Regardless, I was pretty stoked to see Tom Cruise take to the skies again with a long-awaited sequel to Scott’s 80s cult classic. Since Cruise’s recent “Mission: Impossible” installments got me to revisit the earlier movies, maybe this one would probably change my perspective on its predecessor. With that said, let’s soar into the “danger zone” and see if this follow-up lives up to the hype.
The story follows Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), a test pilot in the U.S. Navy. He recently dodged advancement in rank to continue flying after years of service. Following an incident involving testing a prototype, Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Harris) places Maverick in charge of training a group of young Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission. Among them is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller), the son of Maverick’s late best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, and Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Powell). They’re tasked to destroy a hostile nation that’s been constructing facilities for creating enriched uranium. Despite not seeing eye to eye with each other, Maverick and the young pilots must learn to trust one another to accomplish this dangerous mission.
The original “Top Gun” featured a humane story of a reckless pilot who faces responsibility and the importance of teamwork amid its aerial dogfights and shirtless men playing volleyball. While it’s enjoyable for the cast’s charisma and direction towards the flight sequences, the emotional core of its characters and story struggled to be as riveting as the dogfights. “Top Gun: Maverick” expands on those themes by pitting the main character against a new generation of pilots and a high-stakes mission that determines the lives of those involved. Hollywood has been pretty consistent with delivering solid legacy continuations so far. While some of them are far from perfect, these sequels have effectively provided elements that made their predecessors well-known while offering something for newcomers to enjoy. So it’s no surprise that “Top Gun: Maverick” follows the same pattern as the other ones like “Ghostbusters” and “Scream”. However, what I didn’t expect to see from a movie about men flying their jets is how amazing it was compared to the original.
Like the other legacy sequels, the film’s plot provided several nods to Tony Scott’s 1986 cult following, even going as far as recreating that movie’s opening title and end credit sequences. Fortunately for me and its audience, it didn’t go out of its way to deliver a shot-by-shot sequel that only serves as nostalgia bait. Instead, it uses those callbacks to create a thoughtfully compelling tale of Maverick’s relationship with Rooster and their struggles to overcome the past and put their trust in each other’s instincts. But, of course, it isn’t without a couple of stunning aerial sequences that impressively put the original’s dogfight scenes to shame. Basically, the film took the elements that worked in “Top Gun” and made them better, which the late Tony Scott would be proud of. It hits the right emotional beats for those passionate about the original, including myself, and possibly some newcomers who want more than just mindless blockbuster action. More importantly, the narrative balances exceptionally well with its incredible flight sequences and layered characters.
On another note, “Top Gun: Maverick” is another movie that showcases Joseph Kosinski as one of the most impressive underdogs in the film industry. After delivering mediocre results in the Tron sequel and his previous collaboration with Cruise, “Oblivion”, Kosinski exceeded our expectations with the well-crafted “Only the Brave”. Several years later, he continues to shine with “Top Gun: Maverick”, which saw him putting plenty of effort into honoring the original while maintaining his own visual appeal. His direction towards the human drama was engaging and heartfelt, and his take on the dogfight sequences was visually exhilarating to a fault without any far-fetched elements slowing them down. The movie’s screenplay was also superb in understanding the characters and honoring the duties performed by the aviators. Surprisingly, two of the film’s writers were Christopher McQuarrie, another collaborator for Cruise, and Ehren Kruger, known for writing the three critically-panned Transformers sequels. It’s nice to see that Kruger has a great movie on his hands despite him not being the sole writer.
Tom Cruise returns to one of the roles that made him a superstar in the movie business. He also serves as one of the film’s producers, just to make sure everything is good enough to match the original’s quality. Unsurprisingly, he delivered a performance that retains the charm and spirit of Pete Mitchell from the original while providing some extra depth into the reckless pilot. This resulted in it being one of my favorite performances by the actor. The film also saw the return of Miles Teller, who hasn’t been on the big screen since 2017, possibly due to the movie’s series of delays. He was also fantastic as Rooster. Jennifer Connelly and Glen Powell also offered some solid performances as Penny (Maverick’s new love interest) and Jake Seresin, respectively. I also respect the film crew for bringing Val Kilmer back to reprise his role as Iceman, Maverick’s former rival. Even if it’s only for a brief moment, it warms my heart to see Kilmer sharing the screen with Cruise again after three decades.
It’s easy to admit that “Top Gun: Maverick” is made as a theaters-only exclusive in mind, and it shows, thanks to its aerial sequences. Regarding Claudio Miranda’s cinematography, Kosinski’s direction, and the sound editing, the movie literally puts me in the cockpit as I’ve been taken for a wild ride that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Despite being 20 minutes longer than the first movie, the film’s pacing and heart-pounding moments helped maintain my interest in the experience. It does run the risk of straying into action blockbuster territory, but its focus on delivering realism into the dogfights prevents it from being another standard bloated action film. If someone asks me what my favorite parts are regarding these elements, I will pick the beginning sequence and the uranium facility mission as my top two best scenes. It’s no contest. I would also give props to the movie’s splendid musical score by Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer, and Lady Gaga, who performed the single, “Hold My Hand”. It respectively hearkens back to the original while providing some enticement in its emotion and action.
Overall, “Top Gun: Maverick” pushes itself beyond the limitations of its predecessor and the other legacy sequels with spectacular results. It’s an emotionally enthralling and heart-pounding experience that’s backed up by its strong narrative and likable characters. With its stellar cast, Kosinski’s direction, riveting screenplay, and impressive aerial sequences, the film is not only the best legacy sequel I’ve seen so far, but it’s also one of the best blockbusters of the decade. Admittedly, it’s quite an impressive feat given the film’s numerous delays and the original’s mixed reception. Hopefully, this will allow Hollywood to continue taking these types of sequels seriously in the future. If you enjoyed the first “Top Gun” movie and you’re a fan of the theatrical experience, “Top Gun: Maverick” is worth seeing on the biggest screen you can find.