By George Bate
A lot could go wrong with a highly anticipated, long belated sequel to a quintessential 1980s classic. Expectations are high. Nostalgia can only go so far. And, in an ever-changing theatrical landscape, hits are more elusive than ever. Despite this, Top Gun: Maverick navigates this seemingly impossible terrain to (near) perfection. The Tom Cruise-led sequel is masterfully constructed, wildly entertaining, ‘high five the person next to you’ sort of film in a manner that somehow surpasses the original.
Top Gun: Maverick picks up over 30 years after the original film and once again follows Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, one of the Navy’s top aviators. After some downtime, Maverick is brought in by the Navy to train a new group of fighter pilots as they prepare for a mission that pushes the envelope more than ever.
From the opening few frames of Top Gun: Maverick, with Harold Faltermeyer’s theme from the original transitioning seamlessly into Kenny Loggins’ ‘Highway to the Danger Zone,’ it’s abundantly clear audiences are in for a good time. In its 131 minute runtime, there isn’t a scene or a moment that falls flat or drags. Every sequence grips your attention in a unique way, whether it be a testy exchange between trainees, a jaw-dropping action sequence, or a delightful moment of nostalgia. Top Gun: Maverick executes a rare feat in sustaining the perfect pace for its entire runtime.
Despite being deeply nostalgic, featuring terrific throwbacks throughout, Top Gun: Maverick is simultaneously refreshing in its simplicity. Although there would be ample room to explore, this is not a film populated with social or political commentary. The enemy is as faceless and nameless as they come. It’s also not a movie bogged down by intricate and convoluted plotting and the twists and turns that characterize Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films. Maverick is simple and straightforward, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This simplicity affords the audience opportunities to engage in some of the more emotionally impactful themes of loss, sacrifice, and aging without carrying the unnecessary weight of messy plotting or social commentary.
It goes without saying at this point, but Tom Cruise is a true champion of cinema. Cruise features in nearly every scene of Maverick and is captivating from beginning to end. His hands-on involvement in the film’s stunning flight sequences do not go unnoticed. The action, masterfully directed by Joseph Kosinski, is elevated another level due to the authenticity of Cruise’s involvement and unwavering commitment to the role. His knack for humor is better than ever, while the emotional moments, especially those with Val Kilmer’s Iceman, hit hard. Maverick’s romantic subplot with Jennifer Connelly’s character is the film’s weakest point, but it’s still enjoyable to see the banter and rapport between Cruise and his love interest.
Like the original Top Gun, Maverick showcases a terrific supporting cast. Val Kilmer’s Iceman plays a small, yet deeply impactful role in the film. Miles Teller’s Rooster, son of Goose from Top Gun, is the most prominent of the supporting characters. Teller is excellent in the role, capturing the tension and intensity of a man who feels scorned following the death of his father. Cruise and Teller’s exchanges always feel natural and are written and performed in a manner that makes neither one the enemy, but, rather, two individuals traumatized by the loss of a loved one in different ways. Rounding out the cast are Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, and Lewis Pullman, all of whom evoke the witty and tense dynamics of the original film’s pilots.
Top Gun: Maverick is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. A film that can be enjoyed with and without exposure to Top Gun, Maverick is a perfectly paced and endlessly entertaining cinematic event. Tom Cruise triumphantly leads a stellar supporting cast through a delicate balance of breathtaking action sequences and emotionally impactful character moments. Top Gun: Maverick is simply a must see.