After over 30 years of service as one of the navy’s top pilots, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is highly-decorated, yet maintains his rank as a Captain to remain flying. When we catch up with “Mav,” he makes the call to go through with the test-flight of a plane at Mach 10… despite the program having been shut down mere minutes prior. Technically the flight is successful, but Mav decides to go beyond Mach 10, and blows out his engines — still the same envelope-pusher after all these years.
Although his stunt is more than enough to have him permanently grounded, Mav is ordered out to TOPGUN — the US navy’s program for training the best fighter pilots — by none other than “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now an Admiral. Upon arrival, Mav learns of Iceman’s intentions for him: training a group of young aviators in preparation for a near-impossible bombing run. Among the group is none other than Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Mav’s late copilot, “Goose.” Rooster’s inclusion in the team forces Mav to further face and come to terms with his guilt surrounding Goose’s death if he can ever hope to get the team ready for the mission.
Top Gun: Maverick had a lot going against it, not the least of which being the 35 years since its predecessor captured audience hearts with its instantly recognizable soundtrack, endlessly quotable dialogue, and its particularly scrumptious beach-volleyball scene. Fortunately, Top Gun: Maverick not only does justice to its predecessor, but actually manages to “out-Top-Gun” it. This is everything you want in an action blockbuster.
Obviously the selling point is the flight sequences. I’ll say this right off the bat… the climax here is one of the most exciting sequences I’ve seen from any action movie in recent years; it’s full of twists and turns, it’s captivating and gripping, and it’s sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen. And yeah, since it’s a Tom Cruise movie — the last true action hero, if we’re being honest — the majority of flight scenes were actually filmed by actors whilst actually flying in actual planes. I mean, even the TRAINING sequences are a wonder to watch… it really goes to show how much more effective practical effects can be than chunks of poor CGI and green screens can ever hope to be.
The one truly great thing about the original Top Gun, the weight of Goose’s death, is used to its full effect here. Sure, the silly rivalry of the first movie is charming at times, but it’s a lot less effective a conflict than one made of decades of festering guilt, trauma, and resentment coming to their dramatic resolution. Both Teller and Cruise approach this dynamic with the utmost tact: the former plays Rooster as a bitter pilot whose trauma drives him as much as it pains him, and the latter gives us a more mature and experienced look at Maverick… one who is determined not to let the fate of his best friend also befall his son, often to a fault.
And the entire film is very much built off the back of the original. Aside from the conflict in this sequel actually deepening the plot of its predecessor an impressive amount, it serves a buffet of nostalgia for fans who can quote every cheesy line of dialogue from the original. Still, it updates those nods just enough to keep things feeling fresh… the classic Top Gun theme is given an orchestral reprise from composer Hans Zimmer, a rendition of “Great Balls Of Fire” is given a reflective and melancholy new tone, hard decks get disrespected to a new low, and beach volleyball is traded in for beach football.
Although Top Gun: Maverick mostly avoids the profound level of cheese that either ascended or plagued the original (depending on how much you like it), it doesn’t escape cheesiness entirely. The dialogue is pretty on-the-nose at times, though not nearly as blatantly cheesy as that of its predecessor. Also, the romance between Maverick and Jennifer Connelly’s character (Penny Benjamin, whose inclusion is a callback in itself) does feel a bit dispensable. Don’t get me wrong, I think the pair have pretty decent chemistry, but the inclusion of another blossoming-romance subplot is a tad too dismissive of the one we got in the original.
Still, minor quips aside, Top Gun: Maverick proves itself not only a worthy successor to its ’86 predecessor, but actually a superior film in pretty much every sense. Just the idea of a sequel THIS long after the previous movie and THIS great is practically unheard of… other than something like Blade Runner 2049 (2017, 35 years after the first film). This is easily one of the most thrilling action films we’ve gotten in a while; even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the original, you’ll likely have a great time with this one… and (as easy a line as they come) if you’re a die-hard Top Gun fan, prepare for this sequel to take your breath away.
Overall rating: 8/10