TL;DR – A glorious sequel from start to finish, filled with heart-pounding adrenalin and a boost to the more dramatic parts of the script.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Top Gun: Maverick Review –
Two different reactions can happen when you try a sequel decades after the first film. The first is that you are trying to capture something whose time has passed, and you can’t walk back into that world. The second is that they tap into a nostalgia that is there and use it to propel them forward. Today we look at a film that lands with the latter as it soars across the screen. Because Top Gun: Maverick fixes those elements that did not work in the first film and then takes what did work and amps it up to 11.
So to set the scene, it has been decades since the first Top Gun, and after flying planes in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and both Iraq’s Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) now works as a test pilot for experimental jets in the Mojave Desert. When told that his unit is about to be shut down because Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) thinks that drones are the future. Well, one illicit test later and intervention of Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), Maverick is not grounded, but instead, he is sent back to Top Gun to be a teacher. Because they need to undertake a perilous mission, and only Maverick can teach them. The only issue is that one of the possible recruits for this potential suicide mission is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late radar co-pilot.
The first thing that Top Gun: Maverick does well is learning how to reach back into the nostalgia while also charting its own story. To begin with, this film opens almost the same way as the first, with planes rocketing off aircraft carriers to that same Danger Zone song, the same sepia filter, and even the same font on the text crawl as you discover that Lady Gaga helped with the score. The big difference is that it is clear that this footage is filmed today, and as we go on that, the classical music has been re-recorded with an orchestra. This nod to nostalgia and then careful transition to today makes you instantly ready for the insanity of the test flight.
From here, the film moves from strength to strength as it explores more dramatic beats than its predecessor. The first film explored its narrative through the prism of two different masculinities. This time around, that tension is still there, but the film is looking to explore a different dynamic, that of a de facto father and his now-lost not-son-but-son. The narrative is helped by the film not pretending that nothing has happened since the last movie. Instead, we feel that history in every moment. This combination means that while I have seen Tom Cruise, the action star, in many films, this is the first time in a while that I have seen Tom Cruise, the dramatic actor, and he is superb. There is nuance in this performance when those barriers slip down, and you know the pain hiding underneath. You see this in his conversations with Rooster and those with Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who is on a much equal footing this time around on the love interest front. There are some clear choices here that amp up that emotion, for example, a moment that would have been used as a gag in any other film but is used to focus on a relationship.
Indeed, while Tom Cruise is still the face of this film, there are no weak links in the cast, with everyone bringing their A-Game to the proceedings. Jon Hamm and Ed Harris are perfect as the admirals that walk around with the air of someone who likes the smell of their own flatus. Glen Powell as Hangman is the perfect cocky prick that the film needs, and the contrast you have to have with Rooster. On that note, Miles Teller is pitch-perfect, from his moustache to his piano playing, and I loved everything Jennifer Connelly was doing in this film. Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis & Danny Ramirez work well as the other contenders, which you need for the third act to have any weight. Finally, you feel the power of Val Kilmer throughout the entire run time.
While this film has worked on its dramatic chops, it is still an action film and one of the best all year. We get the first touch of this with the test at the start, where we get re-introduced to the sheer charisma of Tom Cruise. From here, most of the air combat is training exercises, but every time they get in the air, you feel the tension in the room rise. Part of this is the actors’ commitment, and the other is the presentation. My understanding is that some of this footage came from the actors actually in those planes at altitude, and it works. This, combined with some phenomenal visual effects, meant only one aerial shot in the entire film needed more compositing work. All of the post-production was done during COVID, and I take my hat off to all the artists that made this happen.
From a narrative perspective, you do have to put aside for a moment that NATO would not have the justification to carry out this action under international law, at least not how it is presented in the film. Also, there is no country out there that has both Russian Su-57s and American F-14A Tomcats in their air force even if the unmentioned adversary has big “we are not saying Iran, but we are heavily implying it is Iran” energy. The narrative hits all the right beats as it explodes across the screen. You may know how the third act will play out as the film progresses, and you will probably be correct, but I still loved every moment of it.
In the end, do we recommend Top Gun Maverick? Absolutely. It perfectly blends nostalgia with the present, respecting the original Top Gun and improving on it at every turn. It is an action film that losses none of its dramatic potential. Indeed some moments emotionally wrecked me. If you liked Top Gun Maverick, I can recommend to you Tron Legacy.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Top Gun: Maverick
Directed by – Joseph Kosinski
Story by – Peter Craig & Justin Marks
Screenplay by – Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer & Christopher McQuarrie
Based on – Top Gun by Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.
Music by – Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe & OneRepublic
Cinematography by – Claudio Miranda
Edited by – Eddie Hamilton
Production/Distribution Companies – Skydance Media, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films & Paramount Pictures
Starring – Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, Manny Jacinto, Jack Schumacher, Bashir Salahuddin, Jake Picking, Raymond Lee, Lyliana Wray & Jean Louisa Kelly
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13