The original Top Gun was an absolute juggernaut when it was released back in 1986. It became the highest grossing movie of that year, creating an iconic soundtrack and skyrocketing the career of a young Tom Cruise to superstar status. Making a decades-later sequel to a beloved property is always a big gamble, which makes it all the more shocking that Top Gun: Maverick turned out as amazing as it did.
Over 30 years after the events of the original, Navy captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has purposefully dodged rank advancement and became a test pilot in an age of drone warfare. After destroying an experimental jet and enraging an admiral (Ed Harris) in the process, he is called back to the TOPGUN program to train a team of candidates for a dangerous mission to strike a heavily guarded unnamed enemy nuclear facility.
Complicating things emotionally for Maverick is one particular pilot: Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s dead best friend Goose, and with whom he shares a very strained father/son-like relationship. The plot structure isn’t a big change from the original, but it gets the job done.
Its “legacy sequel” status means a lot of the iconography from the first has to be referenced, from a sunset-lit shirtless game of beach football, to a near-exact recreation of the opening credits, Danger Zone needle drop included. That being said, the movie doesn’t feel like it’s constantly revelling in these callbacks as opposed to other 80s legacy sequels like Ghostbusters: Afterlife. In fact, the most surprising thing about Top Gun: Maverick is how much it humanizes its main character.
“Making a decades-later sequel to a beloved property is always a big gamble, which makes it all the more shocking that Top Gun: Maverick turned out as amazing as it did.”
The script, penned by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, does a great job at making Maverick come to terms with himself and his relationships with the people around him, whether it be his guilt surrounding Goose’s death, reconnecting with old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly) or even sharing a touching moment with his old friend/rival Iceman (Val Kilmer).
Maverick knows he can’t keep doing what he does forever, but he’s way too stubborn to ever stop flying. The one real disappointment would be Kelly McGillis’ character from the original being nowhere to be found. It would have been interesting to see how Charlie and Maverick’s relationship had changed in between films, but to not even get a mention is a shame.
Make no mistake about it, though: This is the Tom Cruise show. He easily slips back into Maverick’s shoes like no time has passed, because it’s clear Maverick is the role closest to Cruise’s actual personality. When he talks about how he might not be able to keep flying much longer, that might as well be Cruise himself talking about being one of the last true-and-blue movie stars of his era. If that sounds self-aggrandizing on his part, it kind of is. However, it’s clear that very few can command the screen like he does, and he shows that off in spades.
Thankfully, the rest of Top Gun: Maverick’s new cast manage to keep up. Jon Hamm is great as the angry admiral who has to constantly keep Maverick in check. The cast of young recruits (which includes Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis and Lewis Pullman leading the pack) are all very likeable and well-defined in their own respective ways. Miles Teller delivers a solid turn as Rooster. However, it’s Glen Powell who nearly steals the show as Hangman, the cocky pilot who may as well be a younger version of Maverick himself in both skill and attitude.
“How does the action fare this time? In two words: heart-stopping.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be Top Gun without cool jets flying after one another. How does the action fare this time? In two words: heart-stopping. It’s a testament to Cruise’s near-obsession with making his stunts as real as possible, and the visually keen eye of director Joseph Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda. Seeing these jets do these near-impossible stunts feels refreshingly tactile in a time when most blockbusters feel like completely CG light shows.
It helps that a good portion of the action is shot from the perspectives of the pilots in cockpit cameras. You feel like you’re in the pilot’s seat for these dogfights alongside the crew. There are so many moments where I said to myself, “How in the hell did they manage to actually film that?!” Also, when it came to the climactic mission itself, it gave me an adrenaline rush that didn’t go away until an hour after the movie ended.
Top Gun: Maverick is everything a summer blockbuster should be. It’s a spectacle on a level I haven’t seen in years. It doesn’t change the wheel plot-wise, but its main improvements are where it counts: breathtaking action and well-developed character relationships. Even as someone who was no fan of the original, I came out of the movie wanting to watch it again right then and there. This is a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.