The parcel: Captain Pete Mitchell’s call sign Maverick (Tom Cruise) is always pushing his limits and disobeying orders, now as a test pilot. He is called back into Top Gun duty at the request of Iceman (Val Kilmer). He must train the best of the best pilots for an upcoming low-level, high-risk mission to destroy an enemy target. It won’t be an easy task and Maverick is something of a dinosaur. Among them is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of his deceased comrade Goose. Still harboring feelings of guilt over the loss of Goose, Maverick will have to overcome them, confront Rooster, and prove to the new Navy officers that he still needs them. The need for speed…
The verdict: Better late than never. Almost three years after its original scheduled release date, Top Gun: Maverick has exploded onto cinema screens and boy, was it worth the wait. It’s the last of the long-delayed blockbusters to emerge into the sun after a dark time for cinemas, but perhaps the best has been saved for last. A strong believer in the cinematic experience, star and producer Tom Cruise parked his metaphorical F14 Tomcat in the shed and waited for the pandemic storm to pass. Now, the long-awaited sequel (in more ways than one) is finally in the air and is undeniably aiming for new heights for Cruise and the cinema audiences he made the film for. Selling it to a streaming platform just wasn’t an option. It’s the kind of movie that not only benefits from the big screen and Dolby Atmos sound, but also from the shared experience of sitting in the dark and sharing the experience with others.
Of course, making a sequel to one of the most iconic films of the 1980s was going to be a challenge. The late Tony Scott (who gets a dedication) made the very definition of a 1980s blockbuster, changing the course of his own career into action-thriller territory. Director Joseph Kosinski, who previously helmed Cruise in Oblivion, picks up where Scott left off. Kosinski could very well have flown into the danger zone of nostalgia with this follow-up. Lean too much into it and it becomes a melancholy reminder of a time different from ours. Go too modern and progressive and you lose connection to what made Scott’s movie so entertaining that you wanted to jump out of your seat and do push-ups. Kosinski and his writers Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie focused on target with their crosshairs to find that sweet spot between 1986 and 2022. The right balance of nostalgia and progression not only for Maverick himself, but also for the legacy that is left as he faces his own destiny in the heavens.
The years have marked Maverick, but he hasn’t changed that much. Avoiding the promotion that could very well anchor him in a desk job, he continues to push himself, his plane and his crew to go further than before and eventually achieve the impossible. It’s fascinating to watch Cruise slip back into the role like an old glove that still has a shine. “Your species is on the verge of extinction,” grumbles the unimpressed Rear Admiral Ed Harris. “Maybe sir, but not today,” Maverick retorts. True to his callsign, he’s changed in some ways but remains stubbornly provocative and he has to be like that to impress the young hot shots who are supposed to know it all. The word impossible isn’t in Maverick’s dictionary and true to form, Cruise’s star-powered wattage crushes some light bulbs as he takes to the skies – for real.
A devotee of doing things behind closed doors (and rightly so given the prevalence of green screen), it’s Cruise and his cast who ride in planes firing G-forces with Air Force pilots. neatly hidden away, with the IMAX camera bolted into the cockpit for you-are-right-there realism. Hold on to your popcorn as the film literally takes your breath away with outstanding aerial footage of dogfights and whirling, rotating modern fighter jets, plus the return of familiar material from the original film ( a fun but heartfelt touch). Kosinski sticks closely to the format of the original film, with an unnamed enemy force in a foreign land to be dealt with in the thrilling third act. The film’s murky politics remain rooted in the 1980s, but then again Top Gun never really flew from a political angle. The sequel is also about heart, camaraderie and bravery, best embodied in a single scene between Cruise and Val Kilmer’s Iceman return, made all the more poignant by Kilmer’s own battle with throat cancer.
After two uncertain summers where studios were cautiously testing the waters to see if audiences would return to theaters, Top Gun: Maverick could very well be the summer blockbuster to beat this year as things finally calm down. The nostalgic/modern tone is spot on, the script develops both Maverick and the new characters to a point where that respect is deserved, the supporting cast including Jennifer Connelly’s love interest Penny work to Cruise’s pace and Kosinski delivers what Point Break’s Bodhi called 100% Pure Adrenaline. Buckle up and let the cruise control take over. Top Gun: Maverick soars.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
100% pure adrenaline
In short: 100% pure adrenaline
Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
With Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm, Val Kilmer, Ed Harris.