It’s been a long time since the original Top Gun hit theaters. A little over 36 years, to be exact. Plans began to firm up around 2010 until the director of the original film and the proposed sequel, the great Tony Scott, passed away, leaving the film in limbo. Yet nothing is more powerful than the need for speed. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and fellow producer/star Tom Cruise enlisted the help of director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) to bring the product to the finish. A global pandemic and several delays later, Top Gun: Maverick is finally here. All that time in the oven cooked this belated sequel to perfection. Top Gun: Maverick surpasses the original and most recent blockbusters with a more classical approach to storytelling and spectacle.
Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) enjoys staying in his test pilot position, neglecting to go after any promotions and avoiding his past. When orders come down from the Navy, Maverick returns to fighter pilot academy “Top Gun” to train a group of graduates for a special mission. Maverick’s assignment gets a little more complicated when he finds out the son of his deceased wingman Goose, Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is in the group of trainees. As the window to get these men and women trained continues to narrow, Maverick must fight the opening of old wounds and the march of time.
Top Gun: Maverick makes the wise choice of being a direct sequel rather than a soft reboot or the dreaded “legacy sequel”. Much like the ironically named Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski’s film picks up on and progresses the essential elements of the original. The area that’s seen significant change since the original is in the visuals. Now, if Top Gun: Maverick couldn’t show why or how fighter jets are cool, then there’s no way it would work. Exhilarating action sequences bring the unadulterated power of these complex machines to life like never before. Your ass is placed in the pilot’s seat, because Tom Cruise’s ass was in that pilot’s seat doing a great deal of the stuntwork.
The in-cockpit cinematography capturing the swift, deft glides over the ocean and through canyons would’ve made it impressive regardless. Even with the roar of an engine or the steady increase of an odometer, the spectacle – courtesy of Kosinski’s go-to cinematographer Claudio Miranda – is off the charts. Top Gun is a classic for a reason, but it couldn’t hope to sell its central machines in this way. Borrowing musical cues from the original film only accentuates that point. The classic Top Gun vibes aren’t simply brought back, they’re elevated into the stratosphere.
The performances and characterization also far exceed the original. Cruise’s physical commitment to Maverick’s action scenes almost overshadows the fact that he’s a damn good actor. His reprise is a weathered, though no less gregarious take on the character. There’s something somewhat comforting about getting to see a hero keep their same spirit now that they’re older. Cruise sells it as an earnest embrace of the idealized American hero without coming off as jingoistic. He just as much embraces the humanity as he does the coolness.
As the wet blanket Maverick must answer to, Jon Hamm does a great job in his archetypical role. So does Jennifer Connelly, giving a street-wise soul to Mav’s former (and possibly future) flame Penny. Maverick’s trainees are the real stars of the show, though. All are played by a talented cast of young and hungry actors from the likes of Lewis Pullman as the nerdy Bob and spunky Monica Barbaro as Lieutenant Phoenix. There’s a strong attempt to give them diversity in actors and personality, which mostly pays off. Glen Powell brings the snark as troublemaker Hangman. He’s an excellent heel to Miles Teller’s Rooster, the film’s secondary protagonist. Teller is the film’s highest point in a film full of peaks. He employs so much pathos, so much complexity in a role in a blockbuster action movie. He hasn’t been this good in years.
I’d say Teller’s commitment legitimizes the project, but what’s to legitimize? Strip away the fireworks of the action and the star power, Top Gun: Maverick still tells a story worth telling. The script, written by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, tells a story anyone can follow. Underneath that story lies an ocean of depth. The nature of heroism/sacrifice, the scars of the past, and how to reconnect with those you’ve hurt. Top Gun: Maverick invites tenderness with open arms. It’s unafraid to be emotional as much as it’s unafraid to show off. Therefore, its screenplay makes a moment like two friends talking for the first time in ages as important as a huge action sequence. And they’re both likely to draw a huge reaction from an audience.
Top Gun: Maverick may very well be seen as military propaganda. That wouldn’t entirely be incorrect. But rather to serve a regime, Maverick‘s main purpose is to reinforce the importance of classical blockbuster filmmaking. We need heroes in our fiction, because they give us something to aspire to and see ourselves in. Joseph Kosinski realizes that the enchantment of a great blockbuster is giving us thrills and connecting with universal feelings. – James Preston Poole
Top Gun: Maverick will be in theaters on May 27, 2022.