Top Gun: Maverick marks the return of the titular naval aviator after a prolonged 36-year break, and it’s a victorious one! The film delivers on both spectacle and heart, with leading star Tom Cruise showing us yet again his love for thrill-seeking and cinema. Joseph Kosinski’s direction is slick, providing ample nostalgia to fans of the original while updating the look and feel of flying at supersonic speeds. The new, younger cast of characters embodies the spirit of Maverick’s younger days, with Miles Teller presenting an absolutely terrific foil to Cruise’s cool-headed.
I hadn’t seen the original Top Gun in a long time before going into Maverick, so I did myself a favour by rewatching it just the day prior to my screening. Tony Scott’s classic is definitely…a film of its time. It’s a loud and proud ’80s film, and it wants you to know it, with every element from the music choices to the not-so-subtle homoerotic undertones standing out as a distinctive flair. The sequel, on the other hand, does bend to modern genre conventions but it never takes its sight off of what’s important — providing high-class entertainment.
Picking up in real-time, Maverick sees Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) called back to TOP GUN to train a select batch of its top-scoring pilots for a dangerous mission. The only problem? The team’s lack of…well, teamwork and one very resentful Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Maverick’s late best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. Needless to say, tensions are high, with stakes much higher than that of the first film (which was more of a character drama anyway).
A lot has happened in Mitchell’s life since he passed out of the well-known aviation school, and the film smartly stops itself from recalling extraneous details from his off-screen career. We‘re given just enough to piece together what he has gone through thanks to conversations with re-kindled love Penny (Jennifer Connelly) who comes into her own through the course of the film. Of course, not bringing back Kelly McGillis’s Charlie is a miss for hardcore fans, but considering the passage of time and the audience this film serves, which is mostly a younger one, it’s something that shouldn’t take long to move on from. Penny is a well-rounded character, who enjoys a comfortable level of independence from the flight school and its residents. The love story is very much a B-plot and exists to flesh out Maverick, but Connelly holds her own with some heartwarming moments including her daughter (played by Lyliana Wray).
Of course, I can’t talk about a Tom Cruise blockbuster without praising the attention to detail in its well-designed action sequences. Shot mostly in-camera with stunning practical choreography, Maverick includes some worthy edge-of-the-seat thrill in its high-flying sequences, culminating in a crazy climax that far supersedes the original. With much higher stakes than before, the film builds up to its final block of action in well-paced chunks, with the final one feeling like a grounded version of the Trench run in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
I like the young cast here, comprising of known talent like Miles Teller and Glen Powell and rising stars like Danny Ramirez, Lewis Pullman, Monica Barbaro and Greg Davis, along with others. Teller gives a charming performance as Rooster, embodying his father’s spirit while standing out as a unique character himself. His relationship with Cruise makes for the film’s emotional core, with some functional but exciting dialogue fueling the high points of the film that isn’t about flying thousands of feet above the ground.
He’s not the only one posing problems to Maverick, as Jon Hamm and Ed Harris join in on the fun of bossing Mitchell around, as much as that’s possible. Like in the first film, Maverick is a rebel. Breaking rules and disobeying direct orders is second nature to him, and it’s fun seeing an older Cruise defying orders from strong co-stars like Hamm.
Maverick marks director Joseph Kasinski’s second legacy sequel that far surpasses the original both in terms of scope and character drama. His eye for technical detail and his understanding of Cruise’s strengths carry over from Tron: Legacy (which I hope gets another sequel) and Oblivion. Kosinski has stated that the crew shot around 800 hours of footage for this film, and the hard work has clearly paid off well. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next, with him getting exponentially better with each film.
Top Gun: Maverick is a terrific combination of high-stakes action and drama that’s worth seeing on the biggest screen possible (IMAX, in my case) with Tom Cruise and the young cast giving their all for one of the year’s most entertaining films.