After more than three decades, Maverick’s got to fly once again. You’d think that when a movie grosses more than $350 Mil at the box office (on a mere $15 Mil budget no less), we’d have a franchise by now. There are far less profitable movies that have spun numerous sequels by Hollywood’s franchise machine. Well, apparently the original Top Gun director Tony Scott, who passed away in 2012, was in the process of developing a version of this sequel before his death. This film is dedicated to his memory.
Of course, there won’t be Top Gun: Maverick without the original character who owns that code name. Tom Cruise is back as Pete Mitchell and he brought his favorite filmmaking team with him. Joseph Kosinski, who collaborated with Cruise in Oblivion is helming the feature. Christopher McQuarrie, who’s become Cruise’s right-hand man since the massive success of his Mission Impossible movies, is one of the co-writers. Kosinski’s been quoted as saying they wanted to take the Top Gun story in a new direction, so Cruise and Val Kilmer‘s Iceman are the only two returning characters here, but there sure is plenty of rousing nostalgia to be had.
It’s wise for the filmmakers to keep the story simple, nary of unnecessary subplots that bog things down. I mean, people go see Top Gun for the high-octane flying sequences and death-defying aerobatics. Being an accomplished pilot in real life, Cruise apparently insisted there are no green screens nor CGI for the aerial shots, he even went so far as coaching the younger actors to film themselves during the in-flight sequences as you can’t possibly fit the DP in the cockpit. Clearly the young actors don’t just sign up to act in this movie as they’re subjected to G-force training sessions and have to endure G-force pressures during the flying sequences.
Mitchell is as close as one can get to the real Tom Cruise.… always pushing the envelope and breaking the rules to go beyond the limit of what’s possible. The opening scene is a great setup that pays homage to the original while also pushing the story in a new direction. Mitchell’s venturesome shenanigans end up getting him grounded by the Navy’s Rear Admiral (Ed Harris), but not for long though, somehow Mitchell gets a new gig as a flight instructor to a group of new fighter pilots, thanks to the help of an old friend. Interesting that Cruise once again involves a ‘rogue nation’ enemy (as he did in the 2015 Mission Impossible flick written by McQuarrie) as the Navy’s elite Top Gun program’s new mission is to destroy a uranium enrichment facility. It may be unnamed but it sure feels like the enemy is Russia or Soviet-like, and I read that the baddie’s jet looks like Russia’s new stealthy Su-57 fighter.
The new elite squadron is made up of some familiar faces — Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Glenn Powell; as well as up-and-comers, notably Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman. Barbaro is the one to watch out for, and not only because she’s a woman, but Phoenix is a fierce character physically and mentally. I’m glad that they don’t make her as a damsel in distress, in fact it’s the opposite. Powell has been touted as the breakout star here thanks to his gif-able muscle flex during that famous beach volleyball scene. I actually find him memorable because he seems unable to hide his excitement about being in this movie, he’s grinning ear to ear the whole time! I suppose he has a reason to be thrilled given the producers beefed up his role even after he lost out to Miles Teller for the role he auditioned for.
Now, the main drama is between Maverick and Teller’s character Rooster, who happens to be Goose’s son, the radar-intercept officer who died in the first movie. Naturally there’s going to be tension between the two, but the film actually goes beyond the clichéd ‘guilt trip’ about Rooster blaming Maverick for his father’s death. I had been waiting for Val Kilmer‘s appearance here and it’s definitely a genuinely emotional moment in the film. It’s a brief scene but an important one and the filmmakers respectfully give Iceman a proper arc as well as a reason to exist in this movie. Essentially, the story is Maverick’s rite of passage, and Iceman plays a crucial role in that regard.
As for the romance, well as much as I like Jennifer Connelly‘s casting as Penny, there’s not much chemistry between her and Cruise despite the fact that they were once lovers. The love scene is pretty chaste, well practically non-existent really, though she does get to ride into the sunset with him in that motorbike. Connelly always adds gravitas to everything she’s in so Penny is more than just Maverick’s love interest.
Themes of redemption and sacrifice are ripe in most military movies, and there’s also the wisdom of trusting someone and letting go. The film somehow manages to mix the loud, rousing scenes with tender moments seamlessly, such as the barroom sing-a-long scene with Rooster playing ‘Great Balls of Fire’ on the piano… harkening back to the same scene of Maverick and Goose. The flashback scenes might be a bit mawkish, but somehow it works and Cruise’s expression tells us how much his friend’s death decades ago still affects him. Despite all of the high-flying action, the grounded emotional story still manage to get me misty-eyed.
Cruise has proven himself as an adept dramatic actor, but he’s at his best as an action star, even more so in the latter part of his career. His movies keep upping the ante on what’s seemingly impossible to film, and he wants the audience to experience all the exhilarating death-defying stunts in the most immersive way possible. The dogfight scenes in the last half hour were truly exhilarating… I could feel the adrenaline rush watching them in an IMAX theater as Cruise + co. give you a front-row seat into what it’s like to be in a fighter jet.
The flying sequences look even more realistic than in the first movie, and Maverick would once again serve as a marketing recruitment boost for all branches of the military, not just the Navy, according to this Flying Mag article. It can’t come at a better time as reportedly the Air Force is facing a pilot shortage.
As a piece of entertainment, Top Gun: Maverick delivers the spectacle and thrills it promises… deftly mixing unapologetic nostalgia and stimulating action that should satisfy fans of the original and win new ones. I definitely enjoy this sequel more than the first movie and somehow the flying sequences didn’t make me as nauseous, which is quite a feat for a movie that spends most of its time rolling and looping in the air. A spectacular kick-off to the Summer blockbuster season, this one certainly warrants a trip to the cinema, it’d be even worthwhile to pay extra to see it on IMAX.
What do you think of TOP GUN: Maverick?