36 years ago, the trajectory of the Hollywood blockbuster went aerial thanks to the bold, exciting, and machismo-centric classic, Top Gun. Not only did the late Tony Scott directed film set a new standard for shooting action, but it also propelled the movie-star career of an actor who is also his own stunt double, Tom Cruise. Stating for many decades now that he would only reprise his role as the suave, handsome, Navy pilot renegade known as Maverick if the script was over and above the standard that the first film set, and after 2 years of pandemic delays, Top Gun: Maverick is the sequel that fans have been waiting an eternity for. Does Top Gun: Maverick have the need for speed, or will be ejecting itself from a incinerated F-14?
Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is a test pilot for the armed forces, specifically for a stealth jet that may have the capability of reaching the previously unreachable ‘Mach 10’ – a speed and force that can destroy planes and cause humans to blackout. Of course, Maverick, being the cocksure daredevil he is, pushes the aircraft and himself to the limit, proving that is still one helluva pilot! So much so that when an unsanctioned nuclear facility is discovered by NATO, Maverick is ordered back by General ‘Cyclone’ Simpson (Jon Hamm), to where his career started, Top Gun flight academy. However, this time, instead of leading the mission to destroy this nuclear facility from the skies, he’s tasked with training a young and talented group of Top Gun graduates to perform the death-defying task.
Within the group of graduates is the cocky and brash Hangman (Glen Powell) who gravitates to being the natural leader of the group with his knowledge and confidence, and the strong-willed achiever, Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). However, much to the dismay of Maverick, his attention is focused on Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late wingman, Goose. Their rocky relationship is on display early when it’s revealed that Maverick stopped Rooster from applying for flight school due to feeling guilty about Goose’s death. And while Rooster doesn’t hold Maverick responsible, his disdain towards Maverick stems from holding him back from doing the thing he loves.
Top Gun: Maverick perfectly balances being a nostalgic tribute to its predecessor, while being an exciting, modern action film. The opening titles enter as a carbon copy of the first film’s: the text is the same, Take My Breath Away leading into Kenny Loggins’ iconic Danger Zone, blasting through the speakers as the sun drenched, orange tint covers an aircraft carrier while jets explosive take off and land in a frantic montage that immediately fills the heart with nostalgia. The ear-to-ear grin begins at this point, and never leaves until the end credits are done. One of Top Gun: Maverick’s strengths are that it doesn’t abuse its nostalgic sensibilities. Sure, there’s many great call backs through photos, visual gags, and dialogue (including one tear-inducing scene halfway through the film that anchors its emotional core), but the screenplay does a great job of injecting new life and a great narrative to co-exist with all the things that made the original Top Gun great.
That same macho-bravado is sprinkled throughout the film, in the cheesiest, yet greatest way possible! Top Gun: Maverick is full of laugh-out-loud moments. It is a truly funny movie at some points. The banter between the Top Gun pilots still shares the cocky sentiment of the original, and of course, there is an oiled-up shirtless sports scene. Plus, the romance between Maverick and Penny (Jennifer Connelly) wasn’t a necessary plotline that the film needed, but it’s still one that works so well by further developing Maverick’s character and keeping that nostalgic feeling alive! Plus, Connelly is fantastic in this film and brings so much vibrancy to the role! And while the cheesiness of those elements is abundantly apparent, it never once feels cheap or detracts from the film as a whole. In fact, it feels like a nice warm blanket around the soul… a blanket that’s been heated up but a jet engine and doused in testosterone!
If Top Gun revolutionised action in the skies, then Top Gun: Maverick has successfully done the same for the modern era. This movie is action-packed, with aerial stunts that are astounding and exhilarating. Director Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave, Tron Legacy) has pulled off an impossible task of creating realistic, visceral action using practical effects, with a massive focus on showing the real actors inside the jets, pulling off these unbelievable stunts throughout. Seeing each actor swerve, pivot and dive their way through the training scenes, and inevitably, the giant third act climax, creates a cinematic experience unlike anything seen on screen before. The visual immersion of Kosinski’s direction, mixed with Oscar-worthy cinematography capturing the action, make Top Gun: Maverick the most exciting modern blockbuster to date.
Not one to shy away from the action, Tom Cruise puts himself front and centre with unbelievably high-speed, high-octane scenarios that genuinely must be seen to be believed, even with his reputation. It’s a truly amazing feat to not only be so committed to the exciting action in a physical sense, but also hold character as Maverick while in those moments, and Cruise does so with ease. Top Gun: Maverick is Tom Cruise at his best, with a great physical turnout, but also an emotionally deep performance.
Where Top Gun: Maverick separates itself from any other modern blockbuster is it’s genuinely heartfelt, emotionally grounded story. Sure, this is a balls-to-the-wall action flick, but the quieter character moments that drive the narrative are so well fleshed out and written, making this an engaging story with heightened emotional stakes. Maverick, throughout the film, is challenged with letting go of the past and the guilt he feels and having that come to fruition by having Rooster to partake in the mission is an amazing storytelling device. The grounded drama is almost unexpected in a film like this… the sequel to that classic cheese-fest, Top Gun, but it is handled in such a seamless way further proving that the loud, colourful, and explosive action films can still be filled with an immense amount of heart. And having two acting powerhouses such as Cruise and Teller in those roles only add positively to its effect. Miles Teller is perfectly cast as Goose’s son, not just for his dramatic ability, but the uncanny-valley similarities he aesthetically shares with Goose actor, Anthony Edwards. There are close up shots in this film where Teller and Edwards are a spitting image on one another.
To simply put it, Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best sequels of all time, it’s one of the best epic-blockbusters of the last 20 years, and it’s easily one of the best films of 2022 so far. It’s got the nostalgic cheese of its original, paying respect to its foundations, but it’s also the most exhilarating of action films that manages to have the heart of an Oscar-worthy drama. See this on the biggest screen possible and see it more than once!
Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas May 26 thanks to Paramount Pictures.
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