Top Gun is an 80’s classic, without question, even if few would argue that the film is a crowning achievement of cinema. So, while it’s an incredibly fun watch and a strong star vehicle, was anyone truly clamoring for a sequel? All of that suggests that a second installment, especially decades later, would not be an incredibly good idea. Factor in delays, both to fine tune the film, as well as COVID related, and it’s almost as if the universe just didn’t want it to happen. Well, happen it did, and I’m actually thrilled to report that Top Gun: Maverick is fantastic. You likely won’t find a more exciting and satisfying big budget piece of entertainment than this. It’s an unqualified success that stands tall with any 2022 release so far.
Top Gun: Maverick could easily have just been a vanity project for Tom Cruise. Instead, it’s a moving and thrilling continuation of the character/story, going in directions you would not expect. Especially considering how ageless Cruise can often be, making this a tale of temporarily staving off the scrap heap is wildly compelling. Not only are the aerial scenes amazing, there’s an emotional core here that will wallop you at times.
Taking place three decades after Top Gun ended, we find Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) still very much in the same place. Still a Captain, he’s one of the Navy’s top aviators, currently testing a new class of plane, but his issues with authority remain. Running into conflict with a Rear Admiral (Ed Harris) after he defies orders yet again, it seems like for all the money, his time in the Navy is at an end. He’s fought against the rules, defying promotion, but the bell has finally rung for Maverick. Then, a call from an old friend saves the day, while forcing him to return to where it all began.
Tasked by now Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) with training a new group of Top Gun candidates for a seemingly impossible mission, Maverick is hardly the first choice of program head “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm). Maverick is barely interested as well, especially when he learns that one of the pilots that he may be sending on a suicide mission is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late best friend, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. The other pilots include the cocky Hangman (Glen Powell), as well as Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman), and more. Narrowing the group from twelve to six, Maverick and Rooster also will have to deal with their complicated past. Being back at Top Gun brings Maverick not just into contact with the memory of Goose, but also a former flame in Penny (Jennifer Connelly). Can he become the teacher he’s always resisted becoming? Will his fighter pilot skills still be needed? Watching it all unfold is way more fun, intense, and affecting than you might have expected.
Tom Cruise slips easily back into this iconic role, while never shying away from the toll that time has taken on Maverick. Older, maybe a little bit wiser, but still very much who he was, we’re seeing a potential relic rage against the dying of the light. In terms of Cruise action roles, this flick gives him more drama to engage with than usual. Miles Teller brings an intensity to his role, matching Cruise in some surprisingly charged scenes. His character is the one who has the most development given, aside from Cruise’s, and your investment in his arc is essential. Teller being as good as he is grabs you immediately. Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman are given a bit more to their characters than many of the other young pilots, and while they’re good, you do wish there was some added beats to give them additional personality. Among the non-Teller crew, Glen Powell fares the best, since he’s essentially the new Iceman. His charisma go a long way to making him memorable, even if the script doesn’t quite do a ton to advance that. Jennifer Connelly doesn’t have a ton to do, but an age appropriate love interest for Cruise is certainly a plus. Seeing Val Kilmer in his cameo is a pleasure, too, with the added bonus that his scene is one of the more touching in the film. Supporting players include Greg Tarzan Davis, Jay Ellis, Manny Jacinto, Charles Parnell, Danny Ramirez, Bashir Salahuddin, Lyliana Wray, and more. Cruise is clearly the star, but the likes of Powell and Teller are hardly slouches.
Director Joseph Kosinski makes Top Gun: Maverick a visual spectacle. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda and Kosinski take full advantage of Cruise being a daredevil, as well as modern filmmaking marvels, to make the aerial sequences often breathtaking. At the same time, there’s an emotional quotient here that’s shockingly effective. Taking a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks, credited screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Christopher McQuarrie, and Eric Warren Singer blend years worth of development into an immensely satisfying experience. Well paced, thrilling, and with terrific music from Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, and Lady Gaga (her original song is a banger over the closing credits) that blends the old and new, almost everything works here. If a few of the secondary characters were a bit more fully developed, this truly would have been a stunning achievement.
Top Gun: Maverick is so much better than it arguably has any right to be. One of the year’s best films so far, it’s a sequel that’s an improvement upon the original in nearly every manner. As the summer draws closer, this is poised to be not just a huge hit, but a satisfying continuation of this character’s journey. Whatever your expectations are, raise them a bit. This is something special, especially considering how generic it could have been. Cruise fans rejoice, but film fans in general should be very excited for this one!