Top Gun: Maverick – movie review

I feel the need… the need for a sequel! And 36 years after the original, director Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave) delivers a sequel that fans have been craving with Top Gun: Maverick. The film deftly walks the line between paying homage to the past while moving the franchise forward – if you can call two movies over 4 decades a “franchise”.

Kosinski isn’t afraid of delivering gobs of fan service. Indeed, it starts from the opening credits. The very first scene is a mirror image of the one from Top Gun (you know, jets on an aircraft carrier backed by Kenny Loggins’ tune “Danger Zone”). The director goes on to tick off new versions of classic scenes – the dogfighting, the sweaty beach sports, the rowdy bar antics, and many more.

The film opens with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell  (Tom Cruise) still a captain. He’s stuck testing experimental aircraft at a desert base. He takes a risk knowing that the test program is likely to be shut down in favour of drones – to no avail. But a late reprieve thanks to old rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) – now in charge of the US Pacific Fleet – sees him back at the Top Gun flight training school in San Diego. There, commanders Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) and Solomon “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell) reveal the reason. The Pentagon has identified a major threat in an unnamed country (which seems suspiciously like a blend of Iran and Russia). Due to the heavy defences at the site, most attack plans have been ruled out. That leaves the “impossible” option – a low level run with FA-18s skimming under enemy radar, followed by a dive bombing attack down the sides of steep mountains. But much to his chagrin, Maverick won’t fly the mission. His only job is to train the pilots.

Those pilots include ice-cool Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro) and her co-pilot, the nerdy Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman); arrogant hot-shot Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell); and determined Reuben “Payback” Fitch (Jay Ellis). But the problematic member of the team is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). He’s the son of Goose from Top Gun, and he carries at least two major grudges against Maverick. Things don’t get off to a great start though as the recruits – unused to the art of dogfighting – struggle to keep up. Meanwhile, Maverick re-connects with old flame Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly).

Kosinski and his writing team (which includes Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie) thankfully embrace the show-don’t-tell principle. This means the film has a light feel, rather than smashing the audience with exposition. The script deftly flits between the mission storyline and the personal stories of the characters, adding unexpected depth. Drama, romance and humour combine for a heady mix. That said, I think we all know Top Gun is all about the flying, and some of the flying sequences are incredible. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is outstanding. Hans Zimmer, Harold Faltermeyer and Lorne Balfe (Ambulance) combine for the perfect musical accompaniment.

Cruise, ever the film star, reminds once more why he’s so bankable. He might not be an actors’ actor, but his timing is impeccable and even rather made-up to dampen signs of age, he still cuts a dashing figure. He even embraces his smaller stature for once. Cruise pretty much runs the movie, but finds solid support in Miles Teller as the bristling Rooster. I enjoyed the performances of the actors playing the other pilots too, notably the odd couple of Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman as Phoenix and Bob. Jon Hamm and Charles Parnell bring a touch of gravitas as the mission commanders, and Val Kilmer makes a heartbreaking cameo. Jennifer Connolly gets some nice moments as Maverick’s love interest, although her character understandably gets sidelined once the serious aeronautics start.

Top Gun: Maverick is one of those rare instances where the sequel is clearly better than the first film. The two hours running time (literally) flew by. Few will leave the cinema unsatisfied.
From teenagers to oldies, this film will appeal to a very broad audience. But for once, a popular film is also a fantastic one.

David Edwards

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