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Top Gun: Maverick Review

May 27, 2022 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Top Gun: Maverick - Tom Cruise as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell Image Credit: Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
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Top Gun: Maverick Review  

Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Written By: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig, and Justin Marks; Based on the characters created by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
Runtime: 131 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language

Tom Cruise – Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell
Jennifer Connelly – Penny Benjamin
Miles Teller – Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw
Jon Hamm – Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson
Charles Parnell – Rear Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates
Monica Barbaro – Lieutenant Natasha “Phoenix” Trace
Ed Harris – Rear Admiral Cain
Glen Powell – Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin
Lewis Pullman – Lieutenant Robert “Bob” Floyd
Bashir Salahuddin – Bernie “Hondo” Coleman
Val Kilmer – Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky

Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 generational classic, Top Gun, finally soars into theaters this month. The film was subjected to multiple delays and postponed for nearly two years due to the pandemic. The long wait certainly pays off as Tom Cruise and longtime collaborators Joseph Kosinski and Christopher McQuarrie deliver a sequel that works and does not leave a horrendous aftertaste.

Top Gun: Maverick‘s first 13 minutes was a definitive spotlight for last year’s CinemaCon. This year’s convention saw Paramount screen the movie in full, complete with Dolby Vision and Atmos format. If there is a modern movie that proves the theatrical experience is still relevant, Top Gun: Maverick makes an excellent case for that.

Set over thirty years after the original, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has not experienced much upward mobility in the Navy, very much living up to his callsign. After disobeying an order from Admiral Cain (Harris) to stand down for a test flight on an ultrasonic jet that can fly up to the speed of Mach 10, Maverick is granted one last save from his old wingman, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Kilmer).

Maverick is reassigned as an instructor to his old stomping grounds of the Top Gun flight school. However, the parameters are different this time. Admiral “Cyclone” Simpson (Hamm) and Rear Admiral “Warlock” Bates want Maverick to train a class of returning graduates for a highly dangerous mission that can only be conducted by human-piloted aircraft. Reluctant to come aboard as an instructor for experienced pilots, Maverick accepts the post since this is the only way he can continue what is left of his career as a Navy aviator. Many of the graduate students are brash hotshots, similar to Maverick himself decades earlier. One of the graduates happens to be Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Maverick’s late Radar Intercept Officer Goose, who tragically passed in the first movie. Unfortunately, the wounds the two share are still fresh. Maverick is desperate to gain forgiveness from Rooster, but he fears this mission could be suicide for his best friend’s son and the other pilots. Those losses are something Maverick is unwilling to accept.

Considering how the original Top Gun is still hotly debated and discussed over 37 years since it was first released, it has certainly left its mark on cinema as a genre-defining movie. It was often imitated but never duplicated, despite attempts by the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and Nicolas Cage in Fire Birds. The prospect of a sequel to Top Gun sounds a bit head-scratching at first. The original was not a franchise-starter, and it had a singular, closed-ended story with a satisfying conclusion. It did not naturally lend itself to a sequel.

Nevertheless, Top Gun does manage to justify its existence by acknowledging how aerial combat has changed and transitioned more to drone piloting in recent years. The nostalgia for the original pairs well with the sense that fighter pilots and naval aviators are a dying breed. Even the young Top Gun graduates constitute an endangered species. It’s not just Maverick looking for a last hurrah, but arguably the younger pilots as well. The romantic reverence toward aviation was part of the original’s charm, and that remains in the sequel, although that aspect is somewhat altered.

While the film has no less than five credited writers, the name that certainly stands out is Christopher McQuarrie. It’s difficult to see where exactly McQuarrie’s influence comes into play. The combat mission is set up within the narrative in a way that evokes McQuarrie’s style. It is shocking that despite a script with so many writers, the plot is remarkably smooth and cohesive. Usually, films with so many writers end up as a hodgepodge of disparate ideas and become disjointed and convoluted. That is not the case here.

Top Gun: Maverick excels by not resting on the laurels of the first film and does not simply rehash various scenes of the original. Striking the right tone and creating a balance in a sequel for a beloved classic piece of cinema is admittedly difficult. The challenge is in not resorting to what worked the first time around, and also in not setting up inane scenarios that break from the established continuity of the original. Thanks to Christopher McQuarrie’s exceptional influence as a storyteller, Joseph Kosinski manages to strike that delicate balance. Top Gun: Maverick works both as a sequel that honors the original and manages to create a fresh, new scenario for the main characters.

What helps the script is that the stakes are apparent from the outset. The combat mission the pilots have been tasked with is incredibly dangerous. The flight is practically a suicide mission, where success would be a miracle. That is why Maverick’s skills and expertise are required as a daredevil aviator.

The true star of Top Gun: Maverick is its thrilling flight sequences, and that is the main reason why this film should be experienced in theaters on the big screen. Kosinski’s direction puts the camera right in the cockpits. The immersion in the flight sequences is visceral. The flight stunts, many of which were done practically and in-camera, look fantastic. Kosinski shoots these scenes beautifully, with a reverence that pairs well with the style of Top Gun. The editing for the flight sequences is dynamic. The editing and cinematography not only offer immersion into the aerial combat, but the flight scenes look coherent and discernible. Kosinski might be one of the few modern directors working today who understands the importance of being able to see the action take place.

The main drawback of Top Gun: Maverick is that sometimes it works a bit too hard to enable Tom Cruise’s stardom. The film is not a story about Maverick passing the torch. Cruise is still the star of this vehicle; but even with the aspect of Maverick teaching a class of hotshot graduates, he remains at the center of the narrative. Even nearing 60, Tom Cruise is still clearly a capable lead. His charisma and magnetic presence convincingly propel the plot. However, in a story about learning to let go, there could have been a deeper exploration of that theme. Rather than learning how to cede control of leadership, Maverick still has to be the one to lead the charge.

Elsewhere, aside from the loss of Goose weighing heavily on Maverick’s conscience, and the presence of Val Kilmer as Iceman, there is not much reference to the original. On the one hand, this is a positive since the film is not constantly trying to shove in fan service from the original, but there is one emotional twist with a rather sad implication.

Kilmer’s brief role as Iceman is well done. When Kilmer was first announced for the film, it was a bit concerning in light of his real-life health issues, but his role is handled well. It is very heartwarming seeing Cruise and Kilmer together again onscreen.

Jennifer Connelly does well as Maverick’s new love interest, the single mom and bartender Penny Benjamin. Connelly’s Penny is depicted as a recurring girlfriend whom Maverick reconnects with after his reassignment. Connelly is a tremendous actress, and it’s a nice change of pace to see Cruise paired opposite a female lead who is much closer to him in age. While their romantic subplot is serviceable, it could have used further development.

Miles Teller asserts himself well as Goose’s son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw. The production also did a good job of making Teller up to physically resemble Anthony Edwards in 1986, so much so that it’s almost eerie. It looks believable that he is Goose’s son all grown up. He exhibits strong tension with Cruise throughout their major character moments, and it is a well-built, fulfilling onscreen relationship for both actors.

Credit is due to Kosinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer for being smart enough to recognize the importance of Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic music to the original film. Harold Faltermeyer, who also created the iconic theme music for Beverly Hills Cop, returns as the composer for Top Gun: Maverick. When a good film score strikes that right tone and discovers that iconic theme, the moment is chilling, hair-raising, and spine-tingling. Modern sequels and franchise pictures often forget the importance of big, iconic film scores. Top Gun: Maverick begins almost beat for beat like the original, with Faltermeyer’s rousing, guitar-riff heavy score as the soundtrack right before a reprise rendition of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”

The combination of 1980s-style pizzazz is outstanding. Great iconic film scores are inspiring. There is no substitute for Faltermeyer’s music in a Top Gun movie, and his unforgettable music is a joy to hear onscreen again.

Despite early skepticism, Top Gun: Maverick is a fun ride and a sequel that can thaw the ice-cold criticism of just about any cynic. It finds the right balance of longstanding 1980s nostalgia and modern entertainment that works.

8.5
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Against all odds, Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel that capably manages to erase any longstanding skepticism. The film is not only a reverent love story of aviation but also represents a type of filmmaking that has nearly gone out of style. It's nice to see Cruise and company have one last hurrah, similar to piloted combat flight. Joseph Kosinski's direction pairs well with writer Christopher McQuarrie, as both the central mission and Maverick's tension-filled arc with Rooster deliver an impactful punch. Not to mention, hearing Harold Faltermeyer's music and Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" set to jets taking off from an aircraft carrier is still wickedly cool.
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