Directed by Joseph Kosinski — Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie.
If there is one thing that the release of Top Gun: Maverick has already proven, it is that Tom Cruise is still a real movie star capable of drawing a crowd even in the Post-COVID lockdown world. Although the 1986 original Tony Scott film, Top Gun, did leave a cultural imprint and is an iconic 1980s film, it isn’t like most people have been crying out for a sequel to the original film that, way back when, received mixed reviews. And yet, when I saw its sequel, people of all ages — including several people over the age of fifty — had such a need for speed that they had flocked to the theater to watch Tom Cruise as “Maverick” take another ride into the danger zone. I’m happy to tell you that — yes, it’s true — Top Gun: Maverick is every bit as awesome as you may have hoped. In fact, I think it’s a much better film than the 1980s classic.
Set more than thirty years after the events of the first film, Top Gun: Maverick once again follows Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise), who, in spite of being extremely competent, has avoided promotion over the years. Still a charming but reckless rule breaker, Maverick has managed to keep from being grounded due to the helping hand of his friend and former rival Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer). After disregarding an order on a hypersonic speed project, Maverick is given a final chance to keep from being grounded by serving as a TOPGUN instructor. Maverick must now instruct, train, and prepare an elite group of pilots for a difficult mission overseas. However, one of these pilots is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), the son of “Goose,” Maverick’s late best friend. Rooster already hates and distrusts Maverick, who isn’t happy about sending Rooster on this mission because he is afraid that he may not make it back alive.
The original Top Gun film is iconic for a lot of things such as the music (even though one of the songs is overused to an extent that it is a little bit comedic), the stars, the flight scenes, and the sparks between all of its characters (especially its pilots). Although the original film’s emotional beats worked much better for me on my most recent rewatch, I’ve previously always been quite lukewarm on the film. I enjoy everything that makes it iconic, but I’ve always thought that its plot was very thin and that the editing of the film was too erratic (in a way that makes it difficult to tell exactly what is happening in certain flight scenes). As I sat down to watch the sequel, I was curious about what this legacy sequel would keep and what it would improve upon. I was very happy with this sequel precisely because I think it improves upon every element of the original film.
As most legacy sequels tend to do, Top Gun: Maverick has a structure that is very similar to the original film, and certain characters — like Glen Powell’s “Hangman” — feel like modern versions of characters from the original film. Some of the music from the original makes a return, there is still a beach sports scene, there are still rival dueling pilots and all that, and Maverick is still Maverick. Make no mistake, Joseph Kosinski’s film stands on the shoulders of an iconic film that it is fun and nostalgic to see retold in a modern setting. But this isn’t just a carbon copy of the original film. The overarching mission plays a much bigger role in Top Gun: Maverick, the plot has more depth, the themes are richer, the editing is much smoother, and the flight scenes are much better and easier to follow.
I think this legacy sequel is very much in line with the emotional beats of the first film, as there are certain callbacks and lines of dialogue that really did make me misty-eyed. What really helps to make these scenes soar is the rich theme of growing older which permeates the entire film. In the film’s opening, it is suggested that pilots like Maverick will become extinct due to advances made in the field of drones, but, more pointedly, the film directly comments on the mortality and the ages of its franchise characters. There is a notable scene where Maverick finds himself on the outside looking in, which suggests multiple things including, but not limited to, this idea that he has to accept the new role that the passing of time has transitioned him towards.
At a crucial point in the film, Cruise’s Maverick seeks the wisdom of Val Kilmer’s Iceman, who is battling throat cancer (which Kilmer has also battled in real life). In this scene, there is a long shot that rests on Cruise’s face and it allows for Cruise to deliver one of his sharpest and most emotional action movie performances in quite some time. Iceman becomes a kind of ‘Yoda’ to Maverick, and his advice is quite important for the narrative and Maverick’s arc. In general, I was really happy with how Kilmer’s scenes, his character, and the actor himself were treated in Top Gun: Maverick. His one-on-one scene with Cruise is one of the very best scenes in the film.
Of the supporting performances, Miles Teller’s role as Goose’s son is probably the most important on paper, and I thought Teller was perfectly solid in the film. However, I think he is somewhat outshone by Glen Powell and Jennifer Connelly. Connelly, playing Maverick’s love interest, is a great match for Cruise, and I greatly enjoyed their scenes together. Glen Powell’s character feels a little bit like a combination of Kilmer and Cruise’s character archetypes from the first Top Gun, and he absolutely steals scenes. His performance as this cocky pilot is so charismatic that it should be a star-making supporting performance.
What I think makes this more than just a good Top Gun legacy sequel are the absolutely riveting sequences that bookend the film. The film opens with a sequence in which Maverick is testing an aircraft to its very limits in a way that kind of reminded me of Damien Chazelle’s First Man, and the film ends with the exhilarating mission that the TOPGUN training has been leading up to, and it is executed with the kind of heart-in-your-throat intensity that made the sequence feel like it could’ve easily been at home in a Mission: Impossible film. There are also a couple of behind-enemy-lines scenes that completely took me by surprise.
The reason why I would recommend pretty much anyone to go and see this film in theaters is because of the way in which Kosinski, Cruise, and their team decided to shoot all of the flight scenes. Like I said, these scenes are shot and edited in a way that makes it easy to tell what is going on, but it is more than just that. I’ve never seen flight scenes done as well as they are done here. The realism with which Kosinski’s film depicts air combat, and flying in general, is frankly jaw-dropping because the actors actually went through training and were filmed from inside the cockpit while their jets were being flown by professionals. As a result, you feel the speed and the pressure more successfully than in any previous action film, and that makes the seemingly almost impossible mission in the third act so much more intense and effective. It is genuinely breathtaking.
With this legacy sequel, director Joseph Kosinski and his crew rebuilt what made the original film so iconic, and then they also improved on so much. There are jaw-dropping and awards-worthy flight scenes, a more nuanced central performance, richer themes, and a mission with more depth. Top Gun: Maverick more than exceeded my expectations.
9 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.