PLOT: Many years after his exploits at Top Gun, Maverick (Tom Cruise) is ordered back to his old stomping grounds to train a new generation of pilots for a top-secret mission. Among them is the son (Miles Teller) of his former RIO and best friend Goose, whose death still haunts him.
REVIEW: Well, here it is. After thirty-six years, the impossible has finally happened – we’ve got a Top Gun sequel. long-delayed, Top Gun: Maverick was a victim of the pandemic in that its release date bounced around, with it initially set for a June 2020 release way back when. Having seen the finished film, it’s not hard to see why Paramount opted to turn down every offer they got from streaming and hold this until the people were ready to get back to theatres. They have the goods here, and they know it. Director Joseph Kosinski has been the best movie of his career with this beautiful homage and continuation of Tony Scott’s original.
What’s excellent about Top Gun: Maverick is that it harkens back to a different kind of Tom Cruise vehicle. Cruise wasn’t the death-defying action hero he’s known as nowadays in the eighties. He was a romantic lead and known for his vulnerability. Maverick attempts to return him to that mode, with him even getting his first romantic subplot in some years as he reconnects with an old flame (Jennifer Connelly). It’s more like Kosinski’s Only the Brave than his bigger action flicks, and this vibe works beautifully. As a Tom Cruise superfan, it’s the kind of movie I hope he focuses on making once the next two Mission Impossible movies are done.
Top Gun: Maverick is a father/son story at its heart. Maverick is shown to be the same kind of guy he was when he was a hotshot at Top Gun in 1986. He’s utterly devoted to flying at the expense of everything else, including having a family. Instead, he’s a devoted surrogate father to Miles Teller’s Rooster, although they have a troubled relationship that, in an interesting twist, isn’t for the expected reason (Goose’s death) you’d expect. When Rooster is among the pilots Maverick has to train, the film’s crux revolves around them re-connecting. Just like how the original was essentially a bromance between Goose and Maverick, this is a father/son bromance between Rooster and Maverick, and Teller plays beautifully off the iconic Cruise, holding his own.
The supporting cast is excellent here, with Monica Barbaro and Glen Powell the other two most prominent Top Gun recruits outside Rooster. Powell, in particular, seems to be getting the star build-up here, with his Hangman the main rival of Teller’s Rooster. Some may compare him to Val Kilmer’s Iceman, but in reality, he’s a lot more like Maverick was in the first movie, with him the cocky pilot who’s been dubbed unsafe by the other pilots. If anything, Rooster, whose strictly by-the-book, is more like Ice.
Val Kilmer returns to play Iceman once again in a small but essential part. While his health issues have sidelined his career, his bittersweet role here is beautifully done, with nods to his real-life health battles. When Tony Scott’s original movie ended, you had the feeling that Ice and Maverick would go on to become lifelong bros, and indeed that’s the sense you get here. With his adherence to the rules, Ice has become a legendary figure that’s been promoted time and time again, while Maverick’s constantly getting into hot water for his exploits. Ice has kept him in the Navy and is most concerned with Maverick and Rooster’s relationship. If the original was one of the great bromances, Top Gun: Maverick does it proud.
Jon Hamm also has a surprisingly nuanced part as the new CO at Top Gun, who seemingly hates Maverick but is far from your two-dimensional antagonist. It’s a good part for him, while Ed Harris also has a small turn as another officer with a Maverick problem (it’s a much smaller part than the trailer might have you believe). The only aspect of the film that didn’t entirely work is the romance with Connelly. She’s lovely and terrific in the part, but the emphasis here is on Maverick and Rooster. Everything else can’t help but feel extraneous. Of course the original is famous for being (partially) a sexy romance between McGillis and Cruise, but there’s a lack of heat in the relationship here. It feels stressed on. To make it work it would have had to be a lot more prominent than it ends up being in the final cut.
Even still, Top Gun: Maverick is a thrill ride of the highest order. If you’re a fan of the original, this will blow you away – but even if you don’t love the 1986 classic (blasphemy), this has a lot to offer. It’s gorgeously shot, with a near-total lack of CGI for the flying scenes, and the score by Lorne Balfe, Hans Zimmer and Harold Faltermeyer feels totally in tune with the original. Top Gun Anthem and Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone get significant placement here – as well as they should.
As a lifelong Top Gun fan, I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll be seeing this at least one more time on the big screen, and if you care about the spectacle of cinema, this is a must-watch.