'Top Gun: Maverick' review: Exhilarating sequel flies circles around its predecessor
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Most hold a special place in their hearts for Tony Scott’s 1986 cultural phenomenon, “Top Gun” and the way it solidified Tom Cruise as a movie star resonates today. But times change and the near 40 years since we last saw Maverick in the cockpit of a F-14A Tomcat, engaging in aerial combat and dogfights has done wonders for both the aurora surrounding “Top Gun” and, well, Cruise’s A-lister status, having since proved, thanks to stunts in the “Mission: Impossible” series, he’s literally a mad man. It only makes sense the entertainer would up the ante in the oft-delayed sequel “Top Gun: Maverick,” a film that, thanks to advances in modern technology, outstrips its predecessor in nearly every capacity. The dogfights are breathtaking, the action sequences ungodly, and the need for speed is more urgent than ever.
Directed by Joseph Kosinksi (who’s underrated firefighter drama “Only the Brave” rules), invokes enough nostalgia of Scott’s “Top Gun” while forging its own path forward. Knowing the work ethic of Cruise, he doesn’t take steps back and if he’s going to don the iconic Maverick jacket, the story need to make sense and thankfully screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie understand how vital “Top Gun” was for so many, but they also make “Maverick” accessible to the next generation of wannabe fighter pilots. They’ve introduced a fresh crop of characters to keep the “Top Gun” mantra alive including Miles Teller’s Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, offspring to Anthony Edward’s dearly departed Goose.
“Top Gun: Maverick” picks up the pieces of “Top Gun” and sums up what Maverick has been doing all these years: still finding ways to anger superior officers while pushing the boundaries of his rank, which is oddly enough that of a Captain unlike former rival and eventual ally “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) who climbed the ladder to eventually run his own fleet. Instead, Maverick, looking as though he hasn’t aged a day, spends his time running a series of tests for the federal government and in an exhilarating, jaw-dropping opening sequence, let’s just say, the pilot hasn’t lost his touch and Kosinski practically deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. (Let me take a minute to tell you, make plans to see “Top Gun: Maverick” in the biggest and loudest auditorium because the earth-shattering sound effects of the planes firing up and hearing Kenny Loggins’ iconic anthem “Danger Zone” aren’t given justice otherwise).
Naturally, after causing a stir with the pentagon, Maverick finds himself back at Top Gun academy, as the “old timer,” training a batch of star pilots for what basically amounts to a suicide mission. They include a handful of recognizable faces though Rooster and Glen Powell’s sly as hell “Hangman” are given the dubious honor of reflecting Maverick and Iceman’s rocky relationship and thus given the most airtime, but there’s still plenty of room for Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, Lewis Pullman’s aptly named Bob, Jay Ellis’ Payback, Greg Tarzan Davis’ Coyote, and Danny Ramirez’s Fanboy. Collectively, they’re a fun bunch of performers who rise to the occasion and all underwent rigorous training exercises so the filmmakers didn’t have to rely on CGI or green screen. And what a thrill it is to watch real people fly real planes on screen. Cinema!
In between the aerial madness, the script tries fostering a love story that exists as background fodder with Jennifer Connelly’s newest addition Penny Benjamin getting the short end of the narrative leash though her and Cruise have excellent chemistry. Those wondering why Kelly McGillis is nowhere to be seen might be scratching their heads as the screenplay doesn’t explain her absence. Not to mention the several callbacks and references to “Top Gun” teeter on the edge of absurdity, but “Top Gun: Maverick” is nothing if not a love letter to the original’s coda with an emotional hook and payoff that left this viewer on the verge of tears.
Editors Chirs Lebenzon and Billy Weber deserve MVP status for sculpting one of the most harrowing final hours in modern blockbuster history, which features a swoon of manic stunts involving Boeing F/A Super Hornets and North American P-51 Mustangs underscored with bravado by Oscar nominee Harold Faltermeyer. It’s rare for a sequel to fire on all cylinders and leave no part of the sky unearthed, but Tom Cruise continues to prove his dominance at reinventing the wheel and giving dated franchises’ newfound inspiration. “Top Gun” has never felt more alive.
TOP GUN MAVERICK opens in theaters, Friday May 27th.