Top Gun: Maverick
2022, PG-13, 131 min. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer.
REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., May 27, 2022
We can just get this out of the way right from the jump: Tom Cruise rules. As basically the personification of the last dying breath of the age of true movie stars, he constantly puts his all into making movies designed for the biggest screen possible, and with all the work it takes to make it look believable. He refuses to settle for less – he may just be the last Hollywood star that has not resorted to streaming. He’s the man who has broken an ankle during a stunt and kept running to keep the take, performed several actual HALO jumps for the sake of realism, and only agreed to come back to the world of Top Gun if everything could be done practically.
And that’s exactly what Top Gun: Maverick delivers. This 25-plus-year-belated sequel to the Eighties cultural phenomenon isn’t just an improvement on the dated original, it’s an altogether exhilarating summer action blockbuster in its own right, in no small part because of the amazing, real aerial feats and photography, beautifully captured and built for you to make your way to an Imax screen. While the sorely missed Tony Scott’s original film nowadays has its own nostalgic charm and its own impressive sequences, it’s tough to say it’s satisfying from any sort of narrative standpoint. Maverick picks up that slack and crafts a classically simple, but graceful and affecting, comeback story designed to give you the most bang for your buck.
Catching up with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), we find that he never quite left his lone-wolf hotshot days behind, still a captain pulling tricks when he could be much more. He’s called back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program – the eponymous Top Gun – for a daunting mission: teaching a group of pilots their way through a near-impossible attack on a (notably anonymous) enemy uranium plant. Oh, and one of his students is Rooster (Teller), the son of his old buddy Goose who died in his arms 30 years prior. There’s tension there, but maybe they each have something to learn from each other. Who knows? As he also catches up with an old flame, Penny (Connelly), and deals with the likes of tough, by-the-book disciplinarian Cyclone (Hamm), Maverick has to grow alongside his students to finally become the man he’s refused to mature into.
It’s pretty straightforward, but don’t think that means it’s not gripping. I was surprised how invested this made me in character arcs and plot lines picked up from a movie I mostly don’t care about; the climax has an emotional backbone that’s downright cathartic. It’s also completely badass, as are the rest of the fighter jet sequences, which find a balance between function and beauty as the camera takes you from gorgeous wides of these things bolting through the air to inside the cockpit with the actors, who are all performing from inside these planes. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Cruise’s Oblivion), with his regular cinematographer Claudio Miranda, finds all the right angles to make this a totally grandiose, cheer-out-loud affair, with a script that’s all meat and no fat. This is the ideal example of a big summer blockbuster and one of the best legacy sequels we’ve ever gotten: a movie that knows how to move along and give you what you came for.
It also frequently feels like a knowing testament to Cruise as a performer, specifically as one of the last of a certain generation of stars, and certainly dealing in some melancholy as a once-in-a-lifetime performer is only getting older. When Ed Harris’ character Rear Admiral Cain warns Maverick that drone-controlled aircrafts will soon replace analog operation, the daredevil pilot simply retorts: “Maybe so, sir. But not today.” And as he climbs into that cockpit to deliver what will ultimately be one of the most tangible, impressive, invigorating movies of the summer, it’s hard not to read it all as a celebration of a man who refuses to leave the danger zone.
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Top Gun: Maverick, Joseph Kosinski, Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer