It seems like a lifetime ago that the announcement was made regarding a sequel to 1986’s ‘Top Gun’. Since then the long awaited sequel has shifted several times. Most of them due to the pandemic. Just to give you an idea, the first trailer alone was released almost three years ago. Well the time has finally come for ‘Top Gun: Maverick‘ to land in theaters over Memorial Day Weekend.
Set around present day, the sequel sees Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (once again played by Tom Cruise) in his element testing aircrafts. When a request sends him back to TOPGUN he finds himself teaching a new team of aviators for a mission even he isn’t prepared for. The newest installment sees the return of Lieutenant Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and introduces Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), Hangman (Glen Powell), Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and Cyclone (Jon Hamm).
It goes without saying that the original movie is full of 80s cheese. From the characters all the way down tot he dialogue, ‘Top Gun’ screams 1980s. So, when the news broke about a sequel it got people wondering how you do a sequel. Do you switch tones and make it a serious action flick or lean into that 80s feel of the first one? Most importantly, what do you do with the leading character? How do you justify a continuation of Maverick’s story?
Somehow, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ finds a way to mix the nostalgia (yes, even the cheesy 80s dialogue) of the first, create a strong story for Cruise’s character and gives audiences some edge of your seat aerial action that are reminiscent of blockbusters of the past.
From the first second of this film you are immediately hit with a piece of nostalgia that I didn’t expect to hit me in a way that it did. I got goosebumps and had a smile from ear to ear for the first 2 minutes. On several occasions, the blast of nostalgia and callbacks throughout hit you when you least expect it. There’s a certain thing that is done very early on that took me by surprise and yes I’m going to be vague to keep these moments as impactful as possible for audiences.
Any doubt about whether or not a sequel was necessary quickly vanished. Maverick is given a story that feels like the only possible continuation for this character. It explains where he is and why he’s here and if this story had been attempted even 15 years ago, it wouldn’t work the way it does here. Tom Cruise unsurprisingly slips right back into this role and picks up the charisma and wit that won fans over more than 30 years ago while also bringing a new level of depth to the character as he continues to grapple with the past. More on that in a bit.
The new team of aviators also play their parts well. There’s not a whole lot of time to establish each of them but thankfully a strong dynamic between the group make it easy to enjoy their presence onscreen. Glen Powell in particular steals the scenes as Hangman who some might consider to be Iceman 2.0 but it works in a way that doesn’t impede on the story.
Playing the love interest this time around is Jennifer Connelly who does feel like she’s just there to play that character type but there are a few sequences within the first half of the film that show you that she’s there to do more. It also helps that the chemistry between her and Cruise works from the first second they share the screen.
What gives this film its true emotional core though is the introduction of Goose’s grown up son, who’s callsign is Rooster. Miles Teller owns this role and is more than capable of holding his own next to Cruise onscreen. From his mannerisms to his ability to captivate a crowded bar with Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”, Rooster is the spitting image of his father which brings us back to Maverick as a character.
The rocky relationship between Maverick and Rooster is touched on in the trailer with perhaps one of my favorite lines in which Rooster says, “My father trusted you. Look where that got him. I’m not going to make the same mistake”. This perfectly captures the rift between the two and sets the stage for the drama in the film. As a result of Rooster’s resentment towards him, Maverick is forced to once again grapple with the death of his friend, Goose, who is also Rooster’s farther.The beating heart of this story, much like the welcome bits of nostalgia, often sneak up on you and catch you when you least expect it and might even bring a few tears to your eyes.
This being a sequel to ‘Top Gun’ there’s also plenty of flight sequences that will plant you inside the cockpit with these talented individuals thanks to a committed cast and crew. It’s difficult to think of the last mainstream film that felt like this one. As CGI advances, many projects resort to the effects side of things, but the authenticity and immersive feel of these practical sequences allow for the stakes to be felt. From a pulse pounding test flight that opens the film to a jaw dropping third act battle, each time a jet takes to the skies, the sequences that follow are nothing short of a visual treat.
As far as any negatives go, the film does run a little long at approximately 131 minutes. During the third act the story slows down a bit and feels like it’s running the clock in order to get to the climax. This is a minor issue that won’t take you out of the movie for more than a few minutes.
In a world where superhero films dominate the box office, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is a reminder of the power of the big screen experience outside of the superhero genre. It isn’t every day we get a film like this and it’ll likely be awhile before another one comes along. Kosinski and Cruise have crafted a film that was tailor-made for the theatrical experience and it was well worth the wait.
Verdict: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ seamlessly blends nostalgia and edge of your seat action while also providing audiences with an emotionally rich story. The entire cast is great with Cruise slipping right back into his role with ease. See this one on the biggest and loudest screen you can find.