Top Gun: Maverick is a triumph, delivering the most exhilarating and immersive moviegoing experience of the year.
It’s been a long and frustrating wait for Top Gun: Maverick. Since development began over a decade ago, the project has been stalled time and again. First the original director – Tony Scott – passed away, leaving the future of the film uncertain. Then it was delayed again in 2018 for unknown reasons, only to later miss its original 2019 release date on account of the pandemic.
Fast forward to 2022. The movie has finally arrived and it exceeds all expectations. Maverick is back and the sentiment is overwhelming.
A sense of apprehension about a sequel being made 36 years later is understandable; however you can rest assured that Top Gun: Maverick is a triumph and not the tacky cash-in you might be anticipating. Granted it does lean heavily on nostalgia, with reason, and the throwback references abound, again with reason. But it’s also a cut above its predecessor and delivers the most exhilarating and immersive moviegoing experience of the year.
We are reacquainted with Maverick (Tom Cruise, ageing gracefully) as he pushes the limits of a new aircraft, moments after learning that the program he is heading has been cancelled. Determined to prove his commanders’ wrong – and keep his team employed – he risks his job to achieve the highest flight speed ever recorded.
He succeeds, much to the ire of his superiors, but rather than being disciplined he is sent back to the Naval Weapons Fighter School (Top Gun) where he is assigned to train a new team of fighter pilots for a dangerous, real-life assignment.
Upon arrival at Top Gun, Maverick reconnects with a former love, Penny (Jennifer Connelly) – who is referenced in the original film but never seen – and their relationship develops to the side of the overriding narrative. Amongst the pilots being trained is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who famously perished in the first movie, and his resentment for his new instructor provides a strong personal crux for Maverick.
Cutting straight to the point, Top Gun: Maverick has all of the hallmarks of an eighties blockbuster, but what sets it apart from the original movie are the stakes, which are infinitely higher. This isn’t a fighter pilot boot camp but rather a consequential mission with the very real prospect of failure. With a near-impossible tactical mission required to destroy an enemy target buried deep within a ravine, the squad has less than a month to train and prepare. And what unfolds throughout the middle and final acts is the stuff of movie magic.
Being the consummate stunt-loving professional that he is, Tom Cruise insisted on the actors being inside real fighter planes and acting under the pressure of immense G-force. He also insisted that no CGI be used to depict the air-combat sequences, and the results are breathtaking. The film has a very real quality about it, and where it piles on the schmaltz in recreating the sensibilities of eighties’ storytelling, it makes up for that in spades with its aerial choreography and absolute intensity. It all works beautifully.
Cruise is… well, Cruise. Whether you love or hate this guy, there is no denying his presence. He fits that famous pilot jacket as if he first wore it yesterday, and his command of the screen is mesmerising. The passage of time has also brought maturity, and his character bears the burden of guilt and regret, which elevates the drama and emphasises the danger of Maverick’s job at hand.
Miles Teller is also excellent as “Rooster”, with the resemblance and characteristics of Anthony Edward’s “Goose” from the first movie. His character arc is, again, taken from the Storytelling 101 handbook, but he nevertheless navigates this trajectory with precision.
The other supporting players include Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Ed Harris (Westworld) and Val Kilmer reprising his role of “Iceman”. It’s a strong ensemble and Kilmer (who has recovered from throat cancer) is factored into the film tactfully, without ladling on the schmaltz.
Since the announcement of a Top Gun sequel, cynics have been questioning the need for fighter pilots in a modern world of drones and high tech surveillance methods. This was addressed a decade ago by Tony Scott, and reiterated by his replacement, director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion), with both conceding they simply wanted to make a dogfight movie – which is fair enough. The film does – indeed – address the end of an era for aerial combat, but treats the proceedings as one last hoorah. And heck, suspension of disbelief has been the most fundamental rule of moviegoing since cinema began.
As mentioned, the sequel is nostalgic, and if the opening act doesn’t raise goosebumps then chances are you have no emotional attachment to the original film. And that’s all right too, because while Top Gun: Maverick benefits from a love for the ’86 movie, it doesn’t depend on it. This latest chapter is totally accessible to newcomers and doesn’t rely solely on retrospection.
Top Gun: Maverick is a welcome blockbuster that provides a breather from twenty years of Marvel box office dominance. It’s a full-throttle flick that calls back to an old school style of filmmaking, and the biggest favour you can do yourself is to see it on the biggest cinema screen possible.
In cinemas: May 26, 2022
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski