“Good morning, aviators! This is your captain speaking. Today’s exercise is dogfighting.”
Going into ‘Top Gun: Maverick‘ I had little doubt the outcome was to be action-packed and fun. What surprised me was how rich and rewarding that outcome ended up. This is not just a superior blockbuster sequel to a much beloved 80s classic.. It’s a stellar film, period.
Full disclosure, even though I saw ‘Top Gun’ in its theatrical glory way back in 1986, I’ve never “loved” the film. Sure, there’s action, thrills, and machismo aplenty. But, there’s also no depth, little humanity, and cringe worthy dialog; albeit, wrapped in a shiny, full of flair package. And don’t get me started on the melodrama. “Take My Breath Away”…hardly.
Most of what makes this 35-years-later follow-up so glorious falls on sorely on producer/star Tom Cruise’s passion. Getting M:I writer/director Christopher McQuarrie to polish the script and director Joseph Kosinski (‘Oblivion’/’Only the Brave’) to replace Tony Scott ensure a technically robust and character/plot focused foundation.
Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, and Jennifer Connelly admirably fill the shoes of non-returning cast. While Miles Teller’s performance as the late “Goose’s” embittered son “Rooster” soars above a large, effective extended troupe unfortunately portraying mostly forgettable tropes. “Maverick” and “Goose’s” friendship and his tragic demise was the emotional anchor of the original. And Teller and Cruise bring that collective history to bear with layered and tensions running high surrogate father/son rapport.
Unlike ‘Top Gun’s’ so contrived it hurts chosen one learns humility plot, ‘Maverick‘ is more organic. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) continues to dead-end his long Navy career with brazen insubordination and eff-it abandon.
He’s forced out of “test pilot retirement” by once fellow top-gunner “Iceman” (Val Kilmer returning for one brief, but sincerely heartfelt scene with Cruise) and ordered to return to Navy’s top flight training facility, “Top Gun”. “Maverick” must get a new batch chosen ones ready for a critical F-18 flown “Mission: Impossible” into enemy territory.
As the trainees, which include “Rooster”, are already proven top-gunners the done for real fighter sequences offer mind-boggling, high flyin’ excitement from the very beginning. Less melodrama cheese; more “Star Wars” infused dogfighting derring-do.
Watching the original film is entirely optional as the history of these (mostly new) characters is well developed though non-obtrusive exposition and naturalistic performances. We barely glimpse Cruise and Connelly’s romantic backstory, but are instantly invested through an easy-going chemistry and Connelly’s impassioned no BS fire against “Pete’s” mission first lifestyle.
Prerequisite nostalgia bait is offered as iconic moments, music, songs, and character beats predictably–and often recontextualized–(re)play out. Nowhere near as distracting as greater offenders (‘No Way Home’, ‘Afterlife’), however. They’re presented like much anticipated winks rather than any self-important circle jerk.
Kosinki is a great technical director: scenes are shot and assembled precisely, the performances feel correct, and the story leaves no major plot-holes or glaring omissions. However, for all of the original film’s flaws one could never argue that it lacked style. Director Tony Scott showcased a singular vision with 1986’s ‘Top Gun’. It’s one of the reasons both his and Cruise’s career took off from that film…it surely wasn’t the plot or performances. An artistic flare is notably lacking here.
–Special nod for the on-screen theatrical intro by Tom Cruise. He seems to genuinely appreciate our attendance. Kudos right back for giving us a great ride.
In a surprisingly fresh change of pace you can truly enjoy the 2022 summer blockbuster sequel ‘Top Gun: Maverick‘ without disengaging your brain first. Not only an exciting, immersive, and epic continuation, but also an expertly acted and smartly crafted character driven story. Highly Recommended.