Movie Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Plot: Ever since graduating from TOPGUN over three decades ago, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has done everything in his power to stay in the one place he believes he belongs: the sky. After a reckless decision nearly costs Maverick his life and career while testing a prototype hypersonic jet, his old friend Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) reassigns him to North Island as an instructor at TOPGUN. Once there, Mav must prepare a team of past TOPGUN graduates for a harrowing and dangerous mission. One of those graduates is none other than Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) the son of Maverick’s late RIO and best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. As old grievances arise, Maverick must find a way to reconnect with Rooster and ensure that the pilots under his care all come home alive.

Review: Growing up in the 1980s the original Top Gun was a film in heavy rotation at my house. Whether it was on HBO, basic cable or my Uncle Gil’s VHS tape that I almost wore out, Maverick, Goose, Iceman, Viper, Jester, and the rest were all fundamental pillars of my cinema awakening. Recently, however, I had a chance to rewatch the film on Netflix after not having seen it for at least thirty years. While still an entertaining film, I recognize how much nostalgia plays a role in my appreciation of that movie. It comes off a little dated and wasn’t incredibly compelling. At least through the eyes of this forty-three-year-old white male.

So believe me when I tell you that Top Gun: Maverick is nothing short of INCREDIBLE. Exciting, fast-paced, impeccably shot, and superbly acted; director Joseph Kosinski’s sensational sequel soars above the original in every single way. Top Gun: Maverick pays respect and homage to the first film but never drowns itself in nostalgia. Likewise, Kosinski never tries to emulate the late, great Tony Scott but crafts a unique action film all his own.  Furthermore, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay makes a concerted effort to be its own entity. The plot of this film was much better than I was expecting and the movie is better for it. The third act grips you by the face and won’t let go. Even if some of the elements come off a little farfetched, it still makes for an endlessly entertaining finale.

From a visual standpoint, Top Gun: Maverick is stunning. This is a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system possible. Utilizing IMAX-Certified Sony Venice 6K Full Frame cameras, Kosinski and crew worked with the Navy to make sure the cameras were inside the cockpit and mounted at various points along the jets. The results are spectacular with dog fighting and training exercises so intense, I felt like my heart was in my throat. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography here is sublime, surpassing Jeffrey L. Kimball’s work on the original, a feat I didn’t think was possible. Harold Faltermeyer is also back to score the sequel, this time alongside Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. When those thunderous chords rang out for the first time, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.

However, the heart of this movie is the characters and their chemistry. What made the original so appealing was that it was essentially a buddy action bromance between Maverick and Goose. The same thing holds true here except now it is between Rooster and Maverick and the relationship is far from perfect. Rooster resents Maverick but not for the reason you might expect. Teller seems to be channeling Anthony Edwards not just in look but in action whether it’s a Hawaiin shirt or playing “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano. Yet Rooster seems to be the polar opposite of Maverick in the air by being cautious to a fault. It is a trait that rubs some of his colleagues the wrong way, particularly Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin played magnificently by Glen Powell. Hangman is the sequel’s answer to Iceman. You both love and hate him at the same time. Powell is 100% a star in the making and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Other supporting cast members are equally memorable. Monica Barbaro crushes it as Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace, the lone woman trying to prove herself amidst a sea of macho fighter pilots. Jon Hamm is the closest thing we get to a villain as Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson. He cant stand Maverick and does everything he can to hinder him. Even Lewis Pullman (son of Bill Pullman) shines as the awkward and nerdy WSO Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd. (Yes, “Bob” is his call sign.) I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out the solid work by Jennifer Connelly as Penny Benjamin, one of Maverick’s old flames, a bar owner, and the daughter of a former admiral. Connelly and Cruise possess excellent chemistry. She serves as almost a guidepost for Maverick and a look at a life beyond being a Navy fighter pilot. Aside from a superfluous scene or two, I loved the duo’s dynamic.

Yet Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t work without Tom Cruise. Kosinski may be the director but the captain of this ship is Cruise through and through. He’s one of the very few old-school Hollywood movie stars we have left. His charisma and energy permeate every facet of this film. Cruise’s star power is truly electrifying and you can’t help but be swept up in his magnetism. Yes, Cruise is larger than life but this time around he imbues Maverick with more vulnerability. The one scene he has with Kilmer is gut-wrenching and had me tearing up. Cruise brings a depth and pathos to Maverick that I didn’t think was possible. I hate to sound like Grandpa Simpson shaking my fist at a cloud, but they just don’t make them like this anymore.

Trust me when I say that fans of the original and newcomers will be more than happy to take the highway to the danger zone.

My rating system:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

Top Gun: Maverick: 9/10