Some wonder if Tom Cruise and the producers of Top Gun: Maverick waited too long to do a sequel. After all, it has been 36 years since Top Gun hit screens in 1986. Well, wonder no more. Not only is the timing right and execution of this long-gestating follow-up splendid, but it also actually tops the original in every way imaginable, from an all-knowing performance for the ages from Cruise to its highly emotional storyline, “take my breath away” aerial sequences and just about anything else you want from a studio blockbuster. With five different release dates in a pandemic-delayed launch, somehow the time it has taken to get to the screen seems inspired. And by the way, you must see this one on a theater screen — the bigger the better. This is an example of Hollywood filmmaking at its zenith.
We can thank Cruise for anchoring this story with a genuine movie-star turn than also brings his character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell full circle and with limited CGI trickery; there’s no attempt to replicate the young hot-shot of the first film. Rather, now he is a weathered naval test pilot, still at it in his own way, whose talent in the air is now even more incredible with age and experience. His “need for speed” (sorry) not only gives him something to live for, but also is put to good use when an almost impossible mission (sorry again) requires his services. When the Rear Admiral (Ed Harris, in for a scene) summons him after the veteran aviator has done his usual unorthodox thing in the sky, he is sent back to base facing a new nemesis in superior officer Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (a perfect Jon Hamm), who brings him in — against his better judgment — to train a group of naval graduates for a very dangerous job, one Maverick thinks really only he can do but is now grounded and forced to teach ’em everything he knows in order to pull this off.
You can imagine what Maverick will eventually find himself doing, but getting there is all the fun, and along the way there is rekindled romance (no, not with Kelly McGillis) with an ex-love named Penny who now runs the local bar. Jennifer Connelly takes on the role and brings a lovely natural touch to the relationship. Adding to the emotional weight of this return is the fact that one of Maverick’s trainees is none other than Lt. Bradley Bradshaw, aka Rooster (an excellent Miles Teller), who also happens to be the son of Maverick’s late friend Nick aka Goose (played in the original by Anthony Edwards), who died in a tragic accident for which Maverick still feels responsible and is still haunted by. Tension is also ratcheted up by these new hot-shot young aviators when Hangman (the well-cast Glen Powell) makes trouble for everyone and thinks he, not Rooster, should get the prime job.
The ensemble is perfectly chosen right down the line and, perfect for the times even includes a female pilot (Monica Barbaro) as Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace. There is also fine support from the guys including Lewis Pullman as Bob, Charles Parnell as Warlock, Greg Tarzan Davis as Coyote, Jay Ells as Payback, Danny Ramirez as Fanboy, and a terrific Bashir Salahuddin as Hondo who proves a key ally for Maverick. Cruise has said he would not have made this film without the return of Val Kilmer, who played Iceman, his one-time nemesis and then wingman, and even with the loss of Kilmer’s voice due to cancer, he is back in a beautiful and poignant scene with Maverick that brings it all home.
Joseph Kosinski, who previously worked with Cruise on Oblivion and also delivered Tron: Legacy and the underrated firefighter film Only the Brave, proves the perfect choice as director (the late Top Gun director Tony Scott gets a dedication at the end credits) to carry this story forward, never afraid to look back at key moments (fear not, yes, there is a shirtless game, of football this time, at a sunset-laden beach) but quite right in making this about now. It certainly will appeal to those who loved the first film, but the can-do spirit of Cruise and company (including screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie) have really dug deeper into this and made the rare sequel that transforms itself into something else entirely. I certainly liked Top Gun, but this soars in different ways, and time has not only been very good to Cruise (who turns 60 in July) but to the whole idea of this movie — we all need a wingman in our lives — something actually needed at this moment more than ever.
Among its many accomplishments, is it has not only transformed what the 1986 Top Gun was all about but has taken it to unexpected new heights as a thrilling, and more importantly emotional piece of filmmaking. The soundtrack (Hans Zimmer and Harold Faltermeyer did the music) of course is key to setting the mood, and Lady Gaga provides a nice new anthem, “Hold My Hand,” over the end credits. Eddie Hamilton’s expert editing and the camera work of Claudio Miranda are exceptional as well. Cruise’s insistence on making this as real as possible — that includes camera rigs instead of CGI for much of the action — makes the aerial sequences genuine movie magic. The attention to detail pays off.
Producers are Cruise, McQuarrie, David Ellison and of course Jerry Bruckheimer, who has also provided a credit to his late partner Don Simpson, reviving the Simpson/Bruckheimer partnership on the credits. Paramount teamed with Skydance here and will release the film appropriately for Memorial Day weekend on May 27. It will also have a French premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where Cruise is being honored with a tribute. Check out my video review with scenes from the film at the link above.
Check out my video review above with scenes from the film. Do you plan to see Top Gun: Maverick? Let us know what you think.