By Chuck Valley
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Miles Teller plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
In the run-up to watch “Top Gun: Maverick,” I prepared myself like anyone else would by watching the original “Top Gun.” And while, granted, this is not a review of the 1986 classic, there is something to be said about the impression I got from watching it now, firmly ensconced in my adulthood, and how it compares to Maverick. For context, I hadn’t seen Top Gun in a good 20 years (with the exception of a snippet here and there on network tv while channel surfing faster than Hamm in Toy Story). Also (for context-slash-disclaimer) I was never the biggest Top Gun fan – the formula for the movie relies on tropes, clichés, a Deus Ex Goose to violently thrust the plot forward, and a lot of sweating and glistening (I assume that Tony Scott wanted to at least hold on to the realism of how hot it is in California and inside a Naval Air Carrier). Top Gun also features as much chemistry as baking soda and vinegar after the bubbling subsides. Still, the movie was a launching pad/additional runway for a few young careers (Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, and Anthony Edward’s mustache to name a few) and gives us some endearing performances by 80s screen staples such as Tom Skerritt and Michael Ironside. The one inarguably solid feature of the 1986 original is the aircraft footage that was choreographed and delivered by stunt pilots.
BASHIR SALAHUDDIN PLAYS HONDO, MILES TELLER PLAYS ROOSTER, MONICA BARBARO PLAYS PHOENIX AND LEWIS PULLMAN PLAYS BOB IN TOP GUN: MAVERICK FROM PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS.
So why do you bring up all of this past dust, brochacho? Well, the best way to describe “Top Gun: Maverick” is by how similar and different it is from its predecessor. Now, one thing to always keep in mind when making such comparisons is that, all its issues notwithstanding, “Top Gun” was an original screenplay. By comparison, “Maverick” has had 30+ years to look at what worked, what didn’t, audience reaction, lasting impressions, critiques, etc., in order for writers Ehren Kruger, Erric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie to build up what they saw as their best offering possible. A sequel also gives director Joseph Kosinski the opportunity to create his own vision while using the original Tony Scott vision to deliver sequences such as an almost exact copy of the opening credits that includes the familiar guitar riffs of the theme song we all know and love, followed by some good ol’ Kenny Loggins.
At this point, past the excitement and self-nods of the opening credits that appeal to nostalgia and film-buffery, is where you start to see “Top Gun: Maverick” begin to exceed my expectations. The film avoids the traps of the original while keeping to the source material. As the story begins, Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has been a top aviator for the Navy for the last 30 years and has no desire to give up the skies, choosing instead to intentionally give up and be passed up for promotions that would ground him behind a desk. Instead we find him as a test pilot, pushing the limits of an experimental aircraft, pissing off the brass, and as a result (or maybe in spite of Maverick’s career maneuvering) finding himself as a flight instructor of a special detachment on a critical mission that includes Lt. Bradley Bradshaw, a.k.a. “Rooster” (Miles Teller), son of deceased Lt. Nick Bradshaw, a.k.a. “Goose.” These elements are where the script shines brighter than in the original. Maverick’s contempt for the brass seems more justified – instead of having a problem with authority because of a youth and “need for speed” thing, the animosity has more to do with the motivations of the decision-making officers. The antagonism against Maverick comes from the reputation he has built over a 30-year career and the decisions and events that shaped it, rather than bravado or who has the bigger cockpit. The film allows Maverick the time and opportunity to organically confront his personal and professional fears and regrets without it feeling rushed or scripted. For all his reputation of having a very polished image and style, Tom Cruise was able to deliver one of the more nuanced and layered performances I have seen from him in a while.
JENNIFER CONNELLY PLAYS PENNY BENJAMIN AND TOM CRUISE PLAYS CAPT. PETE “MAVERICK” MITCHELL IN TOP GUN: MAVERICK FROM PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS.
The chemistry and moments of tenderness and affection, including those with Penny Benjamin (charmingly performed by a breathtaking Jennifer Connelly) and Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (performed with vulnerability and aplomb by Val Kilmer) are genuine, heartfelt, and cathartic. Finally, the mission that provides the climax of the movie is more centric and vital to the story, and is properly built upon and delivered in such a way that you feel invested in its execution and outcome. Again, in the original, the final Top Gun mission was beautifully choreographed and shot but felt slapped onto the end as a necessity, while in “Maverick” the mission is the reason why everything happens the way it does.
Mention of the mission brings me to the finest point of this film: the aerial shots, cockpit shots, and aerial fight sequences. Much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park the first (and second and 3rd and 4th…) time I saw them, the work done to bring the intensity, tension, and sense of criticality brought upon by the work done in the aerial shots via a combination of practical effects, VFX, sound, and editing (much like the dinosaurs) is outstanding and one that will strongly stand the test of time. These shots, as they say, are worth the price of admission.
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
The impression I received is driven home further with the advance knowledge that the actors were flying in real time and experiencing real motion and G-Forces. Short of being in the cockpit with them (or perhaps being in a 4-D ride at an amusement park), this is as close to the action as I have ever felt while watching a movie. I realized every 30 seconds or so of action scenes that I was gripping the armrest of the seat like I had a chokehold on it, and I might have even gotten a crick in my neck from the tension I built up in my body during most if not all of the aerial scenes. In the end, the intensity was well-worth it, and together with nods to the original from love scenes, bar scenes, and barechested beach ballplaying scenes (faithfully maintained and intertwined form the playbook originally created by Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr., Peter Craig, and Justin Marks), Top Gun: Maverick zips by its running time of 137 minutes at Mach 10.
MONICA BARBARO PLAYS “PHOENIX,” JAY ELLIS PLAYS “PAYBACK,” AND DANNY RAMIREZ PLAYS “FANBOY” IN TOP GUN: MAVERICK FROM PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS.
The rest of the ensemble that includes Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis and Ed Harris delivers the right tone of familiar banter, conflict, cockiness and levity from the 1986 classic, albeit without the constant ballistic assault of groan-inducing one-liners and stilted dialogue. This strong supporting cast shines on its own and keeps the plot grounded, avoiding another pitfall of it becoming a full-on Tom Cruise fest. The music (Lorne Balfe), cinematography (Claudio Miranda), editing (Eddie Hamilton) is powerful and top-notch (especially when viewed on Imax). In all, Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel that stays on-brand and pays homage to its predecessor while it takes the best parts of a 35-year-old classic and elevates them with both power and charm into a very enjoyable movie experience and a perfect start to the summer.
I give Top Gun: Maverick 4 Danger Zones out of 5