Top Gun: Maverick – Movie Review

Top Gun: Maverick

  • Director: Joseph Kosinski
  • Writers: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris

Grade: B+

Top Gun became a bit of a peculiar pop culture oddity after it premiered in 1986, and hardly because of the film’s quality (or lack thereof). Tom Cruise would become an even bigger movie star, the volleyball scene became iconic in its own way, a symbol of the queer-coded subtext of the film writ-large, and its theme song outlived any semblance of the movie’s plot. The Navy even saw enrollment jump in the years after its release. Not to mention it was the namesake of a pretty amazing roller coaster at King’s Island in Cincinnati, which I rode to death in my adolescence.

So did the world really need to see Top Gun: Maverick? Much to Paramount’s dismay, signs began to increasingly point to “no.” Originally set to be released in 2020, the film has been one of the longest hold-overs of the pandemic. One of the steepest hurdles a filmmaker faces when making a long overdue sequel is trying to justify its existence. Is there a story worth telling with these specific characters, rather than telling a new tale with new characters in a similar setting? Of course, it never hurts to have one of the biggest, most bankable movie stars on the planet on your side in Tom Cruise.

Top Gun: Maverick; Paramount

Director Joseph Kosinski seems intent on honoring the legacy of the original film, while crafting a new take on the characters, specifically its namesake Maverick (Cruise). The film even opens with an almost shot-for-shot remake of the aircraft carrier sequence that played over the original’s credits, along with the infamous Kenny Loggins jam. Maverick, still content testing new technology, while still never rising above the rank of Captain, hasn’t changed much when it comes to respecting authority. The film’s opening action sequence sees Maverick essentially commandeering a new fighter plane and pushing it to Mach 10, in order to justify the Navy’s manned expedition program and save its pilots from becoming drone operators. To the screenplay’s (written by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie) detriment, the film never wrestles with this modern development of saving lives with robotic technology versus the human element.

Rather, Maverick finds himself the instructor of the titular program, populated by a handful of students that aren’t terribly dissimilar to those from the original film. There’s the cocky Iceman-type antagonist Hangman (Glen Powell), the plucky Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), and a couple other blandly handsome dudes. Not to mention Rooster (Miles Teller), who just happens to be the son of Goose, Maverick’s former co-pilot (you can tell they’re related by the matching mustaches). Rooster avoids Maverick like the plague for reasons that won’t be revealed until the third act, but each of the supporting players does their job effectively. Which is to say, they make Tom Cruise look good. There’s also a romantic subplot with Jennifer Connelly’s Penny, a bar owner who had a brief fling in the intervening years and mostly serves to add exposition on what Maverick has been up to in the past 30+ years.

Top Gun: Maverick; Paramount

But Cruise’s mission is more urgent than a couple classes and fly-by’s. Turns out there’s a mysteriously unnamed country that’s been developing a nuclear weapon’s facility, and Cruise is tasked with preparing a team to go blow it up real good. Because this is a movie and things can’t just be as simple as dropping a bomb and flying away, the facility is located in the middle of a mountain that would take an expert pilot to navigate successfully.

Paramount’s decision to delay the film, rather than punt it to a streaming service, pays off incredibly well. The flight sequences are dazzling, with booming sound and breathtaking vistas. This is a film that demands to be seen on the largest screen possible, or at least one with a great sound system. Kosinski manages to make each flight sequence visually distinctive and energetic. I truly could not tell which moments were practically done and which were done with a green screen, especially given Cruise’s penchant for performing his own stunts.

Top Gun: Maverick; Paramount

There’s an underlying theme early on in Top Gun: Maverick, wherein the Navy no longer feels that manned flights are worth the risk from a personnel or financial standpoint. Perhaps it’s a stretch to consider it a dig at Hollywood looking at Tom Cruise and his relevance in today’s movie landscape, but the implication is undeniable. Sure, Cruise has always charmed audiences into seeing his films, but where does he stand now that moviegoers mostly only turn out for the latest superhero fare? It could have been interesting to see the entire film centered around this theme, but at least the pure spectacle alone makes it worth seeing. Ironically enough, this film will be competing for attention and theater screens against the latest MCU film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Both are disposable popcorn features made to appeal to the widest audience imaginable, but Top Gun: Maverick is a reminder of the unadulterated fun that movie-making can be.

Top Gun: Maverick will be released in theaters on May 27, 2022.

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

  • Top Gun: Maverick may not seem like your typical nominee for Best Visual Effects, but it absolutely deserves a spot here, no matter how many are real versus CGI.
  • The flight sequences alone would warrant Claudio Miranda a Cinematography nomination in a perfect world, but I imagine there will be films with flashier, more traditional cinematography out this year.
  • I could absolutely see the film receiving a Best Sound nomination, as it utilizes the supersonic noises that come with fighter jets incredibly well, even in an era when there is just one Sound category.
  • The same goes for Eddie Hamilton’s editing. One of the original film’s biggest problems was in its editing, but here, the action scenes are coherently put together, with a real, energetic sense of space and magnitude.
  • Also, never count out Lady Gaga and her ability to score a Best Original Song nomination. “Hold My Hand” has the tall task of living up to “Highway to the Danger Zone” but the Academy loves big stars when it comes to the Original Song category. Especially when that big star is a recent winner.

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