From the opening moment the modern Paramount logo shows up on screen with the original 80s Top Gun score by Harold Faltermeyer playing over the soundtrack, I couldn’t help but smile that I was finally getting to see Top Gun: Maverick in a movie theater. Since seeing the trailer almost three years ago, my expectations have been off the charts for this sequel I never knew I needed. Since then, a pandemic, social unrest, horrible political news, and war has only fueled the need for Hollywood escapism where the good guys can simply win against the bad. I. Was. Ready!
After paying tribute to the original’s iconic opening moments, we are offered a bit of a ramp-up of what Maverick (Tom Cruise) has been doing for the past 30+ years. He is now a test pilot (of course! perfect!), but a bit of a Navy washout, never being promoted beyond Captain. Sure, he is legendary because of his enemy-engaging dogfight in the first film, but he is otherwise still the undisciplined, authority-defying daredevil we all know and love.
On a personal front, Maverick still can’t get over his flying partner Goose’s death, especially when faced with Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller), who is now a Top Gun pilot himself. From Rooster’s propensity to belt out tunes at the bar’s piano, down to his Navy pilot moustache, the young man is enough of a spitting image of his father that Maverick isn’t the only one that has déjà vu. Unfortunately, Maverick and Rooster’s relationship is strained, due to past secrets and lies. You just know that these two men will need to depend on each other in the Danger Zone by the end of the film in order to heal.
Luckily once this relationship is established, the film stops copying its predecessor and instead starts copying Star Wars, and I’m not even kidding. Before you can say, “Red Leader, this is Gold Leader,” Maverick has been reluctantly called in to train the Top Gun elites (including Rooster) for a very special mission: to fly through an impossible canyon, hit an impossible target, and escape before the Death Star… I mean a uranium plant in an Unnamed Enemy Country… blows up behind them.
Top Gun: Maverick, is, of course, all about the flying scenes–and they are absolutely thrilling. From the opening scene of Maverick defying orders by pushing a test plane to Mach 10, to the impossible and dangerous training flights (hold onto your seats), to the even more impossible real-mission flights that switch from the deserts of Southern California to the snowy coastal mountains, the action is edge-of-your-seat fantastic. Due to a push by Tom Cruise (who I’m sure gets what he wants), Maverick has eschewed the green screen CGI tricks that are standard in today’s action fare. Instead, all the death-defying aerial scenes were filmed in real planes (often with the actors!) and this dedication to authenticity makes these scenes even more jaw-dropping.
There is a lot to love here, even outside of the flying scenes, not least of which is the return of Iceman (Val Kilmer) who is now, unsurprisingly, an Admiral. There is emotional gravitas in the moment where Maverick visits his old friend: In real-life, Kilmer’s struggle with throat cancer has taken his voice, and this has been incorporated into Iceman’s character. When Maverick and Iceman hug as two men that have grown and matured as colleagues and friends, you can’t help but feel the friendship of two actors that have known each other for decades. I have to admit, this reunion of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer made me cry… damn you, Top Gun! Damn you!
Watching the film in IMAX, I actually felt myself leaning in to scenes (while a fellow sitting near us visibly flailed his hands in the air at more gravity-defying moments) and leaning wayyy back with the pilots as they pushed the envelope. Simply put, this movie is an action blockbuster done right. Revisiting the world of the 80s hit movie, Top Gun: Maverick will thrill audiences that are fans of the original, while throwing in plenty of fresh material (i.e.: fresh young actors and even fresher high tech planes) to appeal to modern moviegoers. I’m happy and relieved to say that this sequel is way better than it has any right to be… and the late Tony Scott would be proud.