It’s been a few years now since the world found out about the return of Top Gun to the big screen. Originally released in 1986, Top Gun has found a way to remain a mainstay in pop culture over the past 35 years, so the news of a sequel was greeted by many with mixed feelings. For some, the original was so perfectly cheesy and awesome that a sequel could never surpass its predecessor. For others, the thought of the sequel was met with intrigue. For me, I would say I was somewhat in the middle. As a child born in the 1980s, I grew up with Top Gun. It was one of the first movies I fell in love with. Fast forward to today, and as a 36-year-old, I wondered how much Tom Cruise could give to reprise a role so demanding – a leading role intended for a much younger man. Well, shame on me for questioning anything about Cruise. At 59, Tom, or should I say “Maverick,” still hasn’t missed a beat.
Top Gun: Maverick has been pushed back more than a Kanye West album. Originally slated to premiere in the summer of 2019, it was postponed a year for the purpose of tightening up some of the aerial scenes. Then, it was postponed again from its June 2020 release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exact release date would go on to be changed four more times from that point in an effort to hit the sweet spot of releasing the movie once people felt safe and secured enough to return to theaters in the midst of an ever-changing world.
As frustrating as it has been over the past three years, I must admit that Top Gun: Maverick was worth the wait.
For the crowd who didn’t know how in the world Cruise would bring the Maverick character back after so many years, Peter Craig and the rest of the writing team did a great job of handling that task in a plausible manner. The storyline centers around Maverick being brought back to Top Gun to teach the heads of the “new school” crew of pilots the academy has produced. In the midst of this, he realizes that one of the pilots, codenamed “Rooster,” is the son of his old wingman, Goose. Tensions are thickened from that point on, due to the fact that Maverick was flying alongside Goose when he died in a training exercise at the academy 30 years ago. Rooster (played by Miles Teller), is well aware of how his father met his demise, and still holds Maverick responsible.
The mission itself that Maverick must train the pilots on is basically a suicide mission. However, Maverick’s intent is to give them the confidence needed to believe in themselves to complete the mission and get back home in one piece.
Top Gun: Maverick, like the original, has its flaws. However, it absolutely quenches the thirst of fans who simply want a nostalgic thrill ride. From the opening intro scene, to the use of the same font for the credits, to even having cookie-cutter scenes like the football game on the beach that mirrors the volleyball game from the 1986 version, director Joseph Kosinski manages to push all the right buttons to bring the viewer back to yesteryear in a fun manner – which is a very difficult thing to do.
One flaw in particular, and perhaps the biggest one of all, is Maverick’s love story angle. Upon returning to North Island where Top Gun is located, Maverick is reunited with Penny (played by Jennifer Connelly), a former lover who we as the audience don’t really know much about. This rekindling, middle-age romance is kind of forced down our throats basically for the sole purpose of giving Cruise a love interest like the one he had with Charlie (Kelly McGillis) in the original (side note – there is ZERO reference to Charlie in this movie). Charlie was Maverick’s instructor and their sexual tension/chemistry was organic, so it made sense in that storyline. I had to look up if there was a reference to Penny in the original movie, because it’s not made clear in the movie where exactly she came from and how they knew each other previously. There is a very brief nugget where she is mentioned, but it certainly wasn’t enough to add her into the sequel. On top of that, the brief, romantic scene between Cruise and Connelly was out of place and looked more like a commercial for Ourtime.com. I don’t have any beef with Connelly, I just don’t think her character and that storyline were necessary.
I also am not a fan of the movie’s main song “Hold My Hand,” sung by Lady Gaga. I was hoping for an upbeat banger like “Danger Zone” from back in the day to represent this film too, but Gaga’s ballad was the choice instead. I’m not sure if it’s Maverick’s homage to Goose, or a testament to his love for Penny. Either way, Top Gun: Maverick is too exciting and fun of a film to not have its own legendary hype song.
In terms of the positives, the aerial scenes were incredible. Kosinski shot them in such a way that it makes the audience feel like they are right alongside the pilots, which creates a heart-racing, breath-holding experience.
Cruise and Teller deliver great performances, as does Glen Powell, who plays Hangman, an uber-arrogant, self-absorbed pretty boy who is an extremely skilled pilot and reminds Maverick of himself at that age.
I loved the scene with Maverick and Ice Man (played by Val Kilmer) as well. I’ve heard that Cruise said he would not do the film without Kilmer, and the way he was written into this script was perfect. Kilmer, who has battled throat cancer, has lost his ability to talk due to his voice box being surgically removed. That didn’t stop him from getting back on the big screen to briefly bring Maverick’s arch-rival back to life. It’s a touching scene and kudos to both Kilmer and Cruise for making sure it made the film.
In summary, Top Gun: Maverick is the perfect action film for what the world needs right now. It allows us to remember the glory days of the past, while preaching of perseverance to overcome obstacles and have hope for the future. You don’t have to have seen the original Top Gun to enjoy this one, but it certainly helps. Maverick certainly surpassed my expectations, and dare I say, was even more enjoyable than its predecessor.
MATTER RATING: 8/10
OSCAR SCALE: 9/10 (Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Fan Favorite)
BY CHRIS GUEST