It only took five minutes after sitting down to write this review for me to hear three separate conversations raving about Top Gun: Maverick. I admit to having a biased fondness for the original Top Gun, as I share a strong passion for aviation with my Dad, so the film became a sort of “family classic”. Of course I was excited for the sequel to finally be released two years after it’s COVID-related absence, but I would not have expected it to captivate the average movie-goer as well as it did. I cannot remember the last time I’ve heard such universal praise for a movie, and for good reason. Top Gun: Maverick plays as Tom Cruise’s magnum opus: roaring onto the big screen with great balls of fire, providing the most riveting and genuinely intriguing film I’ve seen in theaters since Mad Max: Fury Road and easily one of the greatest action movies of all time.
Where the original Top Gun resides in a world of semi-camp and pop-culture indulgence that contributes to it’s “summer popcorn flick” genre, it’s clear that Tom Cruise, director Joseph Kosinski, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to create a sequel that exclusively screams “quality”. It’s marketed as “the greatest aviation film ever made” and it holds true to this promise. As a private pilot and aviation enthusiast, Tom Cruise’s efforts to train and equip his cast and crew for an immersive cinematographic experience are nothing short of incredible: at times you legitimately feel like you’re sitting in the cockpit of the F/A-18 Super Hornets that the real Top Gun grads fly. Even sequences that had to have been filmed via mock-ups in a studio or on set, such as those involving the “SR-72 Darkstar” X-plane or the adversary Su-57 5th Gen fighters feel remarkably realistic, and the line is quickly and frequently blurred between practical filming and movie magic. The afterburners and high-G maneuvers force the audience to share a heart-pounding experience. The term “edge-of-your seat” is frequently overused (especially on my part), but looking around my theater, there were a surprising number of people literally leaning forward and gripping their chairs. Vis-a-vis Marvel or Star Wars films: this is how you make a movie a true roller-coaster experience.
I fully expected Top Gun: Maverick to be a beat-for-beat rehash of the first film, which I was completely fine with since I expected the cinematography to deliver well on its own. Maverick is surprisingly divergent from the original plot, which was not only refreshing but at times legitimately emotional in ways that the first film should have been. The movie surprisingly chooses to shy away from nostalgia in areas where it could have leaned heavily on references and easter eggs, and instead drives the narrative from the first movie forward at a supersonic pace. Easily the best aspect of the plot is the relationship between Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), and the son of his former Weapons Systems Officer “Goose”, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). There’s an extended mythos between the time of (spoiler but whatever) Goose’s death and Rooster’s graduation from Top Gun, one that adds deep-seated tension as Maverick trains a cadre of Top Gun graduates for a dangerous mission. The fallout that arises drags other members of the team into the drama, but wraps in a satisfying conclusion. Each of the aviator actors played well in their roles as supercilious and sometimes abrasive fighter pilots (a personality type that I know well from my line of work), and should be commended for the efforts used to train as back-seaters in the real F/A-18s. I was even surprised by the inclusion of Jennifer Connelly as “generic love interest” Penny who turned out not to be very generic at all, and the small but emotional cameo of Val Kilmer, resuming his role as “Iceman” from the first film. No character feels misused and the inclusion of each is reflective of a well crafted screenplay which moves the story and grows the intensity at an ideal pace. There are, as one may expect, a few absurd moments that remind oneself that they’re immersed in a movie, but none that bring the viewer too far out of the picture and honestly add to the fun of the experience.
I think it’ll take some time for another action movie to impress me as much as Top Gun: Maverick has. Biases aside, the global audience can speak to this movie’s prowess, as it made a record-braking $127-million dollar opening with only a 33% decrease over the following weekend. I expect that this success has convinced the whole of Hollywood that the classic theatrical model for films is here to stay, as opposed to relying on streaming. Top Gun: Maverick is difficult to disappoint, and if you choose not to see it in theaters: you are wrong. 9.7/10