Was the world really crying out for a sequel to 1986’s Top Gun? The original film has remarkably stood the test of time despite receiving a mixed reception upon release, and to date remains one of the best action movies ever made. Its pulse-pounding aerial dogfights, engrossing melodrama and banging soundtrack are still as exciting and instantly recognisable today as they were back when the film first premiered, and despite its faults, it remains an entertaining must-see in the catalogue of Tom Cruise vehicles. But surely that film was a one-and-done deal, its tale of male showboating and military daring-do long irrelevant in the wider cinema landscape occupied today? What story is there left to tell with these characters in this setting? Is there really a wide audience crying out for more Top Gun..?
Whether there is such an audience or not, there’s no denying that doubters will be silenced by Top Gun: Maverick, a soaring sequel so impressively better than its predecessor that the difference is pretty much night and day. Unlike the original film, which mostly focused on the rivalry between the hot-headed naval pilots (and very little else), Top Gun: Maverick imbues its plot with real emotional stakes, as a team of crack pilots are assigned a near-impossible suicide mission to destroy an enemy uranium store. Amidst all the thrilling training sequences and cockpit banter lies a solid (if a little old-hat) emotional through line that centres on the brewing tension between the man assigned to train the pilots – Tom Cruise‘s Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell – and the son of his long-dead friend “Goose”, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Already there’s tension both in the air and down on the ground, and the film’s script neatly fuses the two, keeping the action firmly focused on the human drama whilst simultaneously making the human drama a key part of the air spinning action.
What’s instantly apparent as the film kicks off is how aesthetically similar to the original film Top Gun: Maverick is. The credits, the soundtrack, the cinematography and even a few key shots themselves feel as though they could have been lifted from the original, the only difference being the obvious digital techniques used in their creation. Unlike with other long-gestating sequels, there’s no whiplash effect as you move between the two movies, and yet director Joseph Kosinski never lets the film stray into the realms of pure imitation. Through the effects, editing and the stunts, Kosinski brings a hefty mix of old and new techniques to the filmmaking process, gifting the film a stylish and fresh feel whilst remaining equally in tune with its predecessor. The amazing dogfight sequences are fast, thrilling and timed to perfection, taking your breath away with every spin and thrust, whilst also remaining immensely powerful and investing from both a character and narrative point of view.
The cast assembled here are all top notch, but no doubt all eyes will be on Tom Cruise, here returning to the role of Maverick after some 36 years. Cruise oozes charisma and an everyman quality in almost any role, but here he’s in his element, and the passion and panache he has for both the role and the film is evident in every scene he inhabits. Across from him, Miles Teller holds his own as Rooster, a role that could easily have sunk to the depths of a simple whiny, entitled brat, but somehow remains realistic and relatable in Teller’s hands. Other new faces get far less to do but still manage to deliver a lot with very little, especially in the cases of co-stars Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Bashir Salahuddin and Lewis Pullman. Powell’s performance in particular as the cocky and competitive “Hangman” is especially brilliant, an immensely likeable character despite his many, many obvious flaws. Yet despite the newcomers, the biggest highlight is a touching scene between Cruise and fellow Top Gun co-star Val Kilmer that is beautifully underplayed, affording Kilmer a key role in the film despite the obvious limitations imposed by his health.
The only two female characters (Jennifer Connelly‘s Penny and Monica Barbaro‘s Phoenix) fare less well though, as both are largely sidelined throughout most of the film. The severe lack of interesting or important female characters is arguably the one aspect of the original film that didn’t need to be repeated in the sequel, and there’s a nagging feeling come credits end that these fine actors have been done a disservice. Like the ace pilots it centres on, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t without its defects, and this one is pretty much its worst.
And yet, like those aforementioned ace pilots, Top Gun: Maverick will win you over with its confidence and sheer bravado despite said-flaws. The story is moving, exciting and involving, the editing is excellent, the direction riveting, performances are on the whole superb and there’s a perfect blend of old and new across both the score and the soundtrack. Made with real affection for the original film whilst carefully ensuring proceedings don’t nosedive into pure nostalgic gimmickry, Top Gun: Maverick is that rare sequel which improves on its predecessor and justifies its existence with ease and aplomb. The definitive must-see summer blockbuster of the year, watch it take flight on a giant IMAX screen and feel your heart and soul soar along with it!
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