While Top Gun (1986) wasn’t of my ‘era’, there’s something about it and despite Tom Cruise‘s legacy, none of us really thought a sequel would happen. But, when you consider what you get with a Cruise action-thriller – alongside his utter dedication to the process of filmmaking and making sure the audience feels like they’re fully involved, then Top Gun: Maverick was of high-octane intrigue upon hearing it was in production.
Flash-forward to 2022, an incredible 36 years since Maverick’s first outing, and we’re back at the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, or TOP GUN as it’s known from the inside, and my word, what a piece of cinematic escapism and thrill-rides this is. Not content with just bringing all the action and tension to the big (small) screen, they even bother with a genuine character connection which, in truth, pushes the big plot set-piece to the back, yet it absolutely works.
As a quick overview, Top Gun: Maverick takes us back into the life of Captain Pete Mitchell (Cruise), who’s hanging back from the accolades and promotions, and concentrating on staying as the pilot he’s always wanted to be. To achieve this status, and not be pushed away from the airfield, he’s now a test pilot for a scramjet program and endeavouring to fly beyond 9G in the Darkstar, a jet that keeps the human inside the machine, and isn’t another drone without a person, something that Maverick is firmly against as he wants his friends to keep their jobs.
However, while he achieves his goal for a moment, we all know that Mave can’t resist pushing things a little too far, and ends up getting taken off it and is designated back to TOP GUN, thanks to Val Kilmer‘s Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, who does him a favour. But he’s not just there on a whim, he has the experience and knowledge to teach a fresh band of elite graduates how to fight and fly like they never have before, as they must come together to target a specialised mission, one to take out an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant.
Now, that’s not all either… oh yes, because one of the recruits is also Lt. ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), who is the son of Maverick’s former wingman Goose, and after their history, there are relationships to mend in every avenue for our lead, who’s had years of practice of not taking control of the things that matter in life. So, while there is a ‘mission’ for everyone to get together, train and play beach volleyball to, as mentioned earlier, the big thing here is the characters and this is a smart choice from Cruise and Kosinski alongside screenwriters Ehren Kruger Eric, Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, all based on a story from Justin Marks and Peter Craig.
Bonds must be re-built, friendships must break and rekindle, Maverick must question everything he is and what’s he has done along the way, it’s cleverly setup and even more intelligently worked out. BUT, while the characters do play a vital part – as you’d hope and expect – it’s the fighter jet set-pieces that blow your mind, with astonishing cinematography from Claudio Miranda. Aerial dogfights and aviation acrobatics galore but with the actors literally in the action. If you check out the Special Features, then you’ll learn how incredibly hard these actors worked to get into the jets, with intense training in a very short space of time, compared to how long it would normally take. You witness their faces turn and take in every moment and this practical element makes for something truly unique and special. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Tom Cruise but for everyone to get in on the act, it’s a standing ovation from start to finish.
Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t disappoint, with strong performances from the ensemble cast that includes Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm (in ace serious mode), Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis and Ed Harris, it gives you what you want plus an extra shot of adrenaline, time and again. It’s also poignant in the right places, and keeps that level of bravado and genuine danger at the perfect balance. This one really does take your breath…. oh, you know the rest.
The Special Features offer extra insight into the entire filmmaking process but it’s clear how much work Tom Cruise put in at every, single level, and a lot is shown in Cleared For Take Off. From literal jet fight choreography, to making sure the new acting recruits had training plans for what they were getting into. This is normal people pulling multiple G’s in a fighter plane, you can’t just rock up and get that right, they have to make sure you can take it first.
Breaking New Ground – Filming Top Gun: Maverick delves into those spectacular aerial sequences, A Love Letter To Aviation tells us what we know about Tom Cruise and more, including his passion for aviation as he pilots his own aircraft, a vintage World War II P-51 Mustang, which would have been the Top Gun aircraft of its day. There’s also Forging The Darkstar which is the plane you’ll see in the opening sequences, which is an impressive experimental aircraft specially designed for the movie.