Review by Paul Gibbs
Like a lot of cinephiles of my generation, I have a complicated relationship with Top Gun. It’s a cliched formula movie with all the deepth of a puddle, and its flashy style-over-substance excesses not only epitomize some of the worst tendencies of ’80s cinema and Jerry Bruckheimer, they paves the way for Michael Bay. And that’s withiut even touching on the toxic masculinity. But it’s also undeniably a seminal film of our generation, one that defined coolness at its time. Its appeal as a fantasy for 12 year old boys of all ages is hard to deny. And for me, it was a movie that I watched many times with my Dad because of his love of military planes, and there weren’t a lot of movies I watched multiple times with my Dad, who passed away in 2015.
Top Gun: Maverick is everything you would expect or want a Top Gun sequel to be. Much like The Force Awakens or Jurassic World, it pays homage its predecessor to the point of being essentially a variation on the same movie. But it does bring some new resonance to the formula, with Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell now having the baggage of a life spent as a hot shot fighter jock . . . Well, maverick. Maverick has never been promoted past captain, because he spent his whole career defying authority, taking outrageous risks and doing things his own way. To a large degree he owes the fact that he’s even still in the Navy to his friend and formed rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who he’s bailed him out of trouble again and again.
Maverick is called back to Top Gun flight school to prepare a group of the best graduates for a mission so dangerous and secret they don’t even tell us who the enemy is for fear of hurting the international box office. And of course one of the pilots is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Goose, Maverick’s late partner and best friend whose death made you cry too, so shut up.
Cruise and Teller bring a great deal of genuine emotional to the strained and tension filled relationship, and Teller has an inspired casting choice, and it would be easy to believe he’s actually the son of Anthony Edwards. Jennifer Connelly is solid as always as Maverick’s love interest, even if the character is really just “the girl” in the standard formula. And Kilmer’s cameo is the emotional and nostalgic highlight of the film. Cruise was right to insist the film not be made without Kilmer.
The action, especially in the extended climactic sequence, is thrilling in a way I wasn’t sure movies could be anymore. Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski were smart enough to know that a CG heavy Top Gun sequel would never work, and they’ve put you inside the action to an amazing degree. It’s genuine white-knuckle, edge of your seat stuff thrills. If you have any complusion to see the film, you need to seen it in a theater, and you really need to see it in IMAX if at all possible.
Top Gun: Maverick knows exactly what it is and wants to be, and it gets missile lock on its target. It’s definitely for fans of the original, but you’d certainly be able to follow it without having seen Tony Scott’s film, and even if the rest didn’t get you, that extended climax would. It’s a nostalgic summer thrill ride , and on that level it’s a complete sucdess.