Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Top Gun: Maverick

Josh Reviews Top Gun: Maverick

Decades after the events of the original Top Gun, Maverick is working as a test pilot and still brazenly disobeying orders he doesn’t agree with.  On the verge of being bounced out of the Navy, his old friend Iceman, now an Admiral, tasks Maverick with returning to Top Gun as an instructor.  The Navy is preparing for a dangerous mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant, and Maverick must prep the best Top Gun pilots to be able to achieve this nearly-impossible assignment.  This would be a challenge under any circumstances; it’s made more complicated by the fact that one of Maverick’s new students is Goose’s son, who blames Maverick for his father’s death.

I never had any strong attachment to the original Top Gun.  I know the original is beloved, but it wasn’t one of those movies I connected to as a kid.  (I did re-watch the original a few weeks before seeing this sequel, and I enjoyed it!)  So I wasn’t someone desperate for a Top Gun sequel.  And I went into Top Gun: Maverick with some skepticism.  These sorts of decades-later legacy sequels are extremely hard to pull off.  It’s been a long 36 years since the original Top Gun.

And so I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick!  The film is a solid adventure story filled with fun characters, and brought to life with extraordinary footage of real-life aerial photography.

Tom Cruise remains a magnetic on-screen presence.  It’s a pleasure to watch him step back into Maverick’s flight suit.  I liked the young, cocky Maverick in the original Top Gun, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still liked this older, more seasoned version of the character.  Tom Cruise was able to maintain Maverick’s cockiness, but he plays him with enough self-awareness to prevent that arrogance from being off-putting in someone Maverick’s age.  We can see that Maverick understands how his best qualities have also held him back at times, both professionally and in his personal life.  That makes him endearing as a character, and allows us to root for him to make good choices and to succeed in the film.

Jennifer Connelly is a strong addition to the Top Gun world as Penny Benjamin, with whom Maverick rekindles a romance.  Ms. Connelly is a strong performer, as always, and she has great chemistry with Tom Cruise.  She doesn’t have so much to do in the film, but she gives all of her scenes a fun bounce.  (Aside: I must admit to being totally confused as to who Ms. Connelly was playing in the film as I was watching it.  At first I thought she was a new character.  Then when we saw her blonde daughter, I thought the film had recast Kelly McGillis’ role from the original film.  That idea strengthened for me when we first see Penny’s beach-side house, which looked to me exactly like the house Kelly McGillis’ character lived in in the first Top Gun.  But looking this up online after the film, it seems that Ms. Connelly is playing a different character, albeit someone mentioned in a line of dialogue in the first film.  I must admit that I prefer to think that this is Kelly McGillis’ character and that she and Maverick did get their happy ending.)

I wasn’t sure whether Val Kilmer would be in the film, because sadly he currently is mostly unable to speak due to throat cancer.  (This was explored in the wonderful documentary, Val.)  I was very happy that the filmmakers found a way to incorporate Mr. Kilmer into the film.  There’s a key scene between him and Tom Cruise that is my favorite scene in the entire film.

Jon Hamm is great as always as the new character of Air Boss Vice Admiral “Cyclone” Simpson, Maverick’s new boss at Top Gun who doesn’t think too much of our hero.  As with Ms. Connelly’s role, this is a relatively one-dimensional role on paper (the character is basically just there to put down Maverick), but Mr. Hamm brings a lot of fun energy and personality to all of his scenes.

I enjoyed the film’s new crop of young hot-shot pilots.  Miles Teller is brilliantly cast as Goose’s son, “Rooster”.  I’ve been a fan of Mr. Teller’s ever since seeing him in The Spectacular Now (a terrific coming-of-age film) and he really looks like he could be Goose (played by Anthony Edwards)’s son!  As Tom Cruise was able to do so well in the original Top Gun, Mr. Teller is able to give Goose a hot-shot confidence while also balancing that with the soulfulness needed for us to care about him and want him to succeed.  Mr. Teller ably holds his own in some tense scenes with Tom Cruise.

Monica Barbaro is great as “Phoenix”.  I love that we have a strong, tough, capable female pilot among the Top Gun group.  As I’ve already said about many of the characters in the film, this is a relatively one-dimensional role on paper, but Ms. Barbaro brings life and energy to the character.  Glen Powell is fun as “Hangman,” the “Iceman” stand-in for this film — that is, the arrogant pilot who takes an antagonistic role to our hero pilot (in this case, “Rooster”) but who turns out OK in the end.  Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale), Jay Ellis (Insecure), Danny Ramirez, Manny Jacinto (The Good Place) are all strong as other pilots.  I loved seeing Ed Harris briefly as Maverick’s boss and head of the Darkstar test-pilot program, and also Charles Parnell as Maverick’s buddy “Warlock”.

The film is well-directed by Joseph Kosinski (stepping in to replace the late, great Tony Scott).  I’ve always thought Mr. Kosinski’s films looked beautiful, though I’ve felt his storytelling skills weren’t always the best.  (I quite liked his sci-fi film Oblivion, which also starred Tom Cruise… though his Tron: Legacy was a huge disappointment for me.)  I think Top Gun: Maverick is easily Mr. Kosinski’s best film.  The visuals are so strong and engaging, and the cast is so good, that the somewhat thin story doesn’t hinder one’s enjoyment of the film one iota.

(Well, at least it didn’t for me until the last section of the film.  Once Maverick and Goose find themselves on an adventure outside of their planes, the film took a sharp turn into unbelievablility for me.  It felt like a Bond film.  Like a Bond film, this final sequence was fun!  But it just seemed impossible for me to believe that any of this could really happen.)

Which brings us to the film’s incredible flight and combat sequences.  The same borderline-insane desire on Tom Cruise’s part to accomplish stunts for real that has made the last several Mission: Impossible movies so terrific (especially the most recent one, Mission: Impossible: Fallout, which is my favorite M:I film so far!) elevates Top Gun: Maverick beyond an ordinary action-movie.  The footage that Mr. Kosinski and Mr. Cruise and their incredible team captured — in real F-18s, actually doing the crazy stunts the planes are seen doing in the film — is absolutely extraordinary.  I am so glad I got to see this film in a theater, because this is a true Big Screen movie.  (Props to Mr. Cruise & co. for holding out for a full theatrical release for this movie.  That was unquestionably the right call.)  I applaud Mr. Cruise and the stunt team — not to mention the other actors, who all apparently went through lengthy flight training to prepare them for making the movie — for all that they accomplished.  (Click here to read more.)  This film would not be nearly as successful without the dynamic, visceral realism it was given by having these real stunt sequences, featuring the actual actors, as opposed to fake CGI supplementing footage shot on a soundstage.  It’s a night-and-day difference.

I enjoyed the film’s many nods and references to the first film.  It was fun seeing a recreation of the original Top Gun’s iconic opening shots of planes taking off and landing on an aircraft carrier at sunrise.  The film strikes the tough balance that sequels need to find of recreating the things people loved about the original without either being a total remake or, on the other hand, veering too far from the source.

This was a fun film to watch!  I’m happy by the degree to which I enjoyed it.  (And it’s got me chomping at the bit for Mr. Cruise’s much-delayed next Mission: Impossible film to finally come out…!!)

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