Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Premise: A sequel to 1986’s Top Gun. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is called back to the Top Gun school to prepare a group of elite naval aviators for a dangerous mission. Among Maverick’s students is the son of his deceased Radar Intercept Officer (Miles Teller).
What Works: Top Gun: Maverick comes thirty-six years after the original film and the moviemakers have used the layover between movies to their advantage. Maverick recaptures the appeal of the original Top Gun while bringing a new angle to the material. Maverick is still the character we recognize from the original film but the story and Tom Cruise’s performance account for the passage of time. This story opens with Maverick test piloting experimental aircraft and pushing the limits of aviation and the patience of his superiors when he’s reassigned to prepare elite aviators for a daring mission. In a world of drones and automation, Maverick is becoming obsolete and the film is about Maverick coming to terms with the twilight of his life and career. Top Gun: Maverick is better than its predecessor in almost every way. The narrative is tighter, the characters are more interesting, and the action is superior. The story primarily focuses on Maverick and Rooster, played by Miles Teller, the son of Maverick’s late flying partner. Maverick is haunted by guilt and Rooster harbors resentment and the script smartly intertwines their character flaws with the mission; they must overcome one to succeed at the other. Maverick is one of the best uses of Cruise as both an actor and a movie star and Teller both behaves and looks like the son of Anthony Edwards’ character from the original movie. The film includes a cameo by Val Kilmer, reprising his role as Iceman and his scenes are dealt with tastefully, bringing gravitas at the fan service. A new group of fighter pilots are introduced, among them Hangman played by Glen Powell. Hangman combines the worst traits of Iceman and Maverick as seen in the original Top Gun and he’s an effective but charming antagonist. The Top Gun sequel is a beautifully crafted film and the aviation scenes are exceptional. The movie has a wild kineticism combined with a visceral feel for the physics of flight. Especially impressive is the continuity of the action; the filmmakers manage our understanding of how the aircraft relate to each other in terms of speed and space, a quality that tended to get jumbled in the original movie.
What Doesn’t: Top Gun: Maverick introduces Penny Benjamin, a new love interest played by Jennifer Connelly. Her character has some history with Maverick; Penny was actually mentioned by name in a throwaway line in the original film. Cruise and Connelly make a likable on-screen couple but the movie doesn’t do anything with her character. Unlike Charlie (Kelly McGillis), the love interest from the previous film, Penny doesn’t have much of a life of her own and their love story doesn’t have any dramatic ups and downs. For better or worse, the Top Gun franchise epitomizes the cooperative relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon. These films are propaganda for the armed forces and the military industrial complex and that’s especially pronounced in Maverick. This story is built around a military operation to blow up a uranium enrichment plant in an unidentified country. The political or moral implications of this bombing run are never considered because to the filmmakers that’s not important. The movie is only concerned with the mechanics of the mission and the skill of the aviators. The implicit ethics of this movie aren’t that far off from those lampooned in Team America: World Police.
Bottom Line: Top Gun: Maverick is among of the best of the legacy sequels. It equals and in many ways exceeds its predecessor in both aviation thrills and militaristic politics. This is pure popcorn cinema and Maverick is a crowd-pleaser and an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship.
Episode: #904 (June 5, 2022)