At some point in everyone’s life, pushing it to the limit comes with a price you might not be willing to pay…
In theatres now (and EVERYWHERE); Top Gun: Maverick is a fantastic exercise in cinematic execution because while it’s hardly reinventing the wheel it’s evoking some genuine nostalgia for big screen spectacle cinema that we so desperately need right now.
After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a detachment of TOPGUN graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose”.
Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.
While we’ll admit that this film has about as much depth to it as the curb does in relation to the street; Top Gun: Maverick manages to harken back to the days of “in-camera” cinema spectacle that has to be seen as large and as loudly as possible on the big screen.
Aside from the obvious which we will bring up later, the genuine magic in this film comes from its script. Not because it’s doing anything terribly new; in fact it’s aping most of the storytelling beats from the original film, but because it actually does it pretty perfectly.
From the overall themes and ideas about individualism and team work to the emotional arcs of trying to think for someone other than yourself, it’s all note for note with tone perfect throwbacks to the source material sprinkled throughout.
The evolution in the overall story through comes with the ‘Maverick’ character himself. He’s wearing his age just a little bit and coming to grips with the idea while he may not able to see himself anywhere else other than in the seat of a fighter jet, he’s at least at a point where he may not be happy with the end result of this lifestyle could be.
This all comes through in the intensity of the action sequences that were shot while flying ACTUAL JETS. Director Joseph Kosinski and his team have pushed the throttle to the max as a good chunk of the film takes place while the actors are in the planes. It’s not just cutaways and reaction shot, but actors are rather advancing plot and story while doing Mach 3. It shouldn’t work, but it does and as we see all these acrobatics in the air we are reminded of the importance of make cinema inside the frame of the lens and not necessarily via a green screen after the fact.
At the heart of it all through is Tom Cruise, who after a 36 year absence from the character knows exactly what makes this guy tick. In many ways Cruise and his alter ego of Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell are one in the same and as he returns to where it all began we get a genuine sense of wistfulness in the man as he knows that he has less days ahead of him then he does behind doing the one thing he was put on this earth to do. Cruise sells it well and even with some of the more predictable plot points in the movie we can’t help but be emotional connected to it all.
Outside of Cruise’s narrative arc though there isn’t necessarily a ton of character work to go around in this one. Miles Teller leads an impossibly good looking group of cocky young pilots, while Jon Hamm plays his authority figure role with begrudging one note sincerity and Jennifer Connelly is fine as his refreshingly age appropriate love interest (whose character was briefly referenced in the first film). While it was nice to see the on screen reunion between Cruise and Val Kilmer as ‘Iceman’ there was nothing else that really allowed for any genuine connection to the characters throughout the film, but that being said it’s called Top Gun: MAVERICK for a reason.
At the end of the day, Top Gun: Maverick won’t be confused with any kind of high cinematic art but it’s a reminder of why we all fell in love with the movies in the first place. It’s top notch spectacle cinema that you are invested in from minute one. Not just for the legacy, the characters or even the cache of a star like Tom Cruise who just might be the last ‘movie star’ out there, but for the reminder of what the movies are actually capable of doing, both with its visuals on the screen and the emotion it can evoke off the screen.