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TOP GUN MAVERICK movie review

TOP GUN: MAVERICK (hereafter simply referred to as "MAVERICK") is directed by Joseph Kosinski. The film stars Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer.

Over three decades after graduating from the Top Gun Fighter Weapons School and serving as one of its instructors, Naval Aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has been serving as a test pilot, gaining the admiration of his colleagues and the ire of just as many superior officers. Maverick is recalled to Top Gun to instruct a new group of program graduates on a dangerous mission into enemy territory, as he reconnects with an old flame. Will Maverick has what it takes to get his pilots ready for the mission, or will his reckless actions get him permanently grounded?

The original 1986 TOP GUN is sacred to me. Since I was a young boy, it’s the movie I’ve seen more times than any other (though being born in 1984 I was obviously too young to catch it in theaters). When it’s on TV I have to watch it and quote it endlessly, from start to finish, much to the annoyance of everyone around me. The soundtrack is one of my favorite of all time. The aerial sequences, shot with practical effects, hold up 30+ years later. While it shows its age in many regards, it’s that rare movie I’ve never gotten tired of.

When I heard they were making a sequel to TOP GUN, I had my doubts, though I was pleased to hear Tom Cruise would be reprising his role on the condition that the film utilized practical effects and wasn’t a CG-laden mess. Sadly, original film director Tony Scott (brother of Ridley Scott) has passed away, but after many years (TOP GUN sequels had been rumored for decades prior to this) and a ton of delays, TOP GUN: MAVERICK finally hits theaters this week.

And I’m happy to say that, despite my initial doubts and lofty expectations, the sequel delivers in nearly every regard. Tom Cruise revisits his most legendary role perfectly. The extended cast is fantastic, and it hits the dramatic notes perhaps even better than its predecessor. The flaws, what few exist, are ultimately minor. I have no reservations in saying MAVERICK is my favorite film of 2022 so far.

Tom Cruise was an actor prior to the original TOP GUN, but it was his portrayal of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell that cemented his position as one of the biggest names in Hollywood, a distinction he’s carried ever since. Maverick (the character) lives up to his name once again, still testing the patience of his instructors and winning over the respect of those he works with and instructs, defying death in the cockpit. This time around, Maverick gets to test experimental aircraft, train a group of pilots that includes the son of his deceased RIO, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, and even reconnect with a former girlfriend who has since become a bar owner and a mother. It feels like the logical progression of this character from when audiences first met him in 1986. You can say whatever you want about Thomas Cruise Mapother IV – the man knows how to act, and it would be criminal if he didn’t get a Best Actor nomination for this reprisal of his most iconic role.

The movie has an equally talented supporting cast, including Ed Harris and Jon Hamm as Admirals understandably frustrated by Maverick being himself, Miles Teller as Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Goose who holds an understandable grudge against Maverick for past events, and Jennifer Connelly as Penny Benjamin, an old flame of Maverick who was name dropped in two throwaway lines in the original movie, yet is fully realized as an interesting character here. The young actors playing the recent Top Gun grads under Maverick’s tutelage are fantastic in their roles, even if I wasn’t initially familiar with most of them. Like the original TOP GUN, the casting here is top notch, and the portrayals are ideal. The movie runs the gamut from the dramatic to more light-hearted comedic moments, yet it all flows together perfectly.

MAVERICK is an ideal love letter to the original film, but it’s not so drowning in nostalgia that it feels like an exercise in fanservice. The opening titles sequence is a direct homage to the original film, using the same music, title fonts, instrumental themes, and even a carrier sequence set to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (thankfully not rerecorded by someone else). There are many moments in the film that flash back to the original, reminding viewers how Maverick and company got to be where they are now. I was giddy as hell as a longtime fan of the original movie, but was pleased to see this wasn’t just nostalgia and nothing more. The film stands on its own two feet. And while I think fans who saw the original will get the most out of what’s here, there’s enough exposition that I’m sure even a newbie could keep up. The film is dedicated to the original movie’s director, Tony Scott, and his legacy is done justice here.

Much like the original film, MAVERICK excels with its aerial combat footage, this time around largely using F-18 Hornet fighter planes. (The F-14 Tomcat, the primary aircraft used in the original TOP GUN, was retired by the Navy around 2006.) These sequences are every bit as thrilling, if no more so, than those from the 1986 original, with locales including a rocky canyon and the open oceans to and from an aircraft carrier. The adherence to practical effects speaks for itself, and these are the best aerial sequences ever caught on film for a major motion picture since, well… the original TOP GUN.

There really isn’t a whole lot I can criticize here. The only real weakness I can think of is that there isn't enough information on what happened to other characters from the original movie (only Maverick and Iceman appear, while Goose is referenced). A few lines of throwaway dialogue could’ve told us a lot, and while I understand the movie not wanting to get bogged down in nostalgia, it would’ve been nice to maybe get a few lines explaining this stuff, or even a cameo or two. Like the first film, the drama on the ground never quite gets as interesting as the action in the skies, though I would actually argue that the sequel improves on this aspect compared to its predecessor, creating a more compelling “ground story,” largely due to the repercussions past events, namely Goose’s death and the impact it’s had on his son, which makes for some interesting dramatic ground.

I was skeptical as hell about TOP GUN: MAVERICK, but I’m pleased to announce the sequel surpassed all the expectations I had for a sequel to the 1986 original. This is my favorite film of the year and a worthy spiritual successor to one of my all-time favorite films, and the one I’ve seen more times than any other. The acting is great, the aerial sequences are great, and even the ground story is fantastic. A must-see. Absolute highest recommendations for this one!

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