Review: Top Gun: Maverick

Sometimes I miss films that have come out in the last few weeks. I’m human. Occasionally, I’ll catch up on some films I finally got around to that I may have missed.

Representing the new apex of big-budget Hollywood studio filmmaking, Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick has enough nods to the original film while still representing its own interesting story. One of the most technically brilliant films in the last few years.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. After avoiding promotion for years in order to continue flying. While much of the Navy would like Mitchell grounded, Maverick’s friend and the now-commander of the Pacific Fleet “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) reassigns him to Top Gun as an instructor. He is tasked with teaching an elite group of aviators to bomb an unsanctioned uranium plant before it becomes operational.

Maverick meets aviators including the brash and cocky Hangman (Glenn Powell), the no-nonsense Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) and her wingman Bob (Lewis Pullman), and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late best friend Goose from the original movie. Maverick must wrestle with interpersonal relationships, including a love affair with a rekindled love interest Penny (Jennifer Connelly), helping the aviators complete the mission, and clashing with the Naval commander Cyclone (Jon Hamm).

Unlike recent legacy films like Lightyear or Solo: A Star Wars Story, Top Gun: Maverick has enough nods to the original without relying completely on the original to do the heavy lifting. It fully expects the audience to be aware of the original story without relying on knowing every single minute detail to enjoy this film. Frankly, you could get by and enjoy this film without ever seeing the original Top Gun. A few flashbacks to the original fill in enough of the blanks that no one is going to be confused.

The action is the main draw. The aerial combat footage is remarkable as well as the actors physically experiencing the G-forces inside actual airplanes. I’m sure some CGI was used for some of the more unbelievable aspects of the narrative, but I couldn’t specifically tell you where these uses were. It all feels as real as it can be. The result is exhilarating tension and edge-of-your-seat excitement.

Cruise plays this role unlike anything he has ever played in his career. He not only allows himself to fit comfortably back into the role that made him a superstar, but also allows himself a level of vulnerability we have never seen from his career. Despite his age-defying stunts, physique, and good looks, he acknowledges he is getting older by surrounding himself with true youth. There are constant old man jokes that he takes in stride. It’s a performance with a new layer that we have yet to see from the 60-year-old star.

The rest of the cast is dependable and as game for the festivities as Cruise is. Teller casts a familiar shadow as Goose’s son, and is immediately likeable from the first moment he arrives on-screen. Powell is meant to be Rooster’s foil, but is so good at being smarmy and cocksure, he transcends the typical villainy. Hamm plays the role of the wet blanket meant to ruin all the fun, but he does it so well, it’s excusable. Connelly is a nice distraction from the Naval cast, bringing sunny charm to an underwritten role.

Kosinski smartly keeps the action focused on the planes and the drama inherently in them. He doesn’t get too bogged down in the international politics. Maverick and what he is going through is the draw; there’s no reason to focus on anything else.

Big, silly, and an absolute blast, Top Gun: Maverick is the true mark of the return of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. It’s the perfect combo of star power, technical brilliance, and right-time-right-place. I look forward to watching it again for years to come.

Top Gun: Maverick is now playing in theaters
Score: 4.0/5.0

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