'Top Gun: Maverick': Tom Cruise is Back in the Cockpit for an Action-Packed Sequel That Flies High
Updated: May 29
It's been 36 years since the film Top Gun was released in theaters, and much has changed, both in terms of movies, and Naval Aviation. Thankfully, the makers of Top Gun: Maverick are fully aware of this. At first glance, you might think that a sequel to the original film is little more than a cash-grab meant to capitalize on nostalgia. I personally was a bit skeptical up until the moment I actually watched the film, given that fans of Top Gun haven't exactly been clamoring for a sequel. When it was announced in 2010 that a sequel was coming with Tony Scott returning to direct and Jerry Bruckheimer producing, it was met with a mix of trepidation and intrigue by many. It was not an easy road to get this film made, as Tony Scott's tragic death, COVID, and reportedly complicated action sequences caused production delays, resulting in the film finally being released in 2022. The fact that this film finally got made and was being released was enough for me to want to check it out, but I still couldn't help but wonder who all was asking for this. If the screening I was at is any indication, there's a lot of people, and after seeing the film for myself, I feel like word of mouth might propel this film into being one of the year's biggest hits at the box office. Top Gun: Maverick is a rarity, in that it is a legacyquel that manages to honor the original film, updates certain elements to fit the present day, and is just simply a great film at its core.
The film picks up decades after the events of the original film, where Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is working as a test pilot for the Navy. He is summoned back to Top Gun by his former rival Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky to help out with a dangerous mission. From here, Maverick finds himself confronting his past in many ways, from reuniting with an old flame, to training the son of his fallen comrade, Goose. Maverick reckons with these over the course of the film, all the while trying to help a new generation of pilots pull off a mission that seems nearly impossible (no pun intended).
One of the things that most legacyquels do poorly lies in how they tie in the events of the previous films. Many films will pander to the audience, or include details in a way that feels like the filmmakers are looking at you and shouting "REMEMBER THIS? YOU LOVE THIS FROM THE FIRST ONE! HERE IT IS!" But what this film does is present the events of the first film in a way that feels like we're seeing them through the eyes of Maverick himself, who has such a deep connection to them considering that he lived through them. It gives the film a more in-depth emotional core that I was not expecting it to have. It also gives the film a healthy dose of humanity, which helps make some of the callbacks to the original feel more earned and allows them to hit the way they need to. Furthermore, they feel integral to the film's plot, and the emotional journey that it is wanting to take the audience on. When the film refers back to something that happened in the original, it never feels artificial or put there to get a reaction. It feels genuine, and allows the film to have a larger impact in the process.
I wouldn't call the film's screenplay a masterpiece, but in terms of big, blockbuster movies, it is much better than I would have expected. It is structured rather well, and even though it does hit some of the same beats as the original film, it still manages to be its own thing at the same time. It captures some of the fun energy of the original film, and bridges the gap between the past and present quite well. It deals with themes of regret and change rather well, and has a great appreciation for the original film.
The script in this case acts as more of a solid foundation for the film, with Joseph Kosinski's direction giving it what it needs to truly soar. I haven't seen any of Kosinski's previous work, but he knocks this film out of the park. He handles the more grounded moments nicely, and he adds little homages to Tony Scott's style from the first movie that are used quite tastefully and respectfully. But it's the way he directs the action sequences that truly stands out. The flight sequences are especially thrilling, and had me on the edge of my seat. The film also features a couple of grounded action sequences that are also shot well, and are just as exciting. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the film, and I have been trying to keep my expectations measured so I wouldn't be disappointed. As I was watching the film, I was enjoying myself enough for the first two acts, but I wasn't quite seeing what the fuss was about. But once the film got to the third act, it goes to a whole other level. Everything the film has built up to before now comes together so excellently, and the action is some of the best I have seen in a long time in any movie.
The other prime factor in this film's success is because of none other than its star, Tom Cruise. Cruise's career has gone through some peaks and valleys since the first film came out, but within the past decade, he seems to have found his groove as a big action star. With the Mission: Impossible movies getting bigger and the stunts that Cruise attempts to pull off getting wilder, now feels like the right time for Cruise to return for a Top Gun sequel. He gets to do his action star schtick, but this is one of his better performances in the past several years period. He approaches the character with the same cocky energy as he did in the original, but there is also a layer of experience and regret that he carries, which he explores throughout the film. He truly inhabits the character of Maverick fully, and he feels much more like a real person as well. It's still a big movie star performance, but it's a great one at the very least.
The film has a stacked supporting cast as well, made up of people who are reliably good in just about everything they do. I was glad to see Jennifer Connelly in this film, as it's been a while since I've seen her in something. She takes what could have been a thankless role as Maverick's old flame, and adds in some details that make her feel a bit more three-dimensional. I was also impressed by Miles Teller, who is quite good as Rooster, Goose's son and one of the pilots Maverick is training. I've never been a huge fan of Teller, but he brings quite a bit to the role, and holds his own against Cruise. I was also a fan of Glen Powell as Hangman, another pilot in the training group. He manages to be overly-confident without being annoying, and has a strange likability to him. I also have to bring up Val Kilmer, who is only in the film briefly, but makes his time count in a major way. He has one scene with Cruise that I don't want to spoil, but it is one of the most powerful moments of the entire film.
There is a scene in the film where Maverick is breaking down what it takes in order for the mission to succeed, and he refers to two seemingly impossible tasks as "Miracle 1" and "Miracle 2". In a way, this can also apply to the film itself. Miracle 1 is this film being a fantastic sequel to an iconic, well-loved movie, and Miracle 2 is this just being an incredible action blockbuster in it's own right. I am still in a bit of disbelief that this film is as good as it is, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I truly like this film a lot. I don't want to be too hyperbolic, but this film is easily one of the best action films I've seen in a long time, and is arguably the first great action movie of the 2020's. It's the rare sequel that comes way after the original film that truly works well, and is both an absolute thrill ride and a surprisingly touching ode to the original. No one is more surprised that this film works as well as it does than me, and I am already wanting to see it again as soon as I can. It's sure to be one of the best films of the summer, and might very well be among the best of the year.