Top Gun: Maverick

Right from the start, when the music hits and the production companies are given their obligatory mentions, Top Gun: Maverick was hitting the right notes. Literally. And the two hours which followed continued to hit the right notes, figuratively, in a very, very worthy sequel to an all-time great movie.

It was encouraging to hear the early reviews, because a sequel with this much time passed since the original could easily feel like a soulless money grab. Given the care Tom Cruise seems to put into making sure that the Mission: Impossible franchise continues in a meaningful way, it wasn’t hard to believe that perhaps more care would be given to a Top Gun sequel.

Is there even the need to talk about the visuals of Top Gun: Maverick? Its predecessor took audiences to incredible places in a fighter jet, and this surpassed it. Not hard to believe, right? It’s expected at this point. Everyone knows that Tom Cruise is going to make sure that aspect is top notch.

Two real questions remain, both about the plot:

  1. Did they come up with a plausible reason to get Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell back to Top Gun school?
  2. Does the film have emotional core significant enough to hook audiences?

The answer to both is “Absolutely.”

The early part of the film shows that, although Maverick has matured, he’s still the same maverick from the first film. Through dialogue with a few other characters, we get a sense for what he has been doing since the first film, why he hasn’t risen above “Captain” despite his peers far exceeding that rank, and it all fits in with what we know about him as a person. The interpersonal conflict Maverick has in the first part of the film which results in his assignment to the Top Gun program is grounded in a topic of discussion which would likely be very personal to he and his fellow fighter pilots. As we come to witness, it’s an existential question which clearly eats at the fiber of his being. Providing great performances in antagonistic roles are Jon Hamm and Ed Harris as admirals with whom Maverick interacts helps add gravitas to the parts, not letting themselves be overshadowed at all by Tom Cruise in their respective scenes together.

As a rule, the only spoilers I tend to give in my reviews are the ones which are revealed within the first 10 minutes of the film, with trailers often exceeding that “hard deck” and going deeper into the plot (pardon the pun). With trailers and cast interviews and such, it’s probably not a spoiler to anyone reading this to know that one of the characters involved in the plot is the son of Maverick’s co-pilot from the first film (Goose, played by Anthony Edwards). This character, call sign “Rooster”, is played by Miles Teller, who looks very similar to Edwards’s character from the first film. The relationship between he and Maverick provides an emotional core to this film which, for many (myself included), will exceed that of the first film.

The rest of the supporting cast absolutely helps drive the film in ways that help provide a depth which exceeds what the first film had (which itself had decent depth), each getting their moments to help hook the interest of audiences. Miles Teller gives a great performance which runs through a few different emotions, providing some moments that do considerable justice to his parents from the original film. We get a believable relationship between he and Maverick as the de facto father-figure he never had, complicated through a plot point I won’t get into so as to avoid spoilers. Filling this generation’s Iceman-type in-air rival is Glen Powell as “Hangman”, whose performance and charisma will almost certainly make him more of a household name in the coming years due in large part to his role here. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t end up in a comic book movie role in the next 5 years or so.

Despite his vocal limitations resulting from a battle with throat cancer, Val Kilmer was able to play a very instrumental role in the film, showing how the brotherhood between Iceman and Maverick grew following the first film. Jennifer Connelly gives a good performance as Maverick’s love interest, and the plot does a great job to make this a solid part of the film’s emotional journey, puts her in a significant role in Maverick’s journey, gives her depth beyond just being a “love interest”, and gives plenty of expository dialogue to show that the characters have history. She more than holds her own and is a great scene partner in some very fun ways.

It feels odd to say it, but I enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick every bit as much as I enjoyed the original… and I really enjoyed the original. While for some people, this film might fall short of reaching the heights of its predecessor, I doubt seriously that anyone’s going to be dissatisfied with the film.

My Rating: 93 out of 100

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