A hotshot test pilot is called on to train younger navy fliers for a secret mission in Top Gun: Maverick.
It’s been well over 30 years since audiences last spent time with this incredibly talented, but obstinately rebellious, Navy fighter pilot, and little seems to have changed.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still pushing the envelope of what’s possible, both in his flying and with the boundaries of his superior officers. Just when it seems that his career might have finally run out of fuel, he’s called back to where it all started — the Navy’s fighter training school known as “TOPGUN.” This time, he’s tasked with teaching a new generation everything that they need to know to complete a highly dangerous mission. Can he stay focused long enough to get the job done?
Everything about this film had disaster written all over it. Take a somewhat cheesy, but successful, film from decades ago and relaunch it with the same heavyweight star, now also decades older? The concept seemed like little more than a money grab — that is, until the film’s opening scene catapults off the flight deck and into the clear blue sky. Every concern vanishes like a distant vapor trail.
The opening 15 minutes pulls off the impossible by transporting you right back into Maverick’s life in full, vibrant, living color. The power it holds over you is that of a master hypnotist toying with a fully pliant subject. You’re strapped in and ready to roll.
Cruise wears Maverick like a form-fitting glove. Maverick’s new orders should seem familiar to Cruise because he’s seen this trick once before from the other side. In 1986, in addition to the original Top Gun, Cruise also impressed everyone with his performance in The Color of Money — Paul Newman‘s second turn as pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson from 1961’s The Hustler. Now in Newman’s position as a mentor, Cruise plays it perfectly and looks every bit the star that Newman was then.
Maverick’s latest assignment has everything you’re looking for in a sequel and will likely work just as well for first-timers. It’s loaded with so many callbacks to the original that it almost goes too far, but not quite. The soundtrack starts with all of the old favorites and then seamlessly keeps the energy up with new classics.
There is, of course, a story here, but it barely matters. There’s a mission and it makes sense. Good, good. Now, get back up in the air!
The only real qualm — and it’s minor — is in how the script handles one of the new pilots played by Glen Powell. He’s there as the same type of flawless, arrogant flier that Val Kilmer, who returns for a cameo in this film, played in the original. Kilmer was “Iceman,” and Powell’s “Hangman.” Get it? Just in case you don’t, they have the same smirk, the same attitude and the same way of annoying the audience. The problem is that none of it really works here. If the film removed his character entirely, the film would only be the better for it, and that’s not meant as any sort of slight to Powell.
In the end, Top Gun: Maverick is about the rush. Mission accomplished. How much so? Let’s just say that I’m not going to need caffeine for a good month or two.