Title: Top Gun: Maverick (2022) Director: Joseph Kosinski Writers: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie Stars: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connely, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
The original Top Gun was a genre-defining action drama released all the way back in 1986. Directed by the late Tony Scott, it starred Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer as rivaling fighter jet pilots. The film was a huge hit and inspired a whole slew of cheaper knock-offs. Modern military aviation had found its way to the big screen, and suddenly everyone seemed to want to hop into a fighter jet or attack helicopter and go blow up the bad guys, which often meant the Russians or some Middle-East state back then.
It has been some 36 years since Top Gun was first released. Despite not being loved by critics, the film is rightly seen as a classic in the genre and was even selected by the US Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry. It is one of those films that you can stop at any random point, and chances are it will be in the middle of one of the many iconic scenes. And now, after three and a half decades, there is a sequel. A sequel that I really didn’t think was necessary, at least not until I sat down to watch it.
Top Gun: Maverick is set over three decades after the events of the first film. Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise) works as a test pilot out in the desert, pushing the boundaries of what is possible to achieve with fighter jets. For 36 years, the guilt-stricken test-pilot has avoided promotion after the death of his friend and co-pilot Nick “Goose” Bradshaw.
When it is discovered that an unnamed rogue state (surely not the Russians?) is gearing up for nuclear shenanigans, Maverick is called back to the Top Gun aviation school to train a new group of pilots for a dangerous mission – to blow up a well-defended nuclear facility before it is operational. Maverick is reluctant, especially because one of the pilots on the roster is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), the now-adult son of Maverick’s former co-pilot.
As tensions flare and egos are challenged, Maverick reluctantly starts hammering this group of egocentric pilots into a team. Meanwhile, Maverick meets up with an old flame, Penelope “Penny” Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connely), a rekindled romance that reminds him what a normal, meaningful life away from dangerous missions can be like.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I would even review Top Gun: Maverick, as the genre isn’t exactly what we’re all about here at FilmLore. I watched – and liked – the first Top Gun back in the day. A kid at the time, I remember getting all nerdy about all the fighter jets and later attack helicopters. The F-14 Tomcat, made iconic in this film, was a favorite. It had those cool wings that could extend. Many years later, I was a university student in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I saw one flying overhead. It was a special moment. We don’t have those here in Norway. And yeah, I’m still a nerd.
Top Gun: Maverick surprised me on so many levels. It is one of those rare sequels that are, in all ways, better than the original. The first time I realized this was in a scene where Maverick visits his old friend, former rival, and now an admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer), who is sick with cancer and unable to use his voice. Val Kilmer, who happens to be one of my cinematic heroes from childhood, is struggling with throat cancer in real life. And as the scene moved me to tears, I realized that Top Gun: Maverick had surpassed the original. This film is about so much more than intense dogfights and military bravado.
Top Gun: Maverick has a warmth and melancholy I did not expect. It is very much a story about the passing of time, growing old and passing the torch to a younger generation. But also about the care and responsibility we have as parents, teachers and guardians. When we meet Maverick, the only meaning he can find in life comes from the speed he can push his experimental plane to. And in a beautiful scene at the start of the film, he does just that. At Mach 10, there is a kind of exaltation followed by destruction. The iconic “need for speed” has become his addiction, one he must shake for any chance at a normal life. That chance comes in the form of his new responsibility as a teacher and the rekindled romance with his former girlfriend.
Top Gun: Maverick is an excellent film that is so much more than its now 36-year-old predecessor. There are plenty of nostalgia and references to the originals, but they never overstay their welcome. The way this film expertly balances the character’s personal lives and past traumas with intense jet fighter action, often shot in the air with real jets flown by the actors, no less, makes this an instant action classic and a must-watch!