Legacy sequels. Fan service. A couple of notable films released last year – Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Spider-Man: No Way Home – have proven that revisiting older albeit classic films appeal to both older and younger audiences. Although not a novel approach (Finding Dory, Mad Max: Fury Road to name a few), the legacy sequel has created mixed results that mostly lean on an inescapable nostalgic angle, resulting in a compromised narrative and uneven character development. But with legacy sequels for Indiana Jones and Avatar on the way, anything seems to be possible – even a sequel that follows its original film over 35 years later. Yep, Top Gun: Maverick is finally hitting the big screen.
Starring Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick sees Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell avoiding promotions in the US Navy to achieve impossible flying feats while pushing his physical limitations. But when he is reluctantly recruited to train a group of Top Gun alumni on a special mission, he is forced to confront his personal and professional pasts.
When Harold Faltermeyer’s iconic theme and Kenny Loggin’s Danger Zone kick in during the opening scene, Top Gun: Maverick immediately transports audiences to the thrill of Tony Scott’s original film on a strong wave of nostalgia. However, the collaborative screenplay manages to incorporate this into Maverick’s return to Fightertown to subsequently create a different tone from the original, which was basically a constant pissing match.
In Top Gun: Maverick, the eponymous hero has to contend with teaching a younger generation of pilots, as well as preparing them for a time-sensitive mission. In other words, the student becomes the teacher. Amid the tense training sessions, he has to face Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late best friend Goose (Anthony Edwards). Even after 30 years, Maverick’s guilt surrounding Goose’s tragic death still plagues him and the occasional flashback shows an unreciprocated paternal rapport between him and Rooster that threatens to fracture the group and unsettle the veteran.
There are some flaws that make the film feel dated such as the relatively straightforward plot and the male-dominated Caucasian casting. There is some diverse casting that highlights a new generation of stars such as Grey’s Anatomy star Greg ‘Tarzan’ Davis and Monica Barbaro, but they lack prominence compared with more familiar supporting cast members such as Jon Hamm, Ed Harris and Hidden Figures‘ Glen Powell, who plays Hangman. Even Jennifer Connolly comes across as one-dimensional as Maverick’s love interest Jenny, who provides an unfulfilled future for him outside of the navy.
Having said that, director Joseph Kosinski retains the tension between the characters through his intimate direction amid the familiar needle drops and sun-kissed surroundings. His careful eye also complements Claudio Miranda’s cinematography, which includes some impressive death-defying aerial stunt work that will surely take away the collective breath of its audience.
Taking a break from filming the latest Mission: Impossible films, Cruise is on top form as he returns to the role that made him a superstar. He offers a natural presence but is mindful of Maverick’s hesitation in a teaching role, which he reflects through his body language and dialogue. Although there is concern that Cruise will just offer another closed-off ‘tough-guy’ performance, he defies critics by bringing a heartbreaking poignancy behind Maverick’s haunted persona, especially during a touching scene between him and Iceman. Additionally, the inclusion of Kilmer is a bittersweet touch, especially as Iceman’s short yet sweet and mostly silent appearance not only inspires Maverick to let go of the past (referring to both their animosity and Maverick’s guilt over Goose) but allows Kilmer to celebrate a career-defining role, despite his battle with throat cancer.
In his first major role in four years, Teller’s performance as Goose embodies the same confidence and free spirit as Anthony Edwards. Displaying calmness and the occasional drive, he is bold enough to stand up against one of the biggest names in Hollywood, conveying bitterness when all he wants is a chance to shine outside of his father’s shadow and unhaunted by his memory. He also exudes a calmness and groundedness that offers a great foil for Powell’s Hangman, whose dazzling smile and bravado are reminiscent of a young Pete Mitchell.
After a two-year delay, Top Gun: Maverick is well worth the wait. Entertaining and nostalgic as hell, the aerial fights are among the most exciting and exhilarating scenes experienced in the cinema this year. Strap in – it’s a hell of a ride.
Director: Joseph Kosinski; Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie (screenwriters)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connolly, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
Runtime: 131 minutes