“Top Gun: Maverick” was directed by Joseph Kosinski and stars Tom Cruise returning to his star-making role of the cocky, suave, and highly skilled Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. The film follows Maverick as he teaches a new generation of ambitious pilots at Top Gun and prepares them for a dangerous mission.
Firstly, I want to emphasize that I was never a fan of the original 1986 “Top Gun” movie. I think it’s way too cheesy, choppy, and meandering, with a bland story that comes off as an excuse to make a music video featuring shirtless men rather than a compelling narrative. I think it’s a dated and boring mess, and although I respect the people who love it, I personally can’t find much enjoyment out of that film. However, I found tons of enjoyment out of its far superior sequel.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is up there with “Blade Runner 2049” as one of the best sequels ever made. What I mean by that is the film takes everything people love about the original and improves upon it with better action scenes, performances, and character development. The script is wildly superior to the original, bringing a focused, character-centric narrative which respects the first film and its fans while also entertaining people like myself who either never saw the original or didn’t really care for it. While it’s no masterpiece, it is a terrific example of how to make a proper sequel.
Tom Cruise has reached legendary status at this point. He truly is the last movie star. In an age of cinema dominated by spectacle-fests and huge comic book movies which attract moviegoers based on the premise rather than on the actors, Tom Cruise’s films are Tom Cruise films. The man is determined to risk his life for our entertainment.
Right before “Top Gun: Maverick” starts, the audience is shown a clip with Tom Cruise thanking them for returning to theaters and dedicating the movie to them. This message perfectly summarizes the intent of Cruise and the rest of the team behind this film that made for such a special sequel: they respected the fans and, more importantly, the character of Maverick. Unfortunately, it’s typical of modern movies to take our beloved protagonists from older films and bring them into worse movies with worse “characters” who completely disrespect them (the most obvious examples being Star Wars and Marvel). What’s so refreshing about this “Top Gun” sequel is that it respects and empowers the protagonist, presenting someone who’s grown to be an even better pilot through additional years of experience. Additionally, most of the supporting characters respect his legacy and are dedicated to helping him or following him. This is how you do these long-delayed sequels, Hollywood.
The fighter jet sequences are mesmerizing. You feel the wind blowing past you, your seat pulsating below you, the G-force pounding your face in. By putting the cameras inside the cockpits with the actors as they fly real F-18s, director Joseph Kosinski makes the viewer feel more involved and endangered. While the common trend of saying “this movie must be seen in a theater” is growing tiresome and is largely false with most films, this is one of those movies which absolutely warrant the theater experience.
Another great aspect of “Top Gun: Maverick” is that it’s actually intelligent. Christopher McQuarrie has essentially become Tom Cruise’s right hand man for the past few years, most notably through his work on the phenomenal previous two Mission: Impossible films. Naturally, he was a great choice to co-write the screenplay, as he knows how to incorporate epic action sequences into a smart narrative which trusts that the viewer has the attention span of an actual human. The film has great character moments in which Maverick is forced to reckon with the death of Goose and the toll it took on him and those around him, as well as a surprisingly emotional use of Val Kilmer as Iceman.
That being said, this film, just like its predecessor, can get overly melodramatic at times. There are moments when you’ll be genuinely invested in the characters but then the scene will go on… and on… and on… and on… and on until you start to become distracted. This was likely a conscious decision by the filmmakers to have a pace similar to that of the original “Top Gun,” but I think that this film was too slick and technically superior for that to work. There’s also a few moments of obvious and unnecessary fan service/member-berries that could be quite distracting.
Despite occasionally falling into the traps of the original film’s soap opera storytelling, “Top Gun: Maverick” is vastly superior to the original in every way while still holding its legacy in high regard. This film proves that great sequels can still be made when you have filmmakers who respect the audience and don’t preach to them or tear down their beloved characters.