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Review: Top Gun: Maverick

May 26, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

It’s been 36 years since the release of the original Top Gun, but watching the new legacy sequel Top Gun: Maverick, which sees Tom Cruise reprising his iconic role as hot shot fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, it’s almost hard to believe that this much time has passed.

Because Cruise, now in his upper-fifties, looks as if he has barely aged since 1986, and getting to see the actor do his own flying and stunts is the main selling point of director Joseph Kosinski’s belated follow-up to Tony Scott’s original. The result is a classic summer blockbuster that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and proves without a shadow of a doubt that Cruise is still every inch a movie star.

Cruise’s movie star charisma is evident right from the opening scenes of the film, when Maverick, now a test pilot for the U.S. Navy who is at risk of being replaced by unmanned drones, defies orders and takes a new fighter jet out for a spin. Not to be outdone, he pushes the jet to its limit by bringing it over Mach 10. It’s a thrilling, gleefully entertaining sequence that, like the recent Mission: Impossible movies, serves as a wonderful showcase for Cruise’s love of delivering death-defying stunts with a true showman’s flair for wanting to entertain his audience.

It also does a great job of setting the stage for what is to come. Both as punishment for his stunt and as begrudging admission of his unmatched skills as a pilot, Maverick gets called back to train graduates from the Top Gun flight school to carry out a special mission, that involves a series of risky maneuvers to take out a specific target (the location of said target is never specified, though alluded to be somewhere in Russia). Among the recruits is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late partner Goose. Rooster is resentful of him for a variety of reasons, but Maverick, who has no children of his own and still feels survivor’s guilt over Goose’s death, feels a duty to protect the kid.

Since Top Gun: Maverick is a legacy sequel, it’s fitting that the screenplay, which is credited to the writing trio of Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Cruise’s frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, puts a heavy focus on legacy. The film really embraces its designation as a “dad movie” by crafting a heartfelt story about father figures, doing an especially nice job of connecting the present to the past. This includes a new love story between Maverick and old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly), an admiral’s daughter who was only referenced but didn’t appear in the first film, and is now a single mother who runs the bar where the rookie pilots hang out.

There are a lot of big and little callbacks to the first film, which always feel earned, including the beautifully handled return of Val Kilmer as Iceman, in one of this sequel’s most genuinely poignant scenes. In addition to doing his own stunts, Cruise has to sell the character moments like this as well, and the more emotional scenes remind us how good of a dramatic actor he can be. Kosinski does an excellent job of building suspense and raising the emotional stakes over the course of the 131 minute film, building to an exciting finale that keeps finding ways to top itself.

In an era of blockbusters that are shot on sound stages and rely heavily on green screens and computer-generated visual effects, Top Gun: Maverick especially feels like a breath of fresh air. Utilizing real F-18s and F-14s, with the actors having undergone training to do their own flying, the flight sequences here are spectacular. The high-flying cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who won an Oscar for Life of Pi) not only breathlessly captures the planes zipping through the air, but also puts us right in the cockpit with the characters.

Since the soundtrack was one of the most iconic elements of the original, it’s worth noting that Top Gun: Maverick lives up to it in that regard as well. The iconic Kenny Loggins track “Danger Zone” of course makes an appearance, in addition to elements of Harold Faltermeyer’s synth score. But we also get the very good new Lady Gaga song “Hold My Hand,” a soaring power ballad that plays over the bittersweet final moments.

The film offers everything you could possibly want from a Top Gun sequel (if the original’s latent homoeroticism isn’t as prominent this time around, we do still get a shirtless football game that pays tribute to the classic volleyball scene). It serves as a surprisingly heartfelt tribute to the original, while also building upon it with thrilling action sequences and a new story that is completely satisfying on its own terms. See this one in a theatre if you can. It’s the real deal.

Top Gun: Maverick opens exclusively in theatres on May 27th. It’s being distributed in Canada by Paramount Pictures.

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