Top Gun: Maverick: A thrilling, moving sequel
James R | On 28, Aug 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
“Ride into the Danger Zone…” Those five words from Kenny Loggins are all that fans of Top Gun need to send them on a fast track back to 1986, a time of aviator sunglasses, locker room banter and men becoming brothers through the shared thrill of shooting down enemy planes. Who were these enemies exactly? It didn’t matter. Cue synths, bombastic patriotism and a 500 per cent boost in US Navy recruitment. The idea of revisiting such a dated, pro-military film in 2022 doesn’t seem like the best idea – that is, until you actually see Top Gun: Maverick in action.
A legacy sequel in the truest sense, it’s a follow-up that trades not only in nostalgia but also the generational consequences of what’s gone before. We catch up with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) – still a captain – as he tests hypersonic planes that, in today’s technological age, will soon be replaced by drones. It’s not long until his rebellious streak has landed his disgraced self back at Top Gun, where he’s tasked with training up the next generation of best-of-the-best pilots.
Looked down upon by his superiors – including Ed Harris’ gruff rear admiral, nicknamed “the Drone Ranger”, and Jon Hamm’s stern commanding officer, “Cyclone” – and dismissed by the young up-and-comers – including Glen Powell’s “Hangman” and Monica Barbaro’s “Phoenix” – Maverick is a loose cannon and a relic all wrapped up in one Tom Cruise-shaped package. But where Maverick was once an unchecked ego, he’s now haunted by the cost of it, with the death of former wingman Goose still on his mind. He was previously fuelled by a drive to prove himself; now, he’s fuelled by regret and, quite possibly, a death wish.
Make no mistake: for all the nuance and depth that Top Gun: Maverick brings to its ageing protagonist, it is not a subtle film. Echoes of the past are explicitly writ large everywhere you look, from Hangman’s Iceman-like arrogance to the way that Jennifer Connelly is sorely underused as bar owner and single mum Penny (the admiral’s daughter briefly mentioned in the first film and apparently the replacement here for Kelly McGillis’ not-even-mentioned instructor Charlie). Even the opening shots, accompanied by the deliberately familiar soundtrack, are essentially a shot-for-shot remake of Tony Scott’s original.
By the time we meet “Rooster” (Miles Teller), Goose’s son, the fact that he spends most of the time in a Hawaiian shirt and hair that’s sculpted to look like Anthony Edwards comes as no surprise. But the fact that the tensions between them (Maverick tried to stop Rooster entering flight school) are the driving force of the script – rather than the macho conflicts between the other pilots – is a sign of where Top Gun: Maverick’s head is at. In one sense, this is an intentional retread of old ground, but it’s also more concerned with two men struggling to talk to each other about their inner trauma.
This slight shift in focus is coupled with a smarter script, which shuns the vague talk of enemies in favour an ultra-specific focus on one mission: a Dambusters-style raid on a uranium enrichment plant. Running through the scenario again and again, it’s essentially a two-hour training montage, and all the better for it, as the rhythm gives the film a momentum that the first outing lacked. (The comic relief, meanwhile, comes from the bespectacled Bob (Lewis Pullman), who grows in confidence to prove his own mettle.)
If the words “impossible mission” come to mind, that’s perhaps no coincidence, with Tom Cruise undoubtedly the star attraction. There’s a very poignant and affectionate appearance from Val Kilmer, but Cruise and Maverick are knowingly intertwined to thrilling effect, as the man, the myth and the movie star performs real aerial stunts in a way that gives each set piece a tangible sense of peril. The end result is perhaps less progressive on gender equality than the original, and there’s an unspoken pro-military sentiment looming in the background, but Top Gun: Maverick avoids feeling dated by also being about the cost of bravado. Caught up in the impressive dogfighting action, you might just find this journey back to the Danger Zone takes your breath away.