Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Bashir Salahuddin, Charles Parnell, Lewis Pullman, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer
After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.
Last weekend saw the return of Tom Cruise reprising one of his most memorable roles in his long acting career in Top Gun: Maverick. Thirty-six years is a mighty long time to release a follow-up sequel to a film that is, in hindsight, pretty outdated now, yet it carries a particular amount of good-will with those who saw it at the time in 1986. I wasn’t even born yet, that’s how old the original Top Gun is. After his exploits at Top Gun, we find Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is still a Captain, as well as a test pilot for the U.S Navy. He is called to a new assignment and return to Top Gun and be a flight instructor to train a batch of previous top guns for an urgent mission with high stakes. One of the top gun’s include Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw, the son of his late-best friend Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw.
While the original can be looked at from fresh eyes (and to be fair, upon revisiting it recently in the buildup to Top Gun: Maverick’s release) as been outdatedly cheesy and have a lead character that, at certain times, it can easily be seen that Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell was a prick. While he still maintains that reputation when dealing with members of authority (in this instance Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain and Vice Admiral Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson), we get to see how Mav has grown-up since that time, as well as Top Gun as a whole. While the film plays to similar beats as the first one does, right down to re-using some old footage, Cobra Kai-style, just to serve as a fresher for those that maybe didn’t catch the original film, it treats the story fairly seriously, especially when it pinpoints to the audience the stakes of the mission that Maverick has to train them for as the mission requires not one, but two miracles in order for them to complete their objective. While the main premise is about Maverick training the ‘best of the best’ for this mission, the overall arc for Mav is how he’s still tormenting himself with guilt over the death of his best friend and fellow U.S Navy officer Goose, and now with his son selected to participate in the training for the high-stakes mission, he is worried about history repeating itself with Rooster. You feel how his options on how to handle Rooster weigh heavily on him, particularly when he tells someone that if he sends him, he might not come back, and if he doesn’t send him, he’ll never forgive him.
While the rift could’ve been played off in an exasperated way, I felt that the Maverick/Rooster dynamic was handled much better than I anticipated, as Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw wasn’t too hot-headed in his interactions with Mav and as the film progressed, we learnt even more about why he is keeping Mav at a distance. Another thing I found to be genuinely touching and respectful was how they brought back Val Kilmer to reprise the role of Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, and I can definitely see that as being a teary moment for fans of the original film. Callbacks to the original aside, the one thing that makes Top Gun: Maverick standout from its predecessor is in the aerial scenes. My god, on a technical level the cast and crew should be commended for how they captured the sequences within the cockpit of the planes (the director would have to show the actors how to handle their own sound, as well as how to turn on/off the camera and wait for them in order to get the footage), and in keeping it as realistic as possible, the audience becomes immersed in these scenes. There are some creative choices which will make viewers curious, such as to why the film seemingly goes out of its way to not specify who the enemy is? Was it to create a timeless quality to the film by not naming an enemy nation? Or was it more cynically to avoid naming a nation in order to not upset their box office revenue? Another is the addition of Ed Harris’s character, Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain. He appears into the early scenes of the film, whose aim in the U.S Navy is to replace pilots with drones and bringing in someone of Harris’s calibre, you would expect him to serve as the antagonist, clashing ideals with Maverick, but nope, never to be seen again once Maverick goes to become a teacher at Top Gun. Tom Cruise brings in such a good performance as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, a man who is still tormented by the death of his best friend, but manages to use that as fuel to make sure that there is a way, regardless of how small, to get his pilots back home from this high-stakes mission. The rest of the ensemble are very solid and likeable, from Miles Teller as Rooster, to Glen Powell as Hangman, and Monica Barbaro as Phoenix.
It may have taken us thirty-six years to go down the highway to the danger zone, but boy is Top Gun: Maverick well worth the wait. One of the most entertaining blockbuster films to come out in quite some time, with marvellous technical filmmaking and a cracking ensemble that will keep audiences coming back for more.