Film Review: Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Skydance Media and Jerry Bruckheimer Productions
In Theaters 05.27
The torch has passed to a different generation of filmmakers than those from the era when I fell in love with the movies. It’s also been passed to a new generation of critics, one who grew up on movies like Top Gun. Though it was critically trashed at the time for its style-over-substance, MTV approach, there’s no denying that it inspired a generation.
Top Gun: Maverick picks up 36 years after the first Top Gun ended, with Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) serving as a test pilot. Maverick has avoided promotion past the rank of Captain in order to stay flying. He’s in danger of losing that privilege after a particularly harrowing test flight when Maverick finds himself being called upon by his old wingman, Admiral Tom “Ice Man,” Kazansky (Val Kilmer). Ice wants Maverick to train a group of graduates for a special mission against an unnamed enemy of the U.S., one with lots of Uranium and nefarious plans for it. The assignment comes with a decidedly delicate aspect: one of the pilots is Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s late best friend and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), and godson to Maverick. Rooster and Maverick had a falling out due to actions Maverick made that seriously affected the young man’s future, and the two haven’t spoken in years.
Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) is mindful at all times of the shoes he is filling in replacing the late Tony Scott. Kosinski embraces working in Scott’s shadow while bringing his own considerable skill and finesse to Top Gun: Maverick, updating it for a new century. The flight sequences are every bit as groundbreaking as in the original, if not more so: IMAX cameras were inside the cockpit of real airborne jets, with cameras facing toward the actors and making them appear as if they were flying the planes. It’s hard to overstate what this does for creating a feeling of realism in an age when nearly everything we see on screen is done in post via CGI, and the practical effects used in Top Gun: Maverick bring an embedded sense of scale that major movies have all but lost. It’s a thrilling and immersive experience.
It’s important to go into Top Gun: Maverick without any expectation that it will be more than a spectacular ride. The original redefined the blockbuster, but it also paved the way for a lot of loud and in your face filmmaking—without Top Gun, there’s no Jerry Bruckhiemer era and even no Michael Bay, so it’s a movie that provokes complex feelings for cinephiles. That being said, there was undeniable emotion to the film, and macho as it is, there was plenty of subtext that manhood and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive.
Top Gun: Maverick sticks with that formula but goes considerably deeper and benefits greatly from Cruise being a far better actor now than he was in 1986. This may be his most nuanced performance since his Spielberg films in the early 2000s, and Top Gun: Maverick belongs to the veteran movie star all the way. The supporting cast is quite capable, however. Teller especially nails his character, and Kilmer’s appearance is brief but powerful. Jennifer Connelly, who plays Penny, a bar owner and old flame of Maverick’s, isn’t given much to do, but she’s still an effective and welcome presence.
Top Gun: Maverick is a popcorn movie, and it’s corny and just plain silly at times. To expect more from it than resounding fun and nostalgic escapism would be a mistake, but it does what it sets out to do so well that there’s nothing else to compare it to in modern moviemaking. I found myself on the edge of my seat in the white-knuckle third act in a way that I didn’t even know I still could be made to do. I was swept up in the suspense and excitement, much the same way I would have If I was still 11 years old. I will readily admit that there was a significant added resonance for me, as Top Gun was one of my late father’s favorites, and my emotional connection to it is off the charts for that reason. There were plenty of people in the packed auditorium besides who were moved by it, though, and Top Gun: Maverick is as true a crowd pleaser as we’ve had in many a year.
When you’re planning your summer moviegoing fun, I would strongly suggest making Top Gun: Maverick your top priority, and yes, spend the extra money to see it in IMAX, the way it was meant to be seen. It will take your breath away –Patrick Gibbs