Tom Cruise knows how to entertain an audience. He’s gotten so good at it with recent Mission Impossible movies that it didn’t even seem like a bad idea to revive the ego-fueled ’80s relic that is Top Gun. Given the state of big action movies with real-life stunts, Cruise seems to be leading the way with absolutely nobody else willing to put themselves in danger. For that reason alone, Top Gun: Maverick is well worth the price of admission.
It’s highly doubtful there are Top Gun fanboys lining up to see Top Gun: Maverick, but there is without a doubt an audience hungry for high-octane action. This sequel three decades removed from the original delivers that in spades. That’s high octane action without heavy doses of CGI like the Fast and the Furious franchise is known for. In fact, Top Gun: Maverick seems to have almost zero CGI in the film which makes the action all the more impressive. Having seen this on an IMAX screen I can say with certainty it’s all very real.
Top Gun: Maverick opens with Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell learning his experimental jetplane project is being grounded. In these early scenes, we learn Maverick is a rule-breaker, is willing to put himself in danger to push it further than anyone thinks things can go and has a strong allegiance to his friends. It’s the perfect opening for fans of the original as it shows he hasn’t changed all that much and sets up viewers who may have missed the first one.
The film also does well to set up Maverick as a teacher of already trained Top Gun pilots. They’re the best of the best, but thanks to an old friend from the first film, the reluctant Maverick agrees to train them. Much of the meat of this movie is establishing a few of the personalities that make up this crew that needs to be paired down to six as well as establishing Jon Hamm as the hardass “villain” Adm. Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson. There are cliches and tropes all over this film, but Hamm does well with the material to be the bump in the road for Maverick every step of the way. Admittedly the film can feel a little tedious and slow as it sets things up although there are great shots of flying mixed in.
There really isn’t a bad acting performance in this movie. Tom Cruise does a lot more melodramatic acting than he’s done in recent years and it’s nice to see him shed tears or show a bit of intimacy. Miles Teller plays Lt. Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw who happens to be Maverick’s ex-partner’s son. He plays the part of a somewhat suave, but assuredly stubborn younger guy. Jennifer Connelly plays Maverick’s love interest Penny and she’s quite genuine and endearing in her scenes. The other Top Guns like Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) and Hangman (Glen Powell) capture the bravado needed to look the part of a pilot who fears nothing. Possibly the biggest surprise is Val Kilmer, who has a larger role than you might think given his health. His inclusion is hugely important and impactful to this film, but also the legacy of the series.
The movie really heats up when the Top Gun pilots start training with Maverick. Helping to establish the stakes, the mission is straight out of Star Wars–an impossibly narrow flight path down a riverbed with a target only three meters large–but it effectively sets up very high stakes. We learn this film is taking the planes mere feet from the ground, pushing G’s unheard of, and requiring breakneck piloting with rocket-launching turrets mere feet above the pilot’s heads.
With the stakes firmly established you’re already going to be on edge in your seat, but then the film takes you inside the cockpit of each of the Top Gun pilot’s jets. It’s incredible how close you feel to these actors who are actually inside these fighter jets pulling G’s and taking hard turns. It may take over an hour to get to their mission, but once the timer is set for their run you won’t realize you’ve been tensing for minutes straight till long after the action is over. It is literally a thrill watching this film’s last 45 minutes and it can’t be recommended enough.
Top Gun: Maverick is well worth seeing in the theater, especially when the action kicks into gear. The movie somehow blends the artistry of a good 80s flick with bleeding-edge action filmography. Slow in parts, but without a doubt one of the best movie experiences you’ll have in its last hour.
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