Top Gun: Maverick Is Just Plain Fun!

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Tom Cruise recaptures his 80s glory in Top Gun: Maverick, opening in U.S. theaters on May 27, 2022.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the takeaway from Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to 1986's Top Gun, directed by the late Tony Scott and starring 80s heartthrob action star Tom Cruise. It was the highest grossing film of the year, despite mixed reviews from the critics.

Ah, film critics. What do they know anyway?
Thirty six years in the making, Top Gun: Maverick faces a still uncertain future at the box office. Is Tom Cruise's star and 80s nostalgia enough to elevate this Joseph Kosinski directed sequel to above the box office hard deck? If the applause at the early screening I attended is any indication, it very likely will reach the stratospheric heights of the original, and probably surpass it.
The screening was attended by a mix of critics and radio contest winners, and as we left the show (no need to wait for post credit scenes, by the way) I was able to hear a variety of comments from the audience, and all of it was positive. "Cruise is still fun," I overheard. "Still pretty hot too," came in reply. Your mileage may vary. "The flight scenes were so good!" No argument there. The consensus was overwhelmingly positive, much to my surprise. Critics tend to be pretty jaded, but everyone seemed to have the same basic summation: Top Gun: Maverick is just plain fun! No pun intended.
Top Gun: Maverick features the return of Capt. Pete Mitchell, callsign "Maverick," to his alma mater of sorts, the Naval Fighter Weapons School, aka TOPGUN. This time, he's the instructor, but I think he's more Michael "Jester" Ironside than Tom "Viper" Skerritt. His reputation for recklessness precedes him so he answers to Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (John Hamm), Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain (Ed Harris) and ultimately to Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer). He is called upon to train the best of the best of the Navy's fighter pilots, which includes Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), callsign "Rooster," who is also the son of Mitchell's best friend, Nick Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), callsign "Goose," who died in a training accident with Mitchell years ago. The tension between these two is superbly done, as both men have struggled for much of their lives to come to grips with Goose's death.
Kosinski, who made his directorial debut with Tron: Legacy in 2010, is obviously no stranger to helming late arriving sequels. He's also seemingly got a knack for not reinventing the wheel. When I reviewed,Tron: Legacy I noted that it had a similar structure to Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope). A young man on a quest gets saved in a bar fight by an old man with certain Zen Master-like qualities, who then leads him into a bigger battle against a greater evil. It was nearly a scene-for-scene tribute, right down to the "Great shot, kid! Don't get cocky..." escape sequence. So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Kosinski has not deviated very much from Tony Scott's original template. Aircraft carrier maneuvers set to Harold Faltermeyer music that transitions into Kenny Loggins' unexpectedly hard-rocking "Danger Zone?" Check. Hotshot pilots oozing machismo everywhere? Check. Pretty love interest, in this case the age-defying Jennifer Connolly? Check. Shirtless and sweaty sand sports sequence for the ladies (though not exclusively, of course)? Check. Training exercise gone wrong? Check. Main mission attempted? Check. Mission...accomplished? Go see for yourself.
Despite the familiarity of the plot, I wasn't bothered by it. Top Gun still holds a warm place in my heart for action movies from my teen years, and really, what else would you want? Cruise as a more stealthy sort of protagonist? He'd covered that with six Mission: Impossible films with two more on the way. Honestly, I haven't watched a Tom Cruise starring vehicle since 2004's Collateral, which was not one of my favorite Cruise films, and in fact the only other film I've seen him in at all in nearly 20 years was 2008's Tropic Thunder. I'm not above admitting that his personal life might have left me disinterested in his films. Perhaps Kosinski knew that there is a percentage of moviegoers with more fond memories of the classic film than of the film's star, and patterned this version accordingly? 
No matter how Kosinski crafted the movie or your feelings towards Cruise, this is quite a spectacle to see on the big screen! If you're willing to risk the still persisting Covid variants, you'll like the fighter jet sequences even more than you will when Top Gun: Maverick eventually hits the streaming services. The jets pull off some spectacular maneuvers, and there's just enough tension to make you question...or fear...the outcome of the primary mission. Even in Hollywood, where terrible ideas come in bunches daily, Tom Cruise strapping into a fighter jet at 96, which he'd be if he waited another 36 years to do Top Gun 3, would be a real stretch for my suspension of disbelief. I can't tell you which shots were special effects and which involved real pilots and real jets, but I can tell you it's very likely the most thrilling real-world aerial combat sequences ever put to film. 
Above all else, the film has heart. There's more emotion here than in 1986, not to in any way diminish Goose's death. Cruise emotes a palpable sense of regret and sadness for his fallen comrade, even 36 years later. Add Miles Teller's Rooster and his unresolved anger over his father's accident it's a potent enough mix for any diehard action film fan.
Top Gun: Maverick is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 131 minutes. It opens May 27, 2022 in the U.S.
4.5 / 5.0