Top Gun Maverick Review: Tom Cruise Movie Soars Over Original, With Caveats

Top Gun: Maverick – released Friday in cinemas around the world – is a true Tom Cruise movie. For example, his character, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who knows everything, is right there in the title. And, much more important, the cruise star’s wattage is responsible for Top Gun: the Maverick’s existence. Here’s a sequel, more than three decades later, to a film much poorer than most people would like to admit. Top Gun hasn’t aged well either, but Cruise certainly does. He is currently the biggest actor of his kind in Hollywood. Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) understands both sides — Cruz’s charm and power, and the failures of the original film — and delivers a better follow-up in most sections. Although, admittedly, Kosinski crossed the line.

For example, unlike the original where a silly mission was directed at newly graduated fighter pilots to make up the third chapter of the movie, Top Gun: Maverick is all about a funny mission. From the beginning. Maverick and his superiors at TOPGUN dig into the tiniest detail over and over again, training not only their pupils, but even the audience in some way. By the end of Top Gun: Maverick, we know exactly what the mission is, even if we have no idea what it’s like to fly. This shows that Kosinski knows what Top Gun: Maverick is all about, although his laser focus is also detrimental to him in other sections.

Of course, what is a lot here is the work. And the new Top Gun movie is presented in spades. In fact, Top Gun: Maverick does not start with its Cruise star, but with a nautical parade. Kosinski is basically a mood setter. And when we’re up in the air with Maverick and Co. The camera does not cut into the cruise’s face during takeoff. As with Mission: Impossible, this is a testament to Cruz’s dedication to performing his own stunts. Even with the other actors—who all had to deal with lighting and cinematography on their own, as there’s no room for anyone else—Top Gun: Maverick apparently filmed most, if not all, of its action inside a real cockpit and with real sky as a backdrop, Rather than get down to the CGI images that most movies do.

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As a result, the high-flying action is both legible and intimidating. (If you’re going to watch Top Gun: Maverick, I’d recommend doing it on the largest screen possible. Preferably an IMAX screen.) Although technically accurate, I’d have to say low-altitude flying, due to its mission-critical nature. Much of the driving force of the action sequences is due to aircraft flying very close to the ground and each other – I’m sure they’ll shoot in the real world – along with endless turns, vortices, and other exciting maneuvers. Kosinski turns his eye for flair and kinetic energy, as seen in Tron: Legacy, to Top Gun: Maverick, imbuing the film with sheer joy and an adrenaline rush.

But outside the cockpit, Top Gun: Maverick is a more subtle balancing act — and it doesn’t always land. Kosinski directs a screenplay worked by three approved writers, including Eren Kruger (Transformers: Moon Darkness and Age of Extinction) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) as the core team, with Christopher McCurry (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) – whom Cruz confides on M: I’m franchising now – I’m also lending his talents along. Top Gun: Maverick feels stuck between being an American summer escape and an honest movie full of danger and deep emotions.

The new Top Gun movie is a totally different movie from the original movie that belonged earlier and spoke to a different America. There are no shower scenes, no men walking around in towels, thus no unintended gay sex. The volleyball scene has turned into an American football game, and although there are plenty of shirtless men, it has a narrative function. Top Gun: Maverick isn’t a traditional Tom Cruise flick either, as he runs (a lot), engages in hats, and flashes his smile. Although his scenes with Jennifer Connelly – who plays New Love – bear a little bit of the latter. (In addition to the blatant positioning of a very popular car brand.)

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Jennifer Connelly in Top Gun: Maverick
Image source: Scott Garfield / Paramount Pictures

Thirty-six years after graduating TOPGUN as second best in his class, Maverick (Cruise) – who always wanted to be in heaven – did everything in his power to sabotage his career and stay at the rank of captain. As his boss Cain (Ed Harris) points out, he should be at least a two-star admiral, if not a senator now. Founded by Cain because of a ploy he played to keep his team in their jobs – Cain believes human pilots are history – Maverick is assigned his new and last mission. Then he came out. But to his surprise, he’s not supposed to fly it. Instead, his new boss Cyclone (Jon Hamm) wants him to know the best of the best, who are called back to TOPGUN from the squadrons they are assigned to.

Among them, we have Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Nick “Gus” Bradshaw who died in Top Gun, Maverick’s best friend. It’s clear that Maverick still feels guilt over Gus’ death – his actions had a role to play in the accident that killed Gus – and that forever affected his delusional relationship with Rooster. The youth team also includes cocky Executioner (Glen Powell), the equivalent of – or you could say a mixture of – both Maverick and his former rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), now a four-star admiral who is Maverick’s only friend in the Navy. There is a host of other pilots, played by the likes of Louis Pullman, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis and Danny Ramirez, but neither of them have specific characteristics or an arc beyond a point.

Speaking of thinly written characters, Connelly plays single mother and bar owner Penny, who we’re told has had a romantic history with Maverick. There is no sign of the original Top Gun’s love interest, played by Kelly McGillis, who was also Maverick’s coach. In fact, the role of women is minimal in positions of power in Top Gun: Maverick. For what it’s worth, Penny Maverick schools in an unexpected sailing scene. But after those two minutes, her character doesn’t really have any attraction to her, and their relationship continues to hit the same beats and is very predictable no matter where she goes. Despite Connelly doing his best to make Penny a real 3D woman, she wasted Top Gun: Maverick.

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Miles Teller in Top Gun: The Dissident
Image source: Scott Garfield / Paramount Pictures

What the new Top Gun movie does well to shoot is the TOPGUN stuff. Not only does Kosinski and Co. On the movement and how to assemble it, there is a subtle tension at the origin of everything in Top Gun: Maverick. There is tension between Maverick and Rooster naturally, even though the latter despises him more than something else entirely. There is tension between Maverick and his superiors. (The relationship between Hamm and Cruise’s characters—Cyclone expresses what he wants, then Maverick gets his way—seems like a comment on Cruz’s relationship with Paramount.) Although Maverick is at the end of the line, there’s a grudging respect or admiration from nearly everyone just by seeing him. He drives a plane.

On top of all of that, they’re working against the clock on Top Gun: Maverick. Not only do they have to get the job done in less than three weeks before the uranium enrichment plant goes into operation, they also have to get in and out in minutes to avoid dangerous battles with a highly equipped enemy force. The defector doesn’t feel qualified to teach — his last stint as a TOPGUN instructor lasted for two months, he told us early on — and he’s the type to prefer putting himself on the line, rather than sending someone else on a deadly mission. As he struggles to curb some of his excesses, the Maverick grows elsewhere. For example, when his apprentices fail and try to explain their situation, he scolds them by reminding them that they will need to confront the families of the flank men who fail.

While it improves on the original in most ways, Top Gun: Maverick is quite similar in one. As with the original movie, this is a movie where the enemy doesn’t matter. Their pilots are anonymous, and although their planes and terrain provide clues, Top Gun: Maverick is careful not to mention them at all. Their planes are repeatedly called “fifth generation fighters” despite it being an euphemism. Enthusiastic viewers have already found out that it is built on the Russian Sukhoi Su-57. The details of the mission – and the involvement of other aircraft – indicate that the target may be Iran. But Top Gun: Maverick chose to be completely apolitical. However, the missing flags of Japan and the Republic of China on the Maverick suicide jacket, which were replaced at the beginning of the film in order to appease Chinese interests, have been returned now that those interests no longer matter.

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Jon Hamm in Top Gun: Maverick
Image source: Scott Garfield / Paramount Pictures

However, Tom Cruise’s biggest question may be completely off-screen. The two Top Gun films – 36 years apart – were released in very different theatrical markets. Early on in Top Gun: Maverick, Ed Harris assumes that the likes of Maverick are dinosaurs, with technology set to take over. In a similar way, movies on the big screen are dinosaurs. In the time since the first Top Gun was released, technology has conquered movies in a variety of ways.

Not just who they are made and how the actors’ performances are incorporated, but also how they are released. Cameras are now everywhere, too. As Kosinski once noted, if the public could get footage of a fighter jet, captured by real US Navy pilots, on YouTube, their film would have to go much further. (He ended up insane shooting 800 hours of footage, more than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Top Gun: Maverick delivers in this regard, though it also stumbles out of its groove.

In some ways, it’s a miracle. A sequel to a decades-old movie no one asked for could have easily shattered and burned — and still can be overlooked, as it turns out that’s the case for Blade Runner 2049. That Top Gun: Maverick works just as well for the most part, it’s kudos to Cruise and Kosinski for understanding the mission. It’s a gamble that pretty much pays off, although it doesn’t compare to the dream of Top Gun: Maverick sells you.

Top Gun: Maverick was released Friday, May 27 in cinemas around the world. IMAX previews begin on Wednesday, May 25 in India and elsewhere. In India, Top Gun: Maverick is available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

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