Movie Review: TOP GUN: MAVERICK Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly
Sequels are common. It’s, well, common sense. What do film studios like more than making good movies? Money. If a movie makes enough money, they want more money.
Good sequels are uncommon. It can be hard to re-capture that magic that made the first movie good. Actors move on and are unavailable, the writers struggle to write an appropriate follow-up, or the movie is either too similar or too dissimilar for the audience’s taste. Whatever the reason, sequels worthy of their predecessor can be tough to find.
Sequels as good as the original are very rare. You can probably count on two hands the list of sequels that people consider equal or superior to their predecessors: Aliens, Terminator 2, The Godfather Part II, and The Empire Strikes Back are a few. If a movie makes this list, it’s in pretty rarified air.
And now there’s Top Gun: Maverick.
Now wait a minute, hear me out. Listen. I’m a massive fan of the original Top Gun. I could probably quote the entire movie from memory. The dogfights, the writing, the 80s synth soundtrack. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s pretty damn entertaining and remains a personal favorite.
Having said that, Top Gun: Maverick is superior in just about every way. The 36-year wait was well worth it. Rather than try and reinvent the original film, Maverick builds off what made it successful and goes its own route. Taking over directorial duties from the late Tony Scott, Joseph Kosinski does a masterful job of paying homage to the original while keeping everything moving forward.
To that effect, there are essentially only two holdovers from the original film. Tom Cruise reprises his role as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the star of the first film who’s refused to be promoted so he can keep flying, and Val Kilmer – who’s dealt with health issues the past several years and took a greatly reduced role as (now) Admiral Tom Kazansky – the commander of the Pacific Fleet. Maverick, now a test pilot, is asked to return to Top Gun to train a team of 12 graduates for what is essentially a 2022 Death Star trench run.
It’s mentioned a few times that Kazansky’s friendship and loyalty are what’s kept Maverick in the Navy for so long, but the film does everything it can to show that Mitchell has grown as a person in the years since the original. Whereas Top Gun portrayed him as a selfish, cocky individual who has trouble taking orders, let alone leading, Maverick has several moments in which he’s more than willing to sacrifice his career or life for others. He’s certainly still cocky at times, but the film goes to great lengths to indicate he’s not the person he once was.
That’s not to say the film is completely separate from the original. The beginning credits are an homage to the credits of the original, retaining Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” while replacing the venerable F-14 with the more modern F/A-18 E and F Super Hornets. Several other key moments and bits of dialogue are referenced, while others such as the beach volleyball scene are reworked for a more modern setting.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the 36-year delay was the cinematography of the action sequences. While the original film did make use of a lot of practical footage of Tomcats in flight, most of the cockpit scenes were done on a soundstage set against a backdrop. Maverick, on the other hand, was shot almost entirely inside Super Hornets in flight (Kosinski claims they shot over 800 hours of footage, which is more than the Lord of the Rings trilogy combined), and the film benefits greatly from it. The dogfight scenes are absolutely incredible, and Maverick does a top-notch job of putting the audience into the seat of the cockpit, to the point that you can practically feel it.
Fortunately, the film is more than just its action sequences. Kosinski and the writers are successful in portraying the personal relationships in the film as well. Kelly McGillis wasn’t asked to return for the film, so Jennifer Connelly steps in as love interest Penny Benjamin (yes, that Penny Benjamin), and their moments together seem more genuine than anything portrayed in the first film. Miles Teller is perfect as Bradley Bradshaw, the son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s RIO (Radar Instrument Officer) from the first film. But perhaps the most touching scenes are the few moments that Maverick and Iceman have together.
I could go on and on about the film, but I’ll simply implore you to go see it. I’ve already seen it twice and am likely going to see it a third time this weekend. It’s a near-perfect blend of tribute and progression, and it may be my favorite sequel of all time.