Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick

Easily the most highly anticipated film of the year has finally come in for a landing. Delayed nearly two years due to production issues and the pandemic, TOP GUN: MAVERICK is the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 film that cemented Tom Cruise’s superstar status. Now, 36 years later (okay 34, as the film should have come out two years ago), Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is back but this time he’s the teacher at Top Gun school with a whole new class of cocksure aces to contend with and the stakes have never been higher for everyone  involved.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK sees Mitchell working as a test pilot for a US Navy contractor. They’re trying out a new stealth jet fighter and the Navy wants the plane to be able to reach a speed of Mach 10. (Fun facts: The US’ fastest jet, the F-15 Strike Eagle, has a top speed of Mach 2.5 while the Russia’s MiG-25 Foxbat can reach Mach 3.2. The F-18 Hornet, which the pilots fly in this movie, has a top speed of Mach 1.8.) Unfortunately for the contractor, the Navy needs Maverick back at Top Gun school ASAP. There’s a critical covert ops mission against an unnamed foreign adversary that must be carried out and the military brass believes that only Mav can whip the young pilots into shape in short order. However, they also know that Mav likes to do things his way.

Fans of the original TOP GUN film, or even ones who have never seen it, will find plenty to like about this sequel. It is far superior to the earlier film, which is a relic of its time. I watched it again a few nights ago and the plot can be boiled down to: He’s arrogant, immature and chauvinistic and she’s fallen for him. The new film takes a completely different tack, telling a full-bodied story about a man who is coming to the end of the road of his usefulness to the military. But don’t think that this is a tearjerker – far from it. The scenes of the pilots in their planes dipping, diving, barrel rolling and climbing up in the sky at incredible speeds will take your breath away. The stunt work and the aerial photography are fabulous, and audiences will feel like they’re in the cockpit with these brave elite flyers. (There’s an excellent “Behind the Scenes” video on YouTube that is well worth watching.)

For those who fondly remember the first film, TOP GUN: MAVERICK gives them a healthy dose of fan service. Val Kilmer reprises his role as Iceman, except now he’s a 4-star admiral and the commander of the US Pacific Fleet. Director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: LEGACY) and the film’s writers graciously incorporated Kilmer’s real-life throat cancer into Iceman’s character allowing the actor, who now speaks with great difficulty, to use a computer to communicate. Another character who makes a return of sorts is Bradley Bradshaw, the son of Mav’s former wingman, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played in the original film by Anthony Edwards, TV’s ER). Bradley aka “Rooster” (Miles Teller, WAR DOGS; WHIPLASH; THE SPECTACULAR NOW), who looks like he could be Goose’s son, is now grown up and, like his father before him, is a flying ace at the Top Gun school. He has some unresolved issues with Mav, though, which play out in the story. Tom Skerritt, who played Mav’s and Iceman’s retired former commander in the original film, also returns in a background cameo. Blink and you’ll miss him. Who’ s not in this film, though, are the original film’s women – Mav’s love interest, Dr. Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), and Goose’s wife, Carol (Meg Ryan). While Charlie’s name isn’t even given a mention, Carol’s character is dispatched with a quick one-liner. In the new film, Mav’s love interest is bar owner and hot single mom, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly, NOAH; A BEAUTIFUL MIND), the daughter of an admiral who is mentioned but not seen in the original film. (Mav supposedly had a relationship with her prior to joining Top Gun school.) All the actors, including story newcomer Jon Hamm (BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE; BABY DRIVER; TV’s MAD MEN), who plays Mav’s no-nonsense boss, Vice Admiral “Cyclone” Simpson, are terrific and perfectly cast.

It’s not just some of the actors who are brought back. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” kicks off the film and Rooster tinkles the ivories with bar favourite, “Great Balls of Fire”, just as his dad did in the original film. Harold Faltermeyer, who composed the score for the original film, is also back and this time he’s joined by Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer.

As for that mission they need to go on, if it sounds far-fetched, it isn’t. Israel conducted a similar mission, known as Operation Opera, against Iraq in 1981.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK opens officially in Hong Kong next Thursday (May 26th) but there are dozens of paid previews happening right now. Its awesome aerial photography, rich storyline, brilliant casting and fantastic performances easily make it one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year.

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