Movie review: 'Top Gun: Maverick' takes your breath away

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 25 2022 06:50 AM

Tom Cruise is back in 'Top Gun: Maverick.' Handout
Tom Cruise is back in 'Top Gun: Maverick.' Handout

After 36 years of decorated service in the Air Force of the US Navy, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell still held the modest rank of captain, and was still involved in testing state-of-the art fighter jets. Upon the orders of his old rival then friend, now Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, Maverick was unexpectedly assigned to train a group of brash young pilots to execute a dangerous mission to bomb a heavily-armed uranium facility within treacherous mountains within the unnamed enemy's territory. 

One of the pilots in Maverick's group is Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw. Rooster was the son of Maverick's best friend and radar-intercept officer Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, whose death Maverick always felt guilty for. Rooster also blamed Maverick for pulling out his application papers before, which delayed his entrance into the Navy. Meanwhile, Maverick got back in touch with an old girlfriend Penny Benjamin, a single mom who now owned the local bar where the navy pilots hung out. 

The first "Top Gun" film was the box-office champion of 1986, earning more than $176 million in the US alone. It solidified Tom Cruise as a bonafide superstar and further bolstered the careers of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. Its soundtrack album was also a big hit, reaching 9 times platinum. It contained the No. 1 hit and Oscar-winning song "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin and a couple songs by Kenny Loggins, "Playing with the Boys" and "Danger Zone" (bars of which were heard in the opening scene of this sequel).

Thirty-six years after the events in the first movie, Maverick was a still a man who marched to his own drum, laden with emotional baggage. As probably only he could, the ageless Tom Cruise (now 59) can still manage to convincingly pull off both the daring and dangerous physical aviation stunts with Miles Teller and the younger actors, as well as the charming, grinning boy-next-door love interest opposite Jennifer Connelly (whose character Penny was actually mentioned in the first film). The scene with disabled Val Kilmer was a dramatic highlight. 

As Rooster, Miles Teller, with that mustache, looked uncannily like Anthony Edwards as Goose, hence we totally get Maverick's discomfort in having to be in the same room with him. Maverick and Rooster will have unbelievable close encounters with the enemy in the final act, but being a Hollywood blockbuster that this is, we suspend disbelief and cheer them on through all these. 

Among the other pilots, standing out were Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) being the only female, and Hangman (Glenn Powell) channeling the arrogance of Iceman. 

There were plenty of sentimental references to the first film, so it would be probably be better to give the original a revisit before watching this sequel, for better emotional connection with the whole story. Don't fret if you could not, because there were plenty of flashback cues to remind you of what happened, like singing "Great Ball of Fire" at the piano, or Goose's fatal ejection. The pilots playing touch football shirtless on beach was clearly a redo of the much-ballyhooed shirtless beach volleyball scene in the first film. 

But like the original film, the best parts of this film are the breathtakingly-fast and exhilarating flying scenes, all said to be done without the benefit of computer-generated effects. We see Maverick flying an experimental Mach 10 jet, an F-18 Super Hornet and even a F-14 Tomcat (for a nice throwback to the first film). He would also have dogfights against enemy jets, as well as evasive midair maneuvers against missiles. 

The superb cinematography and editing made it all look like Cruise was actually flying those planes even if he really wasn't. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."