Top Gun: Maverick Review – Tom Cruise hovers in a sequel that’s about as suspenseful as blockbusters can get

R: Josef Kosinski. Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer. 12A, 131 minutes.

top gun, released in 1986, may be the most effective and insidious military recruitment ad ever made. Backed by the shuddering synthesizers of Harold Faltermeyer’s score and a lifetime’s supply of high fives, Tony Scott’s fighter pilot fever dream represented an amoral, apolitical ideal of naval life. The enemy was unnamed. The war was hardly defined. Here a true brotherhood could only be built on brass balls and good spirits. And a man could sit in a cockpit and feel like he could climb past where Icarus fell. According to the actual US Navy, top gun resulted in a 500 percent increase in their hiring rates in the year following its release.

One day we have to think about what exactly these films do and who they benefit from. But right now, there’s another truth that’s hard to avoid: late tracking Top Gun: Maverick is as exciting as blockbusters can get. It’s the kind of breathtaking, fist-pumping spectacle that can unite an entire roomful of strangers sitting in the dark and leave them with a tear of longing in their eyes.

The film is a true legacy sequel. In the tradition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a carefully reconstructed clone of its predecessor, reflecting not only changing tastes and attitudes, but also the rise of its star, Tom Cruise, to a fame that borders on the mythological. Do we still see Cruise today as a man or as an idea?

In lonerIn the opening scenes of we reunite with his character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now head of a program testing high-flying hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft. It is to be shut down and its pilots replaced by drones. He can only save the day if he hits 10 times the speed of sound on his next test run. Anyone who knows the old Maverick will not only be able to predict whether or not he can pull it off, but whether he’ll decide to take things a little too far. After crash-landing, he strides into a rustic-looking diner covered in ash from head to toe. The most brilliant kid you’ve ever seen stares at him in awe (now bet he’ll join the Navy when he grows up).

But people change, and this maverick is a man haunted by his past. The military may have cleared him of responsibility, but he never shakes the feeling that his own bravery caused the death of his best friend Goose during a routine training exercise. In top gun, it humbled him. Here his feelings are less clear and therefore all the more interesting. He’s so keen on putting himself in danger that it almost seems like a death wish. He is also stiflingly protective of Goose’s son, Bradley, aka Rooster (Miles Teller). Maverick tried to block his way to flight school. Hahn bitterly annoys him for it. When Maverick is called in to train Marine recruits on a mission that looks like an impossible mission on paper – hint hint, there’s a generous helping of Ethan Hunt in this film – their relationship becomes all the more strained.

Due to the practical limitations of time, top gun‘s original dogfights were robust but always a bit difficult to follow. Here they are the true flesh and blood of the film – breathtakingly balletic and anchored in an increasingly rare joy in the tangible. Cruise and his co-stars sit in real cockpits. The aerial stunts are (mostly at least) real. It is a true feat for director Joseph Kosinski to make something so ambitious look so effortless. He also works enough in the language and tone of Cruise’s recent collaborations with Christopher McQuarrie (the screenwriter of edge of tomorrow and the last two Mission: Impossibles) that loner plays the same way a Top Gun movie does as a Cruise movie. And as you’d expect by now, the star attacks the film with such abandon that he completely oversizes every single element around him.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

(Paramount Pictures/AP)

Luckily, that can hide just how much pretty well Top Gun: Maverick is like structured top gun. Entire sequences – including the opening jets taking off set to the soundtrack of “Highway to the Danger Zone” – are taken entirely from the original film. The new recruits are grossly reshaped versions of the old characters: we have a new Iceman in Glen Powell’s Hangman (he finds just the right amount of asshole for the role), while Monica Barbaros Phoenix, like Kelly McGillis’ Charlie before her, is the one woman on the base with any lines. This time she can at least be one of the pilots. Rooster isn’t exactly like his father, but he dresses just like him – down to the sunglasses and unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt.

but Top Gun: Maverick really isn’t packed with the kind of cowardly nostalgia we’re used to these days. It’s smarter, more subtle, and altogether more humanistic. Kosinski leaves room for Val Kilmer’s Iceman, whose rivalry with Maverick was so important for the original to celebrate, without the film cruelly covering up the loss of Kilmer’s voice to cancer.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t stretch out its hand so lovingly to the women of top gun – Neither McGillis nor Meg Ryan, who played Rooster’s mother, are returning. Maverick instead gets a new love interest in the form of Jennifer Connelly’s Penny, the admiral’s daughter, who was mentioned in passing in the first film and is now a bar owner and single mother. Again, there will come a time when we need to talk about why Hollywood only accepts older women with certain looks. Until then, who can you blame for getting carried away by a movie that’s so damn funny?

Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters May 25th Top Gun: Maverick Review – Tom Cruise hovers in a sequel that’s about as suspenseful as blockbusters can get


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