Top Gun: Maverick is Miles and Miles better than other unwanted sequels

Shawn O’Brate

After 36 years the long-awaited sequel to the massively successful “Top Gun” movie has finally arrived in theaters, almost three years after the original release date of July 2019 was postponed. 

Originally, this film was a scary premise considering how many famous, cult-classic films have been rebooted or had sequels released far too long after their hay-day but where Top Gun: Maverick succeeds is that it’s just enough of the old movie to make older fans happy while being so explosive and tantalizing that it attracts the action junkies of the world who may not have been old enough to witness the peak popularity of the original Top Gun. 

The first film was about Pete Mitchell, codenamed ‘Maverick’, an impetuous, impulsive young pilot who is sent to the Top Gun fighter pilot school where only the top 1% of pilots are able to attend. Maverick, played by Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire), has to compete against Tom Kazansky, codenamed ‘Iceman’ who was played by the wildly popular Val Kilmer (The Doors, Heat) who was at the very beginning of his career. 

Maverick’s radar intercept officer (RIO), the man who sits behind Cruise in the fighter pilot, was codenamed ‘Goose’ and [spoiler] dies during a dogfight training session which sticks with Maverick for the rest of the movie and bleeds heavily into this new film.

This newest entrance into the Top Gun universe, almost forty years after the 1986 hit, picks up right where the audience might guess it starts: with Maverick breaking rules and flying something intensely cool. Since finishing second in his Top Gun class Maverick has floated around multiple Navy jobs with Iceman supposedly saving his keister from being court-martialed or fired multiple times over the past thirty years.

Cruise hasn’t aged a day between the final cut of Top Gun and the opening scenes of this newest Top Gun: Maverick but his character has grown somewhat of a conscious, hoping to do better for the world as he begins the movie by testing a fifth-generation aircraft that can go up to 10 G’s which would normally knock a pilot unconscious.

After destroying the experimental plane, parachuting to safety in some hick town, and being dragged back in front of Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain, played by Ed Harris (Appaloosa, Apollo 13, Westworld), Maverick is given one final chance at redemption by being brought back to the Top Gun school for a special mission.

That special mission–briefed to him by Jon Hamm (Mad Men, The Town) and Charles Parnell (All My Children, Transformers: Age of Extinction)–is an enemy uranium enrichment plant that is in the valley of two mountains and needs to be destroyed. 

Maverick’s job? To teach 12 of the best Top Gun graduates on how to do so in the valley of a treacherous mountain range without being spotted by special surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. After originally declining the option Hamm’s character tells Maverick this is his last shot at doing something with his immense talent. Maverick’s “record precedes him” as he is one of the only pilots with three confirmed mid-air kills by this point in his life but, essentially, Maverick takes the job because Iceman asked for him personally. 

One reason he agreed to teach the group is that Goose’s son, codename ‘Rooster’, played by Miles Teller (Whiplash, War Dogs) is one of the top recruits and has his father’s sense of vivacity and earnestness. 

After agreeing to teach the group of rag-tag younglings about the mission and pushing them through G-Force that they have never felt before Maverick once again breaks the rules in his own way, but for a good reason as always. 

The relationship between Maverick and Rooster is the heart of the film in the long run. Their conflicts that arose between the time of the two films, and the way that other Top Gun graduates treat Rooster after finding out about the previous relationship, makes the movie tense when the two actors are on screen together.

The other sense of meaning from the movie is Maverick’s relationship with an old fling named Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth, The Rocketeer, Requiem for a Dream), who owns ‘The Hard Deck’ bar on the beach where the Top Gun students and other military members seem to hang out whenever they’re not working.

After setting up some serious tension between the characters, sprinkled with some fighter jet training scenes with real F-18s, the movie constructs a major climactic scene in the air, much like the previous film but the differences between the two are very apparent in these final scenes.

For starters, the G-Force in this movie is real. By that, I mean that the actors were put in real fighter jets with cameras in the cockpit and throughout the film you can truly see the force of the speed and strength that the F-18 brings. The actors’ and actresses’ faces droop and rise with the intensity of the jet which leaves the audience sitting on the edge of their seat and clenching their jaws as if they were in the cockpit with them.

One thing that director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy, Oblivion, Only the Brave) also brought back from the first movie, aside from the masculine desire to be the best, is the shirtless sports on the beach while wearing jeans–something that every woman in the theater seemed to enjoy as their husbands or boyfriends were waiting for more dogfighting scenes.

And don’t get it twisted, the final twenty minutes of the movie are filled with some of the most realistic, hellacious, explosive film-making to hit the big screen in years. The communication between the fighter pilots and their RIOs makes it even more queasy and fretful for the audience with the screaming of “smoke in the air! Left! Left! Left” and “he’s on your six! Flares! Flares! Break right!” might cause goosebumps for some and PTSD for others.

In the end though the movie’s predictability is the only downside to the film. There weren’t many avenues that the production company and Cruise could go with this expansion of the Top Gun universe that nobody really asked for, especially with a new love interest and the only other big actor–Kilmer–from the original film returning for a brief cameo due to his real life battle with throat cancer that has made speaking a hassle. 

With that being said, the final half hour of the movie will make you tighten up and feel like you’ve gone through a stress test in the sky. And the eerily similar feeling to “Black Hawk Down” during the final fight scenes make for a nice twist that the audience may not have seen coming as well as providing some comedic relief. 

Overall score: 4.5 Fighter Jets