Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick

by Jason Koenigsberg

Thirty-six years after Top Gun premiered and shot Tom Cruise to the top of the Hollywood A-list, a place where he has never quite descended from, Cruise returns to the role that made him a household name in Top Gun: Maverick. Make no mistake about it, this decades later sequel is not just a cash grab retread of the original that coasts by on nostalgia. This movie is an intense, character driven, stunt filled spectacle. Top Gun: Maverick is what summer blockbusters should strive to be.

The opening Paramount logo starts off with the familiar Top Gun anthem from Harold Faltermeyer who composed the original film’s score, this time with an assist from Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer. Then we have the same first shots as the 1986 film with fighter planes taking off on an aircraft carrier with ‘Danger Zone’ by Kenny Loggins playing after the instrumental theme subsides. Actually before the movie officially starts there is a short clip of Tom Cruise speaking directly to the audience thanking us for our patronage and paying to see this movie on the big screen. These moments of gratitude from multimillionaires have become commonplace with less and less people going to cinemas and wreak of desperation but that is life at movie theaters in 2022. This practice of thanking audiences after they bought a ticket started pre-pandemic and is probably here to stay. We see Tom Cruise as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell basically at the same place he was three and a half decades ago, just without the taller Kelly McGillis by his side. He is fixing a plane and still serving his country as one of the Navy’s top aviators. We meet Ed Harris in a small role as Maverick’s superior channeling his best subdued Robert Duvall from Apocalypse Now impersonation. They establish that Maverick has stubbornly turned down advancements in his career or refuted any opportunities that would ground him and prevent him from continuing to push the envelope and fly higher and faster than any other pilot. His need for speed has still not been satisfied even after all these years.

One of the main selling points of Top Gun: Maverick is the fact that all of the aerial stunts involve real planes with pilots flying at supersonic speeds for real with minimal CGI. In a decade that has been oversaturated with endless computer effects, it is beyond refreshing to see spectacular stunts of the highest order the likes of which have not really been seen since maybe the 1986 Top Gun. They do not disappoint and neither does our leading man. Tom Cruise has long established himself as one of the biggest and most charismatic movie stars of all time and he reinvigorates his A-list status with this role where he still looks amazing for a man pushing sixty years old but also shows that he still has the bravado and energy that audiences loved from him back when he first dawned the aviator sunglasses and bomber jacket nearly forty years ago. Critics and audiences can say what they want about Tom Cruise’s personal life, his love of scientology, and his recent choices in movie roles basically turning into the American answer to Jackie Chan, but in Top Gun: Maverick Cruise still brings the same emotional intensity that he has to his best and most memorable movie roles in previous decades. Basically, he still has what it takes to be up there with the best of the best in Hollywood. His role as Maverick this time around is tailored to his movie star image.

Top Gun: Maverick is about getting older and accepting that sometimes things have to change. Every athlete would love to play like an MVP for longer than their window usually allows them to. Eventually they have to take a step back and accept their limitations. Top Gun: Maverick is an ideal vehicle for Tom Cruise to take a step down and pass the torch to the next generation of fighter pilots, or in this case, actors. The younger cast lead by Miles Teller prove to be up to the challenge and hold their own as archetypes of the older cast, each ones playing their roles admirably making the audience feel exactly how we are supposed to about each of them. This would be an ideal career capper for Tom Cruise if he had any plans of stepping down from the action star roles that he has deftly handled throughout his long career, however, Top Gun: Maverick is for better or worse, just a small step down towards passing the torch since audiences across the world are treated to the next Mission: Impossible trailer before this movie begins. In fact, there are two Mission: Impossible movies in production so Cruise will continue his adrenaline junkie habits for at least the next few years.

Cruise brings his intensity and there is no denying his talent and that he is never a bad choice to handle a major big budget production, but he also brought his ego on display with him as he usually does. His obsession with looking younger and cooler is on full display. The original Top Gun had a famous, or infamous, beach volleyball scene with the young cast showing off their perfectly toned and tanned bodies. Here they replace volleyball with football on the beach and Tom Cruise is there, shirt off, looking incredible with a bunch of actors, and an actress, in their twenties. It is just as ridiculous as the original and nothing more than excuse for Cruise to show off his body. This is just one of many callbacks to the original film that Top Gun: Maverick is loaded with. But they are subtle cues, winks to the audience that do not distract or detract from the narrative and character driven moments. One of the best scenes involve Tom Cruise’s Maverick finally meeting his rival from the original film Iceman played by Val Kilmer and they share a terrific sentimental moment together. There are tender scenes as well between Cruise and Miles Teller, as the son of his friend Goose who died in the original, and with Jennifer Connelly as Cruise’s love interest and they all work as well as one could hope for.

This movie is also about the theme of technology taking over and becoming too invasive in our society. Something that has become an issue in practically every profession and facet of life. Maverick is worried that with an over reliance on technology the next generation of fighter pilots will lose the human touch that he has mastered with all of his years of aerial expertise. Cruise may look young here but he is representing the old guard and the people who are actually his age and do not want their country to lose the way of how things were done successfully in their time. Especially poignant considering the enemies in both of these movies are the Russians. The Cold War may have ended but a lot of things still remain the same from the Reagan Era. This film also does not have the same jingoistic nationalism that the first film was accused of blatantly acting like a million dollar recruitment video. For a movie that is about maintaining a human touch, the human element and interpersonal scenes work every bit as well as the outstanding action set pieces.

Bottom line, Top Gun: Maverick is worth seeing to remember why the world loved Tom Cruise and how he became one of the biggest movies stars of all time in the first place. Along with all of the spectacular aerial footage, and the emotional scenes that create characters that audiences will care about and maybe actually remember when the credits roll and the lights turn on. This movie works even if you have not seen or forgotten a lot of details from the first film. Unlike many recent movies that take place in a cinematic universe, there is no need for viewers to do their homework for Top Gun: Maverick. They can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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