“Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) – “Top Gun” (1986) flew Tom Cruise into the Southern California skies and exploded his stardom into the stratosphere. Thirty-six years later, he returns as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a sequel that soars above the original.
During the biggest, boldest moments – and there are plenty of them in this 152 million-dollar budget blockbuster – Maverick “takes it right into the Danger Zone,” and yes, this film will “take your breath away.”
With a 131-minute runtime – which tops a comparatively thinner 105 minutes of the 1986 picture – “Top Gun: Maverick” delivers more on-screen time for honest-to-goodness real F-18 fighter jets in action. The first-person footage is spectacular during the pilots’ training exercises and the eventual mission, which feels as dangerous as a heart attack during an alligator assault.
“(Director of Photography) Claudio Miranda and I worked closely with SONY to develop a new camera system called the VENICE, which allows us to put very high-quality motion picture (IMAX-quality) cameras, in fact, six of them, inside the cockpit of the F-18 to capture all the action of the film,” director Joseph Kosinski said during a May 1, 2022 interview with Mulderville.
He adds that four cameras point towards the actors – who actually sit in jets during filming – and two other lenses point forward to capture the action. (Note, the actors – including Cruise – did not fly the F-18s, but they were seated in the cockpits during the shoots and went through extensive training to do so.)
As cutting edge as the 1986 film was, the staggering, jaw-dropping results in “Maverick” seem light years ahead. If you feel safe sitting in a theatre these days, do yourself a favor and see this movie on the largest screen that you can find.
Speaking of finding, Kosinski reunites with Cruise for “Maverick”, as they worked together on the complicated sci-fi film “Oblivion” (2013). This time, the pair – along with screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie – rightfully forge a straightforward narrative that leans on the first movie’s strengths, improves upon them, and pushes out some of the 1986 fluff.
Cheese might be a better word because “Top Gun” hasn’t aged particularly well (in my opinion), including the flight instructor-pilot relationship between Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and Maverick, one that would never “fly” by today’s standards.
Although, please watch “Top Gun” as a prerequisite, especially if it’s been a hot minute or three decades since your last viewing.
In “Maverick”, movie-time moves at the same pace as actual time. It’s been 30-plus years since Lt. Mitchell left Top Gun at Naval Air Station Miramar in sunny San Diego, but Maverick has not turned to another career. He’s not preparing tax returns or hosting an Airbnb property. Mav still flies planes for the military, and he’s damn good at it. One of his colleagues calls him “the fastest man alive.”
However, circumstances early in the first act ship (now) Capt. Mitchell from his current duties back to Top Gun, and hence the film bathes in nostalgia and recognizable SoCal real estate.
In many ways, “Maverick” uses a very familiar formula (hint: from 36 years ago), so brace yourself for storytelling recycling. The similar cinematic flight paths on the Naval base could trigger cynical eye-rolls, but the script makes no apologies. For instance, Kosinski simply subs in a different sport for the Kenny Loggins’ “Playing with the Boys” volleyball scene, and he clones another Iceman by inserting a smug jerk to aggravate the other airmen and airwomen. The said antagonist’s name is Hangman (Glen Powell), and the other pilots – all considered the best in the world – have catchy monikers too.
Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), Coyote (Greg Tarzan Davis), Payback (Jay Ellis), Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman), Hangman, and Rooster (Miles Teller), who is Goose’s (Anthony Edwards) son, receive the most screen time. Goose, of course, died in 1986 during a flight that Pete piloted, so Rooster and Mav have more built-in tension than a Norwegian strongman tug of war contest.
For the record, the makeup team did a phenomenal job to make Teller look like Edwards’ Goose, or perhaps, they just added a mustache. Who knows precisely, but wow, well done!
Anyway, these aviators glide into Top Gun to train for a “Mission: Impossible” assignment that requires not one but two “miracles” to succeed. This mission needs six pilots, and since 12 are on hand, do the math. So let the competition between these alpha types begin.
Why is Mav here? He’s their instructor.
Despite the eerily familiar plot, the storytelling on-base gathers and maintains intriguing speed and altitude for the audience to enjoy and readily absorb for several reasons, and here are three.
First, the U.S. Navy defines the life-and-death aerial assignment upfront, right from the get-go, so the pilots’ practice runs over the California desert have meaning because the stakes are so grave, and we know them exactly. Sure, Hangman, Rooster, Phoenix, and company (and yes, Maverick) offer their fair bursts of entertaining showboating. Still, the film never wastes our time with goofball sideshows because all of this training leads to the ominous events in the upcoming third act.
Second, Mav doesn’t pursue a carefree, brand-new relationship. Instead, he attempts to rekindle a friendship or perhaps something more with a long-time ex-girlfriend, Penny (Jennifer Connelly). Connelly – one of Hollywood’s most reliable actresses – carries a successful, sassy air, and Penny is Maverick’s equal. She may not fly planes, but Penny owns her own business and a gorgeous coastal home and is more independent than Ross Perot in November 1992. Yes, the woman is still stinging from her past with Pete, but she doesn’t need pity. So, Maverick traverses in the air from 9 to 5, and after work, he tries to navigate grounded, meaningful discourse with Penny. Their conversations are sometimes frank, sometimes playful, but they always act like grownups. Well, almost always.
Third, Maverick earned three more decades of piloting experience, but not without years of adversity. The man is supremely confident in the air and – as you remember – sometimes reckless with an aircraft, but he lives with new vulnerabilities while on the ground. We haven’t seen these new emotional wrinkles with Maverick, and Cruise devotes notable on-screen minutes exploring them. This 2022 Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell – in some ways – is worlds different than his 1986 counterpart, but then again, aren’t we all.
As mentioned earlier, the aerial acrobatics are out of this world. Obvious credit goes to the state-of-the-art camerawork, as Kosinski and Miranda capture tight shots that point within the cockpits and the essential views of the action outside of them. The audience gets authentic (and sometimes broad) looks at the danger in real-time, but we also understand the ins and outs of the mission. Adm. Simpson (John Hamm), Adm. Bates (Charles Parnell), and Capt. Maverick repeatedly explain the upcoming 3rd act offensive during the first two acts, so the audience is fully informed, engaged, and emotionally invested in a hopeful outcome during the nerve-racking conclusion.
So – again, if you feel safe – head to a theatre, spring for some popcorn or candy, and watch the country’s biggest box-office star at his best. Maybe stick a U.S. flag pin on your lapel or look for a T-shirt with the Stars and Stripes because “Top Gun: Maverick” is an American military story, and pride and patriotism are two additional characters, at least to this critic.
I felt them, and in one extravagant, unforgettable aircraft scene during the first act (that will not be specified in this review), one might feel pride mixed with a new, pragmatic visual understanding of where massive quantities of our tax dollars go.
Nostalgia is another character, even though only one of the two 80s hits – Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” – makes it to this sequel. That’s okay, Kosinski and company make room for one of The Who’s very best tunes, and hey, that’s another improvement.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Charles Parnell, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, and Val Kilmer
Runtime: 131 minutes