From the moment it was announced, I had low expectations for Top Gun: Maverick. I figured it was just Tom Cruise milking his other franchise for what it’s worth. I mean, I adore the Mission: Impossible movies, but was there ever really a need to return to the Top Gun Universe? I didn’t believe so, particularly with Joseph Kosinski being involved. I enjoyed Oblivion and I’ll die on the hill that is Tron: Legacy, but also recognize that Tron: Legacy could have been a better film if the writers just didn’t paste the original film and wipe it down with a new coat of paint. I think I may have incorrectly put that on Kosinski, rather than the writers.
Top Gun: Maverick does pretty much the same thing here. If you’ve seen the original Top Gun, you already have the blueprint for the sequel in your head. You could play both films side by side, and not counting for the pacing between them, align each scene with the sequel’s counterpart. Does that even make for a sequel? Did we learn nothing from Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
I don’t know. I didn’t hate Top Gun: Maverick at all. It’s just that odd feeling at having seen it all before and almost completely guessing what’s going to happen next. If you can get past that, it’s a good film. By the end of the movie, I wanted to buy a computer, a Thrustmaster HOTAS set and a copy of DCS to fly with.
Top Gun: Maverick continues the story of ace fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, once the 2nd Best at Top Gun. Now testing special aircraft, he lands himself into trouble again with the Navy, only to be sent back to Top Gun. Yes, he was an instructor there and this new film references this. However, Maverick’s return has him training a team of elite pilots on a special bombing mission requiring some unorthodox maneuvers. In training the pilots, the best will be declared the mission leader. When Maverick discovers that one of pilots is Brad Bradshaw (Miles Teller, Whiplash), son of his deceased Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Goose, tensions erupt. Can Maverick get the team to improve and be ready for the mission?
Writing wise, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t bad. It gets in, does the job and gets right back out. No scene is drawn out too far, no storyline angle seems to be mulled on. With two main writers and three screenplay writers (including Mission: Impossible‘s Christopher McQuarrie), it’s pretty tight. Again, there’s the problem of using the same story map as the original. There doesn’t appear to be many obstacles for them to hurdle, storywise. Like Underwater, having so many familiar sites and scenes helps. What I did like was that it didn’t point many fingers at any one place. The opposing fighters are “5th Gen” craft, but you don’t really get any kind of feeling of where they’re from. Were they Russian? Serbian? Chinese? Canadian? Unless I missed something in the watch, I didn’t catch who the enemy was. They were just men in planes with missiles and guns.
I liked the cast here. Jon Hamm (Tag)makes for a good opponent to Cruise, and they have good scenes together. There’s also something of a love story to the film, though it’s light. While it would have been cool to have Kelly McGinnis back, Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) made for a good replacement and her character’s okay. For the young pilots, I particularly liked Lewis Pullman’s (Bad Times at the El Royale) Bob and Monica Barbero (NBCs Chicago Justice) Phoenix, along with Glen Powell’s (Everybody Wants Some!) Hangman. Each one brought some style and attitude to the mix.
By far the best entry here is Val Kilmer’s return as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. The story was written in a way to include his issues with speech, given his cancer diagnosis. He honestly has one of most memorable moments in the film, and I loved how they tied his character back to Maverick’s. I have to give some kudos to Cruise, Kilmer and company for that. If there’s any other reason to see the film other than the planes, that was it.
Oh, the flight and fight scenes! Goodness, what a treat! I usually sit in the front row, where no one ever sits. Since the Regal RPX screen is huge (but not Lincoln Center IMAX beastly), that first row is some distance away. The sense of speed was cool and there were some fantastic shots both in cockpit and out, which had me leaning in my seat with the action with every hard left and right. While I’ve always been more of a fan of the F-14 Tomcat used in the original, there is a legitimate reason for the team to have to use the F-18 Hornet. While the main mission feels a lot like the trench run from Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s a great sequence overall. Watching Maverick make a plane dance is a sight to behold, and there is at least one scene in the film that contained an awesome thrust vectoring moment. Think of thrust vectoring like drifting a plane in midair the way you would drift a car in a turn. It’s hard to describe, but beautiful when seen.
Musically, I don’t have much to say. While Lorne Balfe (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Hans Zimmer (Dune), Harold Faltermeyer (Top Gun) and Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) all worked on this, I can’t say that any tune other than the original Top Gun Anthem really stood out for me. Not a terrible thing at all, just not extremely memorable. At least with Fallout, I was humming the 2nd half of “Stairs and Rooftops” until I bought the album. Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” is a great piece and ties in pretty well to where it’s used.
Overall, Top Gun: Maverick is a treat, and was better than I expected. It gets a little heavy handed at following the same path of the original, the but the new story is enjoyable enough to have it stand out on it own.