Top Gun: Maverick
The long-awaited sequel delivers a proper homage and evolution to the first film
Given that studios are digging deeper into their IP libraries in order to make new films (instead of say… come up with original ideas), it’s only a matter of time before every hit of the past is given a sequel. The time has come for Top Gun (1986) to get its follow-up.
Top Gun: Maverick (2022) was a movie meant to be released in 2020, but delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We follow Pete “Maverick” (Tom Cruise), still a captain and flying aircraft despite nearing 60, who is tasked with training young fighter pilots for a dangerous mission in foreign territory. Thus, the rebellions Maverick returns to the “Top Gun” academy of the Navy in San Diego, where he will encounter some ghosts of his past.
Top Gun: Maverick is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who seemed to be more at home in the sci-fi genre full of special effects (Tron: Legacy (2010), Oblivion (2013)), but who easily slips into the more practical effects of Maverick. Cruise, also a producer on the film, expressly demanded that no CGI be used for any of the flying sequences, thus all the footage you see has been shot with the actual actors in the air. This behind-the-scenes authenticity does help deliver some bigger thrills and immersion for viewers in these scenes; and for the flight-heavy finale this choice elevates the thrills and tension to a nail-biting degree.
The original Top Gun, while nostalgically remembered by many, was a very cheesy film that struggled to string together an actual plot. Maverick finds a careful balance of both nodding and honoring the original film with certain scenes (of course there’s a shirtless beach sport sequence), while also digging into deeper character and plot work. Despite the central story being a basic and simple one, the real core of Maverick revolves around Maverick trying to repair his bond to Goose’s (Anthony Edwards) son Rooster (Miles Teller), who still blames Maverick for his father’s death. This focus of a complex storyline helps elevate Maverick above the cheesiness of its predecessor. However, that’s not to say that Maverick isn’t free from tacky and near-propagandistic moments (at times it can feel like an Air Force recruitment video), but it helps add some emotional heft alongside the daring action sequences.
Cruise may be one of the last classical film stars remaining, and despite him not being an actor known for his range, one must admire the dedication and passion that he puts into each of his projects. You sense the great care and enthusiasm that he has for Top Gun in particular, and this exudes from his Maverick character becoming an important linchpin to the original film. Cruise’s dedication helps him inhabit the character of Maverick to the point that you truly believe he is the same from the 1986 film. Teller as his biggest counterpart is as strong as always, you almost wish there were more scenes with him and his personal anguished arc. Of the surprises in the film, Glen Powell, who has been an actor I’ve always found underappreciated ever since Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) stands out with the little screentime he is given, in many ways as a substitute to Val Kilmer’s arrogant Iceman (Kilmer returns for a cameo).
In the end, Top Gun: Maverick delivers a rather winning formula of bringing back nostalgic aspects of the first film while also helping the film evolve and improve from certain aspects of its predecessor. However, in trying to not step too far away from the original, Maverick also must drag some of its flaws. Even so, for fans of the first film or for those who simply want to be blown away by one of the best third acts in a film in years, Maverick has been worth the wait.