1986’s Top Gun is one of the quintessential movies of that decade. How many times have I watched the first film? I have no idea but it’s a lot. Top Gun was one of my ‘growing up’ films. It was very quotable, it had a naked Kelly McGillis sex scene… and overt homoeroticism with half-naked sweaty men playing beach volleyball, while Kenny Loggins sang about Playing With The Boys. Oh, it also had some pretty great fighter jet action scenes and stuff too.
Really, all Top Gun was, was a romance flick with jet fighters. It was a film with a very simple premise but a film that became a modern-day classic. It also made Tom Cruise a huge star and had quite a bit of heart to it. Just mention the name ‘Goose’ to any Top Gun fan and watch their bottom lip quiver. As great as that first film was, it really did feel very stand-alone and no sequel felt necessary. Yet, here we are, a whole 36 years later and Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is back.
“After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.”
Top Gun: Maverick has had a bit of a troubled production. Originally announced back in 2010, Tony Scott, who directed the first film, was on board to return as director here. As he was working on the project, sadly, he committed suicide in 2012. So, the whole thing was put on hold. In early 2018, the project was picked up again with Joseph Kosinski hired as director. Originally set to be released in July of 2019, it was delayed until June 2020 so they could shoot some more scenes. Then the whole covid thing kicked off and more delays came. Set to be released at the end of 2020 instead… only that didn’t happen as covid had a massive domino effect on other big movies and loads of release dates got moved around. Top Gun: Maverick was then set to be released in July 2021. But that didn’t happen either as Tom Cruise became too busy shooting the next Mission Impossible film(s) and would not be available to help promote this one. Eventually, Top Gun: Maverick was given a May 2022 release and it actually made it too.
After the film began production over a decade ago, the sad suicide of its original director and multiple delays that led to a 3-year wait. Was it all worth it, does this sequel work or tarnish the awesomeness of the original? Well, that is what this spoiler-free review is going to tell you.
As I say, I won’t be doing spoilers here but I do need to quickly go over the basics of the plot. After over 30 years of service, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is now working as a test pilot for the U.S. Navy. Happy with where he is, Maverick has purposely dodged promotion to avoid being grounded and stuck behind a desk. After going against Rear Admiral Chester Cain’s (Ed Harris) wishes, Maverick pushes a hypersonic prototype jet to its limits, which results in destroying the very expensive jet. Instead of punishing Maverick by grounding him, Admiral Cain sends him back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (AKA Top Gun), where he was trained himself in the first film, to train a new group of fighter pilots for a mission.
What Top Gun: Maverick is, in essence, is yet another one of those ‘legacy sequels’. You know the kind of film by now as we have already had a few recently. A sequel to a film with a huge, many years gap between them that brings old characters back to teach the new blood how to do things. Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the new Scream come to mind as I write this. A sequel film that is very heavy on the nostalgia of the original while trying to inject some modern ethics into a dated franchise. These kinds of films can really be hit and miss. It’s great to see some much-loved characters back but they often feel out of place now.
As with other legacy sequels, Top Gun: Maverick really does slap you hard with the nostalgia. There are parts of this film where I was questioning if this was a sequel or a thinly veiled remake. Do you want a scene in a bar where the hotshot pilots ridicule their teacher, unbeknownst to them that the person is their teacher? Do you want a follow-up scene where those same hotshot pilots have a ‘damn’ moment when Maverick is revealed to be their new teacher at Top Gun? Do you want a scene with people singing Great Balls of Fire around a piano? Do you want a scene on a beach with some half-naked sports? Do you want more Kenny Loggins? This film has all of that and more. To put this in a most basic description, Tom Cruise in this film is playing the Kelly McGillis character from the first film.
As I said, that is putting this film into basics as there is a lot more going on here. One of the new characters is Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who is the son of Goose from the first film (both even have moustaches) and the relationship between Maverick and Rooster is not the best. So you have your conflict angle there. The other characters are filled out with some carbon copies of characters from the first film too.
The only two returning characters from Top Gun are Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer). Now, Kilmer has been suffering from throat cancer and can’t talk, I mean in real life, not this fiilm. So there was serious doubt that he would be in the film, but he is. And without going into spoilers, the scene that he and Cruise share together is perhaps the best of the entire film. It’s not about flying jets, no action or anything. Just two old friends talking and it really does pack a hell of a punch. The chemistry between the two is wonderful to see. And even though we’ve not seen anything of their relationship over the last 30-odd years, you still get a sense that these guys are close.
The obligatory love interest for Maverick is Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). Now, if you are a die-hard Top Gun fan, then that name may sound familiar. Penelope wasn’t in the first film but the name was mentioned. She was the girl that is referenced several times, the admiral’s daughter that Maverick has a few ‘high-speed passes’ with.
But outside of all the references and nostalgia for the first film, Top Gun: Maverick really does hold its own. The action scenes are brilliantly shot as Tom Cruise (a producer on the film) demanded that no CGI should be used and all the action be real. Real jets flying in real locations getting involved in real (scripted) conflict. It looks amazing too. As good as CGI can be at times, it really can not compete with the real thing. I’m sure some CGI was used to enhance the scenes but the jets themselves were real. The cast actually had to sit in real cockpits in real jets and were flown by real pilots to get all of the close-up shots. This film is far better for it too and the action here is really well done as it looks and feels very authentic.
The directing by Joseph Kosinski is top-notch too. This is one of the films that doesn’t feel like a scene is wasted, as if it is just there for ‘reasons’. Even the half-naked sports on a beach scene feels like it should be part of the film. Whereas, with the first film, you really do question what the point was. There is drama, emotion, action and a bit of romance along the way. The whole thing really does feel very Top Gun. I’m not exactly a huge fan of Tom Cruise, I find him okay at best. But when he gets it right, he can be amazing. Here though, I absolutely loved him. His Maverick is older and a little wiser here, but he still has that cocky arrogance and charm that was there with the character in the first film. It may be 36 years later but quite honestly, this feels like it could’ve been made a couple of years after the original.
Top Gun: Maverick is brilliant. I really wasn’t expecting it to be at all though. As a big fan of the original and being very wary of legacy sequels like this, I was ready to roll my eyes in disappointment. However, by the time the end credits were doing their thing, I had a massive grin on my face. This isn’t just a sequel to a classic film, this is a very worthy sequel to a classic film. Dare I say it, even better than the first film… yes I do dare. The nostalgia is there and even with a lot of remade scenes, it never felt out of place. There is a bit in the last act of the film with a none-too-subtle ‘I may be old but I can still, do what I do’ analogy and even this made sense within the film itself. With a slightly over 2 hour runtime that just flew by (no pun), I recommend that you get this watched ASAP. Was it worth the three decade and several delays wait? Oh yeah.