Back in the 1986, Top Gun was a sleeper hit. Instead of having a knockout opening weekend, it had longevity fueled by word of mouth. It grossed $177 million domestically and certified Tom Cruise as a movie star. A perfect elixir of beefcake, romance, militarism, and high-adrenalin jet-fighter stunts, this quintessential popcorn movie represented summer and youth. The sequel, or extension, of it, Top Gun: Maverick, celebrates the nostalgia of the past and the challenge of now. From the opening credits that have the same block style as the original and the exhilarating notes of Kenny Loggins' “Danger Zone,” we are reminded of the freshness of the original. Then we transition into current day where Tom Cruise's peerless Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell hits the skies one last time in a sleek, modern Darkstar jet after his project is scrapped by Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain, played by a flinty Ed Harris. In the first few scenes, there are many references to Maverick being a relic, a remnant of a bygone era. Of course, he takes pure joy in proving to the naysayers that age is nothing but a number. There’s a requisite volleyball scene that mirrors the one in the original and Cruise is able to hold his own with the younger crowd, in physique and stamina. His hundred-watt smile can still eclipse a scene.
When Maverick grudgingly goes to teach the latest Top Gun initiates, he comes face-to-face with his past. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw is one of the pilots and the son of his former wingman and friend Goose, who died on one of their missions. Miles Teller effortlessly channels Goose’s playful nature as well as a jitteriness of self-doubt. Rooster has an emotional wall up with Maverick because he blames him for his dad’s death. The other students notice the tension between student and pupil, and hotshot pilot Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin is quick to call Rooster out. Played by a twinkly eyed Glen Powell, Hangman is the modern Iceman, a golden boy whose arrogance comes across as charm rather than conceit.
While he’s at North Island, San Diego, Maverick reignites a romance with old flame Penny Benjamin, who’s referenced in the first movie. Jennifer Connelly’s character has a patience and ease with Maverick that can only be cultivated over a long period of time.
The mission that the ace pilots have to go on seems an impossible one, until Maverick shows them how it’s done. Just when he’s been canned by John Hamm’s no-nonsense Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, Maverick demonstrates why he’s earned his spot in the annals of Top Gun history. After Cyclone makes him team leader, Maverick invites Rooster to be his wingman with the mantra, “Don’t think. Do.” The stakes of the mission get higher and higher as the nerve-wracking operation progresses, with some spectacular, heart pounding action sequences on display.
What makes Top Gun: Maverick as good as, if not better, than the original is that it contains the successful elements of the first film, but they’re squared. It’s a heady blend of male eye candy, romance, humor, emotional peaks and valleys, and thrilling jet maneuvers. It takes itself a little more seriously than the previous film, with the ebb and flow of the past and current day reflected in Maverick’s haunted gaze. Also, this time around, the cast of players is more diverse, with a female pilot in the mix and more Top Gun pilots of color.
The soul of the movie is Tom Cruise’s Maverick. He wears his memories of Goose like an Albatross around his neck. The film is a feel-good summer blockbuster, wrapping up the past in the hazy fumes of F/A-18 Super Hornets and ushering in an ambiguous but promising future for Maverick. This type of visually uncompromising and sonic movie is what the big screen and IMAX are made for. Produced by Paramount Pictures, Top Gun: Maverick will be released only in theaters on May 27, 2022.