Top Gun was the epitome of the 1980s with its MTV-style action scenes, jamming soundtrack by Kenny Loggins of all people and cool machismo bravada that hid the homoeroticism of the era. People didn’t even realize until many years later it was a two-hour recruitment movie for the U.S. Naval Aviation division. The movie was made with the cooperation of the Navy who along with the Department of Defense had more creative control that Tom Cruise over the material.
Val Kilmer, who played Lt. Tom “Iceman”Kazansky, said he made the movie as a contractual obligation he had through Paramount Pictures. Even the appearance of the very liberal leftist Tim Robbins in a smaller role seems surprising. It was the movie that catapulted Cruise to the top of the A-List where he’s stayed since then. But as he began to branch out into other roles, he backed away from the action star he’s been since the mid-2000s. A sequel was inevitable. But after 35 years, you’re left wondering has it been too long.
Yes and no. Quite possibly, one of the greatest things Cruise ever did was meet filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie on the set of Valkyrie. While most criticized the World War II thriller as Cruise led an all-star cast of Nazi Germany officials trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Cruise and McQuarrie (who wrote and produced that movie) have had a collaboration in the 2010s that has produced some of the best of Cruise’s work such as Edge of Tomorrow and two well-made Mission: Impossible movies as well as one in post-production due next year and another in pre-production due after that. Even though The Mummy and Jack Reacher movies weren’t the best, McQuarrie is listed as one of the producers and writers on Top Gun: Maverick, whick is way better than the original.
Under the direction of Josph Kosinki, who worked with Cruise, on the sci-fi dystopia movie Oblivion, which had some style but fell short on plot, has made a movie that honors the memory of Tony Scott who directed the first one, without criticizing him. Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who still plays mostly by his own rules, something Admiral Cain (Ed Harris in a nice small role) brings up. Being in the Navy so long, Cain tell Maverick that he could have been an admiral himself by now.
When the movie begins, Maverick is out in the desert working as a test pilot on a supersonic plane named “Darkstar” trying to hit Mach 10. Of course, his friend and colleague Chief Warrant Officer Bernie “Hondo” Coleman (Bashir Salahuddin) tells him they’ve been given orders to stand down on testing. But Maverick says no superior officers are there yet so he flies the jet right as Cain arrives on base and pushes it to Mach 10 and beyond before crashing ejecting near a roadside diner.
Rather than being busted again for insubordination, Iceman, now an admiral himself, has requested Maverick be assigned to the Top Gun academy on North Island, Calif. The Navy has been tasked with destroying an underground bunker in the Middle-East which houses an unsanctioned uranium plant. The project is under the command of Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) who’s younger and more by the book than Maverick.
Originally thinking he’s been assigned to fly, he’s supposed to train a new set of younger pilots, one of them is Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late friend, LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards shown in pictures and archival footage). Goose was killed during a training exercise when they had to eject and Goose’s head hit the canopy hard resulting in blunt trauma killing him instantly. Maverick was cleared but hasn’t been able to shake the feeling he did something wrong to cause Goose’s death.
This has led to years of resentment between Maverick and Rooster. Maverick explains to his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connolly) that Rooster’s mother asked him to pull Rooster’s application so he couldn’t be trained to be a pilot. This actually set Rooster’s career back four years. His mother has since died and Maverick tells Penny he won’t tell Rooster because he doesn’t want him to resent his mother.
Penny, herself, has a somewhat tense relationship with Maverick, but since he’s always being reassigned for insubordination, it’s caused problems in their relationship. She operates a bar that is a popular hangout for many of the Naval service members. Connolly adds some dimension to a role that is basically just a by-the-books love interest. Cruise is 60 while Connolly is 51. It’s a nice change of pace seeing two middle-aged people in a relationship in a movie like this. It’s not right to have Cruise chasing someone half his age. While Penny falls back in with Maverick for convenience of the plot, both Cruise and Connolly make it work as it’s getting to the point where Maverick much realize it’s time for him to settle down.
The younger pilots seem almost to be carbon copies of the original. Rooster is the one who always pushes things as far as he can, just like Maverick. There’s Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), who behaves like a younger Iceman with the hotshot cockiness that he is the best there is. There’s Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro) who is just as good as Rooster and Hangman. And even the addition of a woman pilot is handled as she’s just another pilot who wants to be selected for the mission. Women have been flying in combat for years and I like how this is handled without someone blasting it for “wokeness.”
The mission, itself, will include four jets having to fly down low into a canyon where they will drop the missiles and then have to fly out while while trying to evade service-to-air missiles. This is right after the Navy launches many Tomahawk missiles from a ship out in the sea taking out the nearby air base. It can seem like a very complicated mission but Kosinki and the cinematography by Claudio Miranda and editing by Eddie Hamilton make it one of the most thrilling action scenes in recent years. It’s no wonder Paramount waited almost two years throughout the Pandemic to release this movie in theaters where it’s made nearly $1.5 billion worldwide. Seeing something like this on a small streaming service doesn’t have the same feel as seeing it in a theater on the bigger screen.
Like I said, the plot is very generic. You know that Maverick and Cyclone are going to butt heads through about 80 percent of the movie before Cyclone sees that Maverick is actually a very darn good instructor and better pilot thus allowing him to fly the mission himself. And there will come an issue in which Maverick and Rooster have to let the past be the past and come together to move on and it will happen during the battle scenes. And Hangman, himself, will have to put his arrogance on the shelf and realize that he can kick butt in the sky while still working together with the rest of the team.
And there’s even the obligatory shirtless ball game scene. This time, instead of volleyball on the beach, they play dogfight football in the hazy sunset glow of the beach. There’s also a nice reunion between Maverick and Iceman who were rivals in the first movie before becoming friends at the end. The movie acknowledges that Kilmer’s battle with throat cancer that resulted in two trachetomies, which makes it hard for him to speak.
I commend the filmmakers with addressing this also with Iceman. Hearing how much his son, Jack, sounds like him in the 2021 documentary Val, the filmmakers could have dubbed his voice, like the ill-fated The Snowman. If anything else, seeing Maverick and Iceman together one last time is one of the movie’s highlights. I also commend the filmmakers for showing the actors with their masks mostly on during flight as other movies have them always talking with their masks off which has often been noted as not realistic.
What do you think? Please comment.