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It has been some time since we saw a film like Top Gun: Maverick. From the lightening strike Jerry Bruckheimer Films logo at the start, to the closing music-backed character end credits cast roll call (ala Predator and Con Air), Top Gun Maverick simply drips with ‘80s and ‘90s charisma. “They don’t make ’em like that anymore” they always say…well, Tom Cruise does! And Tron Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski is only too happy to oblige in feeding our need, our need for a good old fashioned, hand-crafted, blockbuster.
The plot sees Maverick (Cruise) still refusing to move up the ranks, and instead opting to stay in the cockpit, constantly pushing the boundaries of flight and speed. One death defying act however lands him in trouble but instead of a wrap on the knuckles, he finds himself called back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (also known as U.S. Navy-Fighter Weapons School – aka, “Top Gun”), to train a group of younger pilots in preparation for a mission that may require the ultimate sacrifice. But Maverick’s return, sees the ace pilot have to confront some old fears and past regrets in the process.
Everything you have heard about Top Gun: Maverick does not do it justice. This is perfectly-tuned blockbuster cinema at its adrenaline-drenched best. A return to the action glory days and a story that celebrates this era without falling into some of the traps that many of ilk get caught in. Simply put, it is the ultimate in legacy sequels, as it not only hits the target but in fact leaves the original by far in the rear view, surpassing it entirely. It is that rare sequel that breathes Aliens or Terminator 2 air.
Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay never shies away from its formula but instead is proud to embrace its crowd pleasing tendencies, whilst also bringing a lot to the table on top. The story is a perfect harnessing of nostalgia to tell a modern, often poignant, story of a supportive and healthy – if flawed – group on what seems like an impossible mission (ahem). While also contemplating the acceptance of ageing and the defiance of letting your passions and callings slip away in the face of that unavoidable human fact of life. There is a soul that blasts out from beneath the fist-raising fun, as well as a very gentle and refreshingly connectable depiction of duty, friendship and romance.
The ageless Cruise is of course excellent in the lead role and defines himself as one of the last true movie stars but not selfish, allowing his younger fresher supporting cast to excel alongside him. The drama among this group – be it Cruise and Miles Teller’s driven “Rooster” and their unresolved past, or Glen Powell’s cool but egotistical “Hangman” and his conflicts with other members of the team – are compelling and deliver that throwback ensemble dynamite. While other cast members like Jennifer Connolly’s Penny, Lewis Pullman’s “Bob”, Monica Barbaro’s “Phoenix” and Jay Ellis’s “Payback”, cut some darn fine, heroic and funny moments of their own in this high flying picture.
Although one of the film’s best sequences is not even in the air but in a scene between original stars Cruise and Val Kilmer (back as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky). It is a moving and beautifully written moment, imbued with honesty and with a feeling of genuine love and reunion between both actors. And the kind of moments we rarely see, as the struggles and tragedies of real life are not ignored but instead accommodated by the power of moviemaking magic and Kilmer is sensational in what has to be a triumphant role for him.
Pretty much all involved bring their A-game. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is eyeball-widening, and the largely practical and impossibly dedicatedly delivered action sets a new bar. While the soundtrack is suitably rousing (though time will tell if it lingers in the annals of movie history as long as the original’s) from the combined talents of Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Lady Gaga. This audio visual thunder only makes such action fly that much higher. In fact, the film’s aerial aircraft sequences, to that point, are the best I have seen in movie history hands down and deliver an absorbing arm rest grabbing cinema experience that not only befits the big screen but demands to be seen and felt precisely this way.
Top Gun: Maverick is an essential silver screen thrill, which captures an era of craftsmanship in blockbuster filmmaking you didn’t quite realise just how much you missed. This was tip top summer blockbuster fare, that had you engrossed from the opening moments to the very end. It may well ruin mainstream movies for many, as it spoils us with the simple pleasures of a cast and crew’s hard work paying off in the biggest and best of ways. Being in the danger zone has never been such a thrill. Awesome…I want to see it again! As will you. Somewhere, the late great Tony Scott has one massive smile on his face.