I was never a massive fan of Top Gun. I admired the cinematography and the flight scenes but felt the whole thing was an impressive advert for Ray-Bans, leather jackets and joining the US Navy. The late Tony Scott worked for years in advertising, and so this was a film right up his street, never having to focus on story or character development. Now, 36 years later, we return to the elite flying corps of the Navy with loads of the same, but this time, someone decided to add the elements sorely missing from the first film. The result is an exhilarating, emotional blockbuster that harks back to when summer movies were special.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has been a pilot for over thirty years but never rose above the rank of Captain, thanks to his disregard for the rules. Testing planes in the desert, he is suddenly called back to return to Top Gun, on orders from his former ally, The Iceman. Maverick must train a group of new hotshot pilots for a dangerous mission, yet can he control his rule-breaking and is his relationship with Rooster, the son of Maverick’s former partner, Goose, getting in the way.
Starting the strains of Harold Faltermeyer’s Top Gun theme, then moving effortlessly into Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone, while the visuals are of planes taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, we are back into 1986, and immediately, the sense of dejavu fills the air. Yet director Joseph Kosinski may be throwing us back to the former movie, but these moments, and a few, are there for the fans. We get Maverick driving his motorbike down the runway while a plane takes off, and we get the beach games that made the original a homoerotic classic. All these moments are there for us to not forget where this character came from but then it moves into the new.
The film kicks off with Maverick in the Majovi Desert pushing the limits of speed by test piloting a plane to Mach 10, breaking all the rules for taking the plane up when the test had been shut down. Instead of being thrown out of the Navy, Maverick returns to his old stomping ground, this time as a teacher to a new batch of Top Gun pilots, a mixed bag of characters including the ego, the tough female and the outcast. With a deadly mission ahead of them, Maverick has to deal with his own power struggles, as well as the son of his former friend, a young man who resents Maverick for ruining his chances of being a Top Gun pilot earlier.
The flying sequences are, once again, amazing. In a time of computer generated effects, it’s great to see live action with the cast in the pilot seats, with cameras pointing at their faces as they zoom around the skies. The slow build-up to the mission works well, as Maverick jumps into a plane to test his new students by playing mini dog fights, all of which he outsmart even the more arrogant pilots. The final half of the film, the tension is upped as the team head to take on this mission for real and the ante is their lives. It has a sense of the final battle in Star Wars, with the area for the pilots to drop their bombs similar to that of the Death Star.
The film also has plenty of emotional depth this time, particularly between Maverick and Rooster, who cannot forgive the teacher of what happened in their past. There is also an incredibly powerful scene in which Maverick meets his former pilot Iceman, a scene that is both touching and deeply sad.
The cast are terrific, with the young actors taking on the new Top Gun team with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. Jennifer Connelly, taking the role of the love interest after Kelly McGillis wasn’t even asked to return, is given little to do, while the short cameo from Val Kilmer will be one of the film’s most memorable moments. Miles Teller, as Rooster, is perfectly cast as there is an uncanny resemblance to Anthony Edwards, who played Goose in the original.
This, however, is a Tom Cruise film and he doesn’t disappoint. For a man nearly 60 this year, he looks like he hasn’t aged whatsoever. He still has the swagger, the poise and the attitude of a young hot shot, yet he commands every scene he is in. Not forgetting that he is actually flying the plane. You can understand why he is one of the last great movie stars.
Top Gun: Maverick is a blast from start to finish. A throw-back to an era long gone that deserves to return. A film with surprising heart and soul, as well as scenes that will, as the song from Tony Scott’s film suggested, will take your breath away. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, John Hamm, Val Kilmer, Ed Harris, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman.
Written by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, (story) Peter Craig, Justin Marks, (based on characters created) Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 27th May 2022