Approaching the sequel of a much-beloved and equally widely-derided cult classic naturally makes anyone nervous. The iconography of Tom Cruise’s seminal 1980s cult flick, Top Gun, is some of the most highly treasured around. Maverick, Goose and the rush of the engines are as ingrained into cinematic folklore as Indiana Jones’ whip and Luke Skywalker’s inappropriate sister-kissing. But how does Top Gun: Maverick deliver its decades-in-the-making encore?
Despite occasionally getting lost in its own need to prove Cruise’s Maverick is still the proverbial top gun, we perhaps spend too long reigniting his previous love affair. After countless mentions of how often he’s been dismissed and insubordinate, the need to add context to what is essentially a rip-roaring action movie can become a little draining. But, the truth is, Top Gun: Maverick hits so many notes, so quickly and with such ferocity, that an orchestral concoction of intrigue, cultdom and fast-paced, cinematic glory is hard to ignore. With cameos and homages coming out of its ears, even the bloke who carries the beer bottles behind the bar gets in on the action.
Miles Teller is the perfect downtrodden “rookie” Rooster. Despite being technically one of the best pilots in the world, as the son of Goose, he is given a tough ride. Of course, he is far more eccentrically loveable and charming than the outdated and cocksure Maverick, who relies only on the fact that he is somehow still the best pilot in the world as he approaches his bus pass age and his love interest Penny (a fun and playful Jennifer Connelly), to keep him in check.
This is where the fantastic script comes in, and Cruise works his magic to be a classically daring hero, suave love interest and striking pilot, all while placing his tongue firmly in his cheek. The one-liners stick, and Jon Hamm as Vice Admiral Cyclone — and to a minor degree, Ed Harris and Charles Parnell — play the perfect angry yet impressed authoritarians a film like this always needs. Special mention should also go to Glen Powell as the swollen-headed Hangman, so cocky that only a cockpit could attempt to contain his ego. The only perhaps sad inclusion is Val Kilmer. Having taken on the role of Ice Man in the first picture, his vastly reduced dialogue is a tragic reminder of his recent cancer battle.
An equally brilliant soundtrack from the wonderfully gifted Hans Zimmer and Lady Gaga draws on the original’s 1980s roots with a dad-rock-driving-compilation-album tackiness that perfectly partners with the storyline’s ridiculousness. ‘Danger Zone’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ make incredibly unsubtle yet still incredibly effective returns from the dead, while Gaga’s vocals on ‘Hold My Hand’ lift us up above the mountains with Maverick and Rooster.
Even though Hamm’s Vice Admiral Cyclone tells us “we need two miracles in the space of ten seconds”, and even though in our hearts we know Tom Cruise never dies, we’re allowed to fly close enough to the sun that, when we see half the squadron about to go up in flames, we truly think this could be the end of the rebellious pensioner and his band of merry pilots.
Top Gun: Maverick soars alongside its predecessor in an attack formation, firing so many missiles it guarantees to hit the dizzying heights of the original, not to mention an arsenal of homages and nods to the previous film that, despite sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, feel as joyful, comfortable and nostalgic as a Happy Meal. Of course, there are better, more refined burgers out there, but this one still has a habit of sticking to our ribs in just the right way.
Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it another Tom Cruise film where despite all odds, he refuses to die? Yes. The film itself is so finetuned that despite our entire mind, body and souls telling us the ending that awaits the run time, the film creates a sense of unknowing excitement that feels reminiscent of when that first toy plane is placed in our hands as children.
We’ve seen it a million times, yet Joseph Kosinski’s sublime storytelling tells us to expect the unexpected before delivering a ballistic blow of the expected, not once, not twice, but thrice. A welcomed delivery if ever we saw one.