Nostalgia wins this year as Top Gun: Maverick will have audiences soaring into the Danger Zone with the Tom Cruise film finally opening.
“Don’t think, just do.”
When you’re up in the air, you do not have anytime to think. It’s similar to Yoda’s Star Wars mantra when it comes to “Do or do not, there is no try.” It’s this mantra in the film that comes down to life or death decisions. One wrong move and you could be dead in a moment.
Tom Cruise is an actor/producer who is always testing his limits. This sequel comes as no exception. I mean, here is an actor who insists on undergoing full ASTC (Aviation Survival Training Curriculum) prior to production. How many other actors would do this? Not many, I assume–because most of them would probably be dependent on a stunt double to do the flying. Cruise is an old-school movie star in a lot of ways. Someone else could get away with doing green screen but not Cruise. He’s the type to require camera rigs while he’s up in the air in the highway to the Danger Zone. I give Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson credit for taking a young Tom Cruise under their wings when they were making the first Top Gun. This film doesn’t happen without them or Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski stepping up to the plate.
Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has devoted his life to the Navy and the results show. At the time we see him on screen for the first time, he’s one of the top aviators in the Navy. However, not everyone is a fan of how he approaches the job. He’s a test pilot and always one to test limits. Right when one expects him to be grounded or discharged, Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) orders him to TOPGUN. This time around, it’s to train the best of the best graduates for a mission that nobody has ever seen before. It’s on him to make sure the recruits have what it takes to survive and not get killed in action. One of those recruits just happens to be Goose’s son, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Teller also nails the role.
Only Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer reprise their roles from Top Gun. However, there are other moments in which we see flashbacks from the 1985 movie. Mostly, these are emotional moments that also get at the relationship between Maverick and Rooster. Rooster still harbors some feelings towards Maverick because of Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw’s death. The wingman plays a major role in the film’s themes. Goose’s death is a tragedy that still haunts Maverick and also leads to emotional flashbacks. Given his health issues, I was curious to see how Kilmer would approach the role but they give him a solid and emotional arc. There’s an emotional moment between Maverick and Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and of course, they throw in a good laugh line, too.
There’s no shortage of comments about how Maverick is not an admiral or even a U.S. Senator at this point in his life. I mean, right?!? The guy could be doing ANYTHING he wants and yet, he’s stuck at the captain rank with no advancement and serving as a test pilot. It’s funny though. Even though it’s been 35 years, we get all sorts of backstory throughout the film for what transpires in between the two movies.
Neither Kelly McGillis nor Meg Ryan return for the sequel. They appear via flashbacks but the admiral’s daughter, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), is physically on camera this time around as Maverick’s love interest. Penny now owns The Hard Deck bar and scenes help to fill in the gap in backstory. It turns out they’ve been on again, off again for a number of years. Could this time around be time when it comes on again once more?
Goose (Anthony Edwards) might not be alive but he haunts the entire film. Not only Maverick but Rooster, too. His death was traumatizing for filmgoers back in 1985 but it forms a bit of the backbone for this film. There’s conflict between Maverick and Rooster when they first see each other but I’ll let you find out in the theater. Other than this, Teller is absolutely perfect. He even manages to outdo Edwards when it comes to playing piano while singing “Great Balls of Fire.” It’s one of the most emotional scenes of the entire film but I couldn’t imagine this film without the scene in particular. It’s best to watch Top Gun before seeing the movie but in case you don’t, they have a great way of introducing Goose in the film. “Talk to me, Goose.”
Let’s discuss the visuals and action. They are nothing short of phenomenal. Per Bruckheimer, all “actors are actually in the cockpits of the F/A-18s in flight, acting and speaking their lines of dialogue.” This is the type of authenticity that could only happen because of Tom Cruise. Sure, I don’t envy this cast but that’s the type of work that a film of this nature requires. It pays off when we’re watching it on the big screen. The visuals and sound are phenomenal in the Dolby Atmos theater. I can only imagine what it would be like in IMAX. Of course, a downside is that the engines are so loud that there are times when you can’t hear the amazing music accompanying the frame. The picture itself features sequences that pay homage to what Tony Scott did before. You couldn’t write it better if you tried!
I cannot say enough about the cinematography from Claudio Miranda. There are no fewer than six cameras on each flight. This is on top of all of the ground-to-air filming. And again, there’s no way to capture this by way of CGI. You have to have real actors flying up there because they can’t just fake the sort of things that happen when you’re flying at super fast speeds. Oh, you could try alright but it wouldn’t be the same. There are times when CGI just cannot replace the real thing. This is one of those times! On top of this, you have a film crew coordinating with the Navy in order to get the production in the can.
Harold Faltermeyer returns to help score the film. Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, and Lady Gaga also join in on the fun. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without all the cool songs on the jukebox. Many of them are classic songs and of course, Kenny Loggins is back with “Danger Zone.” Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” is a song that plays late in the film and it’s a bonafide Oscar contender.
“It’s not what I am. It’s who I am.”
The hype for this one is real because Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best pictures of the year. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking but I could see this one getting several Oscar nominations. I can tell right now that unless something changes, Tom Cruise will be on all of my nomination ballots for Best Actor in a Leading Role during awards season. If this is the final Top Gun movie that we get, it’s one hell of a film. Tony Scott z’l would be proud.
DIRECTOR: Joseph Kosinski
SCREENWRITERS: Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie
CAST: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis, with Ed Harris and Val Kilmer
Paramount will release Top Gun: Maverick in theaters on May 27, 2022. Grade: 5/5
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