Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
Run Time: 130 mins
Top Gun: Maverick is the long-awaited sequel to the late Tony Scott’s 1982 original, a film which quite literally propelled Tom Cruise’s career. Very much a product of its time in its tone and treatment of women, while the action sequences are admirable and Cruise’s performance is earnest, I can’t say I’m a big advocate of the original. This sequel is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who most recently directed the excellent forest-fire action drama Only The Brave and he reunites with some of the cast and crew such as Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and cinematographer Claudio Miranda.
Cruise returns as the titular Maverick, whose career has stalled thirty years later at the Captain rank after graduating from TOPGUN, due to repeat insubordination. Fellow TOPGUN rival and friend Iceman (Val Kilmer) has kept Maverick’s career afloat.
Maverick is drafted in to tutor current TOPGUN students and to lead them on a mission to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant. It relies on two miracles as it sits at a low altitude in a canyon. They have two chances to shoot at the target that lies in the canyon and to then escape, they have to fly up a steep bank where the pilots will experience forces in excess of 9.5G’s. The mission is further compounded by the fact they have to achieve all of this in the space of two and a half minutes.
Maverick is uneasy with the assignment firstly due to its complexity but chiefly, as one of the test pilots in the group is Rooster (Miles Teller), son of Goose who was famously cooked in the first film. Maverick feels responsible for Goose’s death and both Maverick and Rooster share disdain for each other.
Top Gun: Maverick is a surprisingly good film and is vastly superior to the original. While its story is familiar and fairly predictable, it is significantly more coherent and focussed with a singular narrative to achieve this specific mission. Tony Scott’s original wrangled in different directions and its climax sequence felt tacked on and unearned.
The flight sequences are particularly excellent and are nail-biting in moments. It has the precision of Mission: Impossible director Christopher McQuarrie who co-writes and produces the film.
I’ve long been a critic of Tom Cruise and I’d argue he has far more misses than hits. Cruise’s performance works here as he plays an older and jaded instructor, whose ego and arrogance have been somewhat tarnished by his experiences. Miles Teller is reliably excellent as Rooster but there isn’t quite as much meat to the bone to the tumultuous relationship between him and Maverick as there could have been. There is a poignant scene with Val Kilmer, who returns as Iceman to offer his advice to Maverick and his voice is recreated using archival footage, after Kilmer lost his voice following throat cancer.
Jennifer Connelly is rather wasted in a mundane role as Cruise’s love interest – like the original, Kosinski mostly fails with the treatment of women, although that said, Monica Barbaro as a courageous test pilot is excellent.
The score by Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer fits in well with the film, although it isn’t particularly memorable. The composers continue the theme of pop music interspersed with an original score and they reuse Kenny Loggins’ iconic Danger Zone. The film is richly shot by Claudio Miranda, who is particularly adept with the action sequences where he doesn’t resort to frenetic quick cuts.
Top Gun: Maverick is an excellent action sequel that improves on the original in almost every way. The flight sequences are thrilling and the story thrives in its simplicity. Kosinski wisely finds the right balance between relying on nostalgia and creating an original piece. It’s not quite the action masterpiece that some are claiming it to be though – it’s not as radical a piece as George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which was essentially an entire film of rip-roaring action, and it doesn’t pack many narrative twists up its sleeve. But it doesn’t need to be. For Top Gun: Maverick to be an improvement on the original is a miracle in and of itself and I’m glad it exists.