Buckle your seatbelt. Top Gun: Maverick is about to hit large format screens and soar into the cinematic stratosphere.
Was it worth the wait? The answer is, hell yes!
If you were fueled by the adrenaline rush of the original Top Gun (1986) multiply it by a factor of Mach 10 and you’ll have a rough idea of what to expect.
Granted, I had my doubts when this Top Gun sequel was announced; particularly when I heard that Cruise was starring in it, reprising his role as Maverick. He seemed too old. But then it was leaked that he would be back as an aging flight instructor this time around and I immediately thought it would be too boring.
Without going further, Cruise is back with a vengeance. The need for speed still drives him to greater challenges and greater heights.
In a scene robbed straight out of The Right Stuff (1983) the movie opens with Cruise commandeering an advanced aircraft and taking it for an unauthorized rocket ride in order to prove that the plane and pilot can reach and survive Mach 10.
In The Right Stuff, famed test pilot Chuck Yeager (played by Sam Shepard) pulls a similar stunt, pushing the experimental aircraft to the limits only to lose power and flat spin into the desert below. After an ambulance is dispatched to site, he is seen, burned and charred, heroically walking away from the burning wreckage.
In Cruise’s version, following the crash, a slightly charred Maverick walks to a diner, asks for a glass of water and is mistaken by a young boy as a being from outer space.
Normally, I’d bust a movie for this kind of plagiarism from such a classic movie. Here, it works.
Just about everything works in Top Gun: Maverick, starting with a solid script that somehow makes you believe that an aging, hot shot pilot can be called back into active duty and then into dangerous aerial combat in what appears to be the most suicidal-- I’m tempted to say impossible--mission ever conceived. But you buy it.
Fans of the original Top Gun will love the tie-in to the original storyline and characters. By now, the trailers have revealed that Maverick has to confront the pain of his past when he encounters “Goose” Bradley’s son.
Maverick’s new love interest is barmaid and former girlfriend Penny Benjamin (played, to perfection, by Jennifer Connelly). She gets it just right.
The supporting cast has evolved from the sweaty hunk,white boys club, to a more diverse group that reflects the times in terms of ethnicity and gender.
Things have changed. Maverick has ditched his heavy leather WWII bomber jacket from the first film for a cooler nylon version with all the sexy patches. He still rides his motorcycle at breakneck speeds (while not wearing a helmet) and still looks good in a military issue white t-shirt. He apparently never let his gym membership expire.
Another thing that has changed—dramatically—is the moviemaking technology used to shoot action movies like Top Gun. Granted, the late Tony Scot’s version had the best effects shots that Hollywood could create, back then. As good as they were, they look dated compared to the visceral, heart-pounding sequences that abound in this updating.
They look real, in every sense. The cameras mounted in the F-18 cockpits show real people in real fighter jets. You can almost feel the thrust and G-force they experience.
The bone-crunching sound effects round out the immersive impact. You’ll want to see and hear this movie on the biggest screen you can find and experience it in its full power and glory.
Thankfully, Cruise and the studio refused to release this movie on pay-per-view channels or streaming services during the pandemic, despite enormous pressure to do so. It was the right call.
Top Gun: Maverick does what sequels rarely do—raise the bar and top the movie that came before. That’s particularly difficult to do when the original is such a beloved classic.
In addition to the dazzle of digital cameras and special effects, Top Gun: Maverick connects with the heart and soul of the original, reconnecting with key characters and relationships. Of particular note is the return of Maverick’s nemesis, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer) who has risen from cocky flyboy to the rank of Admiral. It’s a warm, sentimental touch, considering Val Kilmer’s life and health off-screen in recent years.
Look for Top Gun: Maverick to climb to the very top of the box office charts in the weeks ahead. It has challenged the popularity and success of its predecessor and blasted its way to new, dizzying heights.
Top Gun: Maverick opens in theaters May 27.
Scott Garfield © 2019 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.