For me, seeing Top Gun: Maverick is about nostalgia fulfillment, and that couldn’t be any more fun for a child of the 80s. I remember when my uncle installed a “home theatre” projection and sound setup in his basement, and the first movie he wanted to test the experience with was Top Gun. “I hope the F-14s blast us off the couch,” he said. They did not disappoint.
The roaring jet engines, Tom Cruise’s bad boy smirk, and Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” soundtrack epitomized American 80s glory to patriotic highs and parodic lows. Was the original Top Gun just sweaty-pec machismo unleashed or valid entertainment? I think it was both, and some of its dated aspects solidify its spot as a time-capsuled classic.
Top Gun: Maverick will leave less of an impact down the road, but it’s a worthy sequel, respectfully paying homage to its predecessor while capturing the daunting possibilities of g-force in today’s aircraft. The trip down memory lane might even draw a few tough guy tears amidst the action.
After 30 years of test pilot service and dodging rank progression, Maverick is challenged by his uppers to train a new squadron of fighter pilots, including Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Maverick’s late best friend, “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards of the original Top Gun). The setup is straightforward and provides Maverick and the audience the opportunity to face traumatic trials of the past while also wrestling with the self-satisfied millennials of the future. Add a “destroy-the-huge-uranium-bunker” mission, and you’re in for a Dolby-surrounded, aerial-simulated explosion.
Director Joseph Kosinski effectively captures the lightning speed and vertigo of the dogfights, and with Hans Zimmer’s orchestration, Harold Faltermeyer’s familiar score motif produces the necessary, sentimental chills. Refreshingly, the addition of the female fighter pilot, Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), tempers some of the male bravado comebacks.
Although I missed the Charlie (Kelly McGillis) romance storyline and Meg Ryan’s energy from the original, I can understand how a more postmodern approach simply cannot reconnect all the dots from 1986 in a 130-minute movie. The good news is that Val Kilmer’s “Iceman” is back, and without giving anything away, his role in the movie ends up being more endearing and nostalgically pleasing than expected. And, I still have to hand it to Mr. Cruise: Where I cannot condone his off-screen antics, I commend him for his work ethic and consistent physical and mental commitment to every project he’s in. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he draws in a level-headed empathy in this one.
Overall, Top Gun: Maverick checks all the necessary boxes for summer blockbuster movie fandom. More importantly, Maverick soars above the typical cinematic “retread” label and reminds us of why we have sequels in the first place.
**** out of *****