You have to hand it to Tom Cruise. Who else, despite a constant clamor for a follow-up to one of his most popular films, would persuade his audience to wait 36 years (OK, it’s really 34 — the other two were down to COVID)? And who else would give us that rarest of beasts, a stratospheric sequel?
There couldn’t be a Top Gun part deux without Cruise. The way his name is incorporated into the film’s logo says it all. But he’s also assembled talents such as director Joseph Kosinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, with Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, a resurgent Miles Teller and Glen Powell, in what could be his breakout role, in front of the camera.
It adds up to just over two hours of pulsating, adrenalin-pumping entertainment, packed to bursting point with spectacle, emotion, nostalgia and just a tweak of humor.
Top Gun: Maverick takes place some 30 years after the events of the original and Maverick has been constantly dodging promotion so he can do what he loves most — fly planes. He’s about to be grounded for good when he’s sent back to Top Gun to train a group of brilliant pilots for a top-secret mission — dare we say an impossible one? — that will be the ultimate test of their skills. It’s also a return that allows him to put his past to rest.
Creating a worthy sequel to a near-legendary film can be a minefield. And when that movie was released over a generation ago, the stakes are even higher. It has to appeal to the fans of the original, who have loved it for years and can quote it verbatim. They’ll settle for nothing less than a tribute to their favorite which also re-creates something close to that first delicious excitement from way back. But it also has to bring in a whole new audience, one which has probably seen the original but doesn’t have the same personal history. They need a film of their own, allowing them to discover and experience the story, and their expectations are just as high.
For Top Gun: Maverick, that means spinning multiple plates for over two hours, all at top speed. The first half of the film has its eye on Top Gun fans, with the past controlling the action. Military aircraft silhouetted against a burnt orange sky, the retro rock soundtrack — yes, including Danger Zone — personal rivalries, the flying sequences and even a 2022 version of that muscular beach volleyball game, only this time it’s football. They’re all there. Down on the ground, there are personal loose ends for Maverick to tie up, with Val Kilmer’s return as Iceman providing a constant and stabilizing influence.
The new generation is gifted the hot shots trained by Maverick for the mission that takes up the film’s second half. One comes laden with a large chunk of his history — Bradley Bradshaw, aka Rooster (Teller), son of Goose, Maverick’s partner in the first film.
As is the custom, the pilots are all known by their call signs. Hangman (Powell) is no team player, hence the moniker — he hangs everybody out to dry. There’s Payback, Fanboy, Coyote and their commanding officer, Jon Hamm, who is known as Cyclone. But, in truth, the second half is all about the extraordinary aerial sequences.
For its day, the aerobatics in the original set a new standard. What this film gives us is simply out of this world, with the cast experiencing ferocious G forces in scenes that will have your jaw hitting your knees and your knuckles turning white all at the same time. Add to that, emotions run high as we’re allowed to believe that a vital member of the crew could pay the ultimate price. The tension is almost unbearable, the action vertigo-inducing and the experience is everything you’d expect from something filmed in IMAX. Ideally, that’s where you should see it. Or on the biggest screen possible.
Like its pilots, and especially their leader, Top Gun: Maverick has joined the elite — sequels that both surpass their predecessors yet pay tribute to them. Follow-ups are a regular part of our cinematic diet but now we have the game-changer we’ve been waiting for. This is how it’s done.
Top Gun: Maverick releases in movie theaters worldwide on Wednesday, May 25. Tickets are now on sale.