If anything can be said about Tom Cruise, it is that he is certainly dedicated to his craft of filmmaking and Top Gun: Maverick represents his crowning achievement; returning to a beloved film and character to create a new entry that is not only more ambitious but manages to improve upon its predecessor.
36 years after the massive success of the original film, Top Gun: Maverick places Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell back in the pilot seat as he trains a new batch of recruits for a dangerous mission that would push the limits of even the most seasoned of flyer. Maverick is still very much Maverick as he tests the limits of an experimental aircraft that lands him in hot water with a very pissed off Admiral from the Pentagon played by Ed Harris who should just play every pissed off Admiral or General until he dies. However, thanks to the intervention of his old frenemy Iceman, Maverick is back at the Top Gun Academy and the new pilots are introduced in rapid succession.
Hangman, Phoenix, Fanboy, Omaha, Payback, Fritz, Hondo, Harvard, Yale, Halo and Bob are all recent Top Gun graduates who Command believes are capable of pulling off this new mission. Also among these recruits is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of the deceased Goose who was Maverick’s Rader Intercept Officer who died in the first film due to an unfortunate accident. While Maverick was cleared of any fault, he has spent the better part of 30 years blaming himself for his best friend’s death and doing whatever he can to protect Rooster. In an effort to prevent Rooster from flying, Maverick promised Rooster’s mother that he would pull his application to the Naval Academy thereby delaying his career by several years. Goose’s death still weighs heavily on Rooster as he is routinely criticized by Hangman for being too cautious in his flying.
One of the themes of Top Gun: Maverick is mortality. Maverick understands the danger of this mission and even has to contemplate the fact that one of his pilots may die during combat. Maverick also is coming to the realization that his flying days may be numbered and will need to spend his time on the ground. His continued refusals to be promoted have kept him in the air but he is reckless and his mistakes are coming back to eventually ground him. This contemplation has also led him back to the arms of a former girlfriend, Penny, who now owns the local watering hole for the Top Gun Academy. Her tolerance for Maverick’s antics is at an absolute minimum but she cannot deny her feelings for him as they rekindle their romance.
In addition to Maverick’s struggle is the presence of Iceman played by actor Val Kilmer. In an instance of art imitating life, Iceman has developed cancer and is close to dying as he invites Maverick into his home for one last talk. Maverick is reminded that he truly is the best and is the most qualified person to teach these pilots. Iceman urges Maverick to let go of the guilt he has placed on himself for Goose’s death as well as letting go of his fear to be a teacher and lead pilots on a mission that may kill them. Iceman passes away shortly after this meeting as Maverick finally gains the strength to show his commanding officers and pilots that their mission even with the impossible parameters is entirely possible.
Top Gun: Maverick places the audience directly in the cockpit of F-18 fights in some of the finest camera work ever in a film. Director of Photography Claudio Miranda is practically a lock to receive a nomination for the Best Cinematography Oscar at some point next year. In addition to being up close and personal with the actors in the planes, the choreography of the aircraft is perfect and features little to no CGI in both the training sequences and the climatic mission. The initial training montage set to The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is both amusing and entertaining as Maverick still proves to the young guns that there is a reason he is teaching them. Also, this use of a song from The Who is probably the best use outside of a CSI series.
As the film progresses and Maverick has selected his crew for the mission, the film showcases one of the most entertaining climaxes of any Tom Cruise blockbuster. While Maverick and his team succeed, he and Rooster are both shot down in enemy territory and are forced to work together to escape. Their idea, terrible as it is, is to commandeer a F-14 belonging to the enemy and attempt to evade fifth generation fighters and return home. Maverick even prepares to sacrifice himself just to save Rooster but Hangman arrives just in time to save the day.
Top Gun: Maverick is the rare summer blockbuster that features surprising emotional depth combined with incredible spectacle. The homages to the original are present but is not distracting to the point of detracting from the main story which makes a viewing of the original film unnecessary as Maverick hits on the important points via archive video and images. It is a film that is worthy of being viewed in the highest format so do not wait to see this impressive blockbuster.