It’s been over 30 years sine Top Gun arrived in cinemas and made a superstar of a very young Tom Cruise. Tony Scott was the director, and the pair were single-handedly responsible for a phenomenal rise in recruitment at the US Navy. The original film is full of 80s cheese and soft-rock anthems, but it still hits today. Now, Cruise is back, and is again working alongside director Joseph Kosinski – the two previously worked on the underrated Oblivion, and they have created the best summer blockbuster of the year and one of the most exhilarating action films in years.
Top Gun: Maverick opens in a typically amazing fashion. The opening text details that the best of the best from the US Navy go to Top Gun, just like it did back in 1986. The shot of a sun drenched aircraft carrier shimmers in the ocean while Harold Faltermeyer’s “Top Gun anthem” plays, before hitting the afterburners and the Kenny Loggins banger “Danger Zone” kicks in and you can feel the pulses rising in the audience. This is cinema at its peak.
Despite maturing by the end of Top Gun, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is still a Captain who never made it as an instructor, and is now a test pilot for revolutionary aircraft and who may soon be out of a job. But we know this won’t last long. A tense encounter with Ed Harris’ Rear Admiral Cain brings the not so cocky anymore pilot down to earth, before Maverick is told he is going back to Top Gun at the request of Admiral Kazansky, aka Iceman, to teach a new bunch of hot, young recruits. Their mission this time, is not just to graduate from Top Gun but to take down a newly found uranium plant that will become operational within three weeks. The enemy, as in 1986, remains both faceless and nameless, with the focus on Maverick and his team and how they will overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
As with many recent blockbusters, there is an element of steering close to the original film ala The Force Awakens, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Matrix Resurrections. But Top Gun: Maverick avoids being overly sentimental, and in many ways it actually improves on its predecessor. It may seem trite, but this is a better film than the original. It’s more emotional, it’s smarter and it’s funnier than Top Gun. There are moments here that will make your lip tremble, here’s looking at you Iceman cameo, and there are moments that will make you want to cheer and applaud at the screen. Rarely does a film so genuinely make you want to punch the air. For all the hollering during several recent Marvel efforts where it felt like people were doing it because they felt they had to, this feels real and more authentic. It’s an absolute joy of a film and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Top Gun: Maverick fills the screen with new characters, who all have excellent call signs by the way. Jon Hamm as Vice Admiral “Cyclone” reminds us all that he should be in more films, while Glen Powell is having the most fun of anyone here playing “Hangman”and has the swagger to match both Maverick and Iceman back in their day. Miles Teller adds an emotional level as “Rooster” and the son of the first films Goose. Rooster clearly hasn’t forgiven Maverick for the death of his father, and resents him further because Maverick pulled his application to the Naval Academy. Monica Barbaro represents the only female on the team, but her “Phoenix” still remains memorable even if she is given relatively little to do. Gone is Kelly McGillis’ love interest Charlie, and is replaced by Jennifer Connelly’s Penny. Penny and Maverick have a history and the bar she now runs is where the Top Gun pilots go to blow off steam. In a rare feat for a blockbuster, Connelly and Cruise actually share chemistry with each other and you believe they are attracted to one another. It works really well, and alongside Rooster, it gives Maverick another reason for sticking around.
Director Joseph Kosinski has been making good films for a while now, and it feels like his efforts have gone under the radar. Tron: Legacy, Oblivion and Only the Brave have all showcased his ability to craft gorgeous looking films and add some much needed heart to them. He does the same here, and with cinematographer Claudio Miranda, they have given us some of the most breathtaking action scenes in a long time. We know the actors are in those jets, even if it is briefly, and sure some of it may have been done with CGI but there’s a real sense of danger here and every scene looks and feels believable. Kosinski has dialled the action up to 11, and the final act puts Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission: Impossible Fallout to shame. It’s character driven action, and by the time our heroes are in the air you really do hope they all come home.
I don’t know if it’s perfect, what is? Some may argue it flies too close to the original. It doesn’t. But this is pure adrenaline filled popcorn cinema at its best. Top Gun: Maverick restores your faith in cinema and is simply a joy to behold.
Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas from 27 May in the UK.