To start off, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the 1986 Top Gun. I always had watched the opening sequence growing up, but never had the chance to sit down and watch the whole movie. I knew the basics of the plot and its cultural impact, but no real investment or emotional attachment to the first film. So going into Top Gun: Maverick, I didn’t know what to expect other than some cool aerial dog fights and Tom Cruise doing his thing. After seeing the film, I can honestly say it was one of the most entertaining, refreshing, and exhilarating movie experiences I can remember in recent years. The film is surprisingly better than it had any right to be, and avoids many of the common pitfalls of sequels from classic movies in the 1980s. It retains a core identity, keeps the plot simple, delivers fantastic and tense aerial sequences, and mixes in some heart and emotion to make this one of the best films of 2022.
After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.
Tom Cruise has still got it after all these years and between the Mission Impossible franchise, Edge of Tomorrow, and now Top Gun: Maverick he has built a repertoire of delivering memorable action movies. While he is in on the action, seeing him as an instructor was an interesting dynamic. He pushes the recruits, challenges them to think differently, and even has to confront past mistakes when confronted with the son of his former wingman and all of it was entertaining to watch unfold. There’s a strong family dynamic as you see Maverick try to whip the recruits into shape while also trying to prepare them well for an impossible mission. Seeing him be a leader that leads from the middle was a smart choice, especially as he comes into conflict with other characters.
The relationship between Maverick and Miles Teller’s Rooster also added some stakes and complexity to the mission. Rooster is the son of Maverick’s friend Goose who Maverick feels responsible for his death. Teller and Cruise’s dynamic works excellent in the film as you feel the weight of responsibility on Maverick’s shoulders to not repeat mistakes in the past while also plight of Rooster to prove that he’s capable of being an excellent pilot. Seeing them clash while also needing to come together for the mission provided real weight and intensity to the story without being too derivative.
The film has the spirit of the 1980’s in its DNA, but never falls on nostalgia bait to invest the audience. You have your tense action sequences, beach time shirtless volleyball/football games, and love interests to remind you of the flavor of the first film, but it never tries to cash in on callbacks and cameos to flesh out its story. You have small flashbacks to clue you in on key story elements, and a fun intro that reminds you of the nature of Top Gun but its more invested in on Maverick, the recruits, and the synergy they have together to take on this mission. The cameos and flashbacks all seek to be in service of that central story, which helps set Top Gun: Maverick apart from other sequels that rinse and repeat the same story and beats to get your money. This movie earns its way in standing separate from the pack.
The absolute best part of the film is the aviation and dog fighting sequences. The team behind the film went through extreme efforts to make the aviation sequences feel authentic and exhilarating, and the attention to detail is particularly evident. You feel as if you are in the cockpit with the characters making it feel all the more dangerous and alive seeing those sequences play out. When the team is training for their mission, it feels adventurous being in the air with them and how exhilarating it can be. This is a movie that was made for the movie theaters, and I cannot stress how much you need to see it on the big screen as opposed to a streaming service. Having these sequences filmed live and the extra time they took to make it feel real adds to the climbing tension and stakes the story puts in.
The mission seems impossible and improbable for this team to complete, and as you watch this team train and band together you can’t help but root for the underdog. The film slowly builds its stakes and momentum, getting you to be more and more on the edge of your seat by the time the third act rolls around. The tension mounts to all time high as everything plays out unexpectedly, and seeing them adapt and move against the insurmountable odds added to the intensity and exhilaration of classic action film. You never truly know how the plot is going to play out, making it an excellent movie going experience that plays with your adrenaline and takes your breath away in more ways than one.
The film also has a surprising amount of heart, and by the time it concluded I didn’t even realize how emotionally invested I was in the characters and story. Between the synergy of Maverick with his team, the relationship between Maverick and Rooster, the ghosts of Maverick’s past, and the burgeoning will they won’t they romantic relationship of Maverick with Jennifer Connelly’s character, there’s a surprising amount of emotional weight to the story. As someone who didn’t have a strong attachment to the first film, it was very easy to get drawn into the characters and story and still feel all the proper beats the director was going for.
They don’t make films like this anymore, and Top Gun: Maverick stands amongst the pack of delivering a simple story of a team going up impossible odds and the journey of fighting for something bigger than yourself. It doesn’t try to be overly complex with its characters, have a mind bending message, or cash in on nostalgia,. Top Gun: Maverick is a classic action fueled, heart warming underdog story that reminisces about the 1980’s while being an exhilarating film for the 2020’s. I absolutely loved this film, and I hope I get the chance to see this amazing theater experience once more.
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