Top Gun is considered by many to be a staple of the 1980s action era, bringing cheesy 80s feels and thrilling action. Studios considered making a sequel but Tom Cruise wouldn’t return unless the story was great. Fast forward 36 years and we now have the long-awaited sequel that was supposed to come out before the pandemic pushed it back indefinitely.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (played by Tom Cruise) is a part of a dying breed of aviation pilots, constantly being threatened with replacement by unmanned drones. But he is ordered back to his old stomping grounds to help teach a group of the best pilots for an aviation mission by his former nemesis-turned-friend Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer); which just so happens to include Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), the son of his deceased wingman and best friend. Now Maverick must reconcile with the sins of the past while pushing forward with a dangerous mission that could cost him his life.
If you were coming into this film expecting the same cheesy action flick like the first Top Gun, you would be sorely mistaken. The overall tone and story of Top Gun Maverick is more melancholic and intense than I anticipated. Yes, there are dog fighting and training sequences that are definitely in the realm for a Top Gun film but it would have been lazy to be banking off of the flight scenes alone; for which I am glad they do not. The driving force of the story is the conflict between Rooster and Maverick as they come to terms with the past, and while it would have made sense to have Rooster blame Maverick for his father’s death, they do not go that route. Instead, the film takes a more personal and nuanced approach by having Maverick pulled out of the Naval Academy, dodging a cliche of sequel writing.
But damn, the performances given in this film are just phenomenal. Cruise possibly gave his best performance ever as Maverick! I know right?! He brings Maverick’s signature cockiness, but this time matches it with compassion that was arguably not present in the first film. Miles Teller is a fantastic foil to Cruise as well, and he was a good casting choice as he looks nearly identical to Goose’s actor, Anthony Edwards. Rooster is the opposite of Maverick in every way and the amount of resentment towards his surrogate father figure is both palpable and understandable. But I can’t write this review without mentioning Val Kilmer’s return as Iceman. He may have been on screen for only a few minutes, but he owned the screen with just his facial expressions. The amount of respect and admiration he has for his friend can be seen in his eyes, and it will leave you in tears as both of them interact.
Of course it would not be a Top Gun film without some jet-on-jet action. This not only elevates the action from the first film but it really keeps you on the edge of your seat, putting you in the cockpit with the other actors. Before I proceed further, I would like to mention that many of the actors, Cruise included, actually flew in these fighter jets themselves. These ingenious stunt sequences lead to what I have to say are some of the most realistic and suspenseful sequences I have ever seen! They also lead to some brilliant cinematography as well; beautiful shots of the bright blue sky to the claustrophobic nature of the cockpit. It was something to behold.
Top Gun Maverick is not just a great sequel to a classic 80s film, but one of the best sequels to ever be produced, arguably up there with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Phenomenal acting by the entire cast, gives tremendous weight to the atmospheric melancholy. And the action sequences are the best of the best, with gorgeous cinematography to help feel the dire and tense nature of a fighter pilot. Top Gun may have been entertaining with its cheesy popcorn action, but Top Gun Maverick brings more humanity and intensity than the first to make it possibly one of the best films of the year.