Top Gun is back, and all is right in the world. Well, maybe not all. Maverick still has problems, as he did three decades ago, and people like Iceman still want to see him crash and burn. But for moviegoers who cherish the 1986 original that introduced Tom Cruise as Maverick and Kenny Loggins as badass, the good news is that writer-director Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick is a formidable sequel, roaring into theaters with 140 decibels of delight.
If fans are hesitant to accept another Top Gun movie with open arms, it’s to be expected. It’s hard to imagine this being anything more than an attempt to profit off our love for Tony Scott’s original, or our affection for Maverick, Goose and Iceman. But there’s plenty of new stuff here – new characters, new locations – that mesh perfectly with the OG’s mixture of steamy dialogue, epic action sequences and shirtless pilots who seem less suited for the Navy than they are for a Calvin Klein ad.
It’s been 36 years since Jerry Bruckheimer made his mark as a blockbuster producer with the first film, and his crowd-pleasing sensibilities are on display here. Bruckheimer’s resume includes two other sequels, Bad Boys 2 and National Treasure 2 (his more recent projects were stand-alone entries) and his skill with follow-up films is evident. Though most sequels focus on the past without exhuming the present, Maverick manages to do both.
Cruise once again commands the screen with megawatt, mega-star charisma, this time as a Top Gun instructor on a top-secret mission. While he has other issues to contend with, like a commander who doesn’t like him (John Hamm) and a woman who doesn’t love him (Jennifer Conley), his biggest obstacle is the mission itself. He’s got to get his team of pilots to navigate a canyon in under three minutes while missiles stand sentry below.
The task is made even more difficult when one of the pilots turns out to be Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of his late-wingman Goose. Rooster has good reason to be vexed by Maverick’s presence, and the only thing that wipes the usual smirk off Maverick’s face is the guilt he holds over Goose’s death. These two have some feelings to work out, and what better way to do that than working out? Cue the shirtless volleyball games, slow-motion sprints, late-afternoon flights and early-morning weights, sun-drenched smiles and blood-soaked trials.
The formula doesn’t always work, and often, it maintains the slow burn for a moment too long in quieter moments between pilots. But when Kosinski lets it rip, it’s exhilarating. There’s a particularly compelling scene in a California desert where Maverick flies his plane like Rudolf Nureyev doing a spin cycle, twirling around missiles before landing with impeccable grace. Cinematographer Claudia Miranda maintains the visual style of Scott and his director of photography, Jefferey Kimball’s mesmerizing long-takes punctuated with powerful, booming quick-cuts, land as smoothly as the F-82’s.
Following up a film that felt as fresh and explosive as Top Gun is a tall order, and Top Gun: Maverick isn’t as efficient and effecting as Scott’s film. But Cruise and Kosinski do justice to the journey of the characters while exploring the depths of their emotions and relations, and more importantly, bring us back to the danger zone for one last joy-ride.