There’s no question that “Top Gun: Maverick” is an exciting throwback of a hit. For some it’s the sequel they’ve been waiting for since the original film in 1986. It’s actually much better than the original, so that’s the good news.
“Maverick” picks up 35 years after we last saw Tom Cruise as ace flyer Pete Mitchell. His pal, Goose, played by Anthony Edwards, of course, is dead. His other pal, “Iceman,” in the form of Val Kilmer, is now the Admiral who’s been protecting Maverick all these years when other, less tolerant Navy brass (Jon Hamm, Ed Harris) would like to kick him to the curb.
But now they need Maverick to train some young bucks for a new mission: an provoked attack on an unnamed country’s cache of weapons. We never learn what country it is, and you must suspend disbelief here. If this happened in real life, the US would be starting World War III. But this is a fantasy where logic doesn’t matter as much guts and heroism. For a couple of hours, why not?
The new kids are either literal or poetic descendants of the old ones. Goose’s son, “Rooster,” has a chip on his shoulder and is ready to fight Maverick. That’s Miles Teller, giving it his all. Glen Powell is the wide grinning cocky “Hangman,” who thinks he’s the best flyer ever and has persuaded others to believe it, too.
In the original movie, Cruise had a romance with Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis. There’s no mention of what happened to her, or why Maverick has never settled down, married, had a kid, or what his life has been like. He returns to his old base to find the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly playing a part — Penny — who was mentioned in the first movie but never seen. She’s supposed to be an old girlfriend. She’s a single mom who runs the base bar, and in short order you know they will hook up.
Most everything is as it seems in “Maverick,” which is comforting right now. Some names and faces may have changed, but the idea is the same for the first 90 minutes. Everyone’s attractive the dialogue is corny, and everything looks good on paper.
I recommend you take your bathroom break before the last half hour because that’s when this well oiled, 80s kind of studio movie gets interesting. There are two twists that make even the stunning aerial acts we’ve seen along the way jump several feet. Here is where “Maverick” pulls a fast one or two, and you will actually be stirred out of a reverie into fascination. It’s a cool plot trick from writers Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer (with help from Cruise’s “Mission Impossible” partner, Christopher McQuarrie).
A lot has happened since “Maverick” wrapped three years ago. It was supposed to be released two years ago but Paramount wanted to stream it day and date with its theatrical release because of COVID. Cruise said no, which caused a toppling of the studio hierarchy. Frankly, the flying sequences and cinematography must be seen in theaters, preferably IMAX. They are pulse racing. They are helped, too, by Harold Faltermayer’s score, with help from Hans Zimmer, and of course Lady Gaga’s song.
There are many nods to the past. Val Kilmer, whose speaking voice has been ravaged by cancer, has an incredibly moving scene with Cruise. His story, and Edwards’ (who is not seen), are woven into the new plot very cleverly. We see flashbacks of Meg Ryan as Goose’s late mother. At its conclusion the movie is dedicated to late director Tony Scott. (The new director, Joseph Kosinski,, no matter how much revising was done, gets kudos for keeping to the blueprint he was given.)
If “Top Gun Maverick” doesn’t bring people back to theaters in droves, then nothing will. It’s got everything: a hero played by a movie star, new young heroes who are very appealing, an old fashioned nod to the sense that America can lick any foreign problem with ingenuity and pluck, and a beautiful woman to come home to. Tom Cruise may have a strange persona life (yes, we know, we know) but he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer get an A plus for showing that the last 35 years of movie myth-making weren’t for naught.
“Top Gun Maverick” plays the Cannes Film Festival next week. The review embargo lifted this morning, two weeks before the US opening. You know Paramount knows it has a massive hit to let the reviews out now. Well played.