I remember engaging in a conversation with my high school art teacher Ms. Brockington about how much she loved Top Gun. The temptation was there to check it out for myself but never followed through on that promise until a few days ago and….yep, I can definitely see why it’s so beloved. My expectations weren’t over the roof for “Top Gun: Maverick” but I’ve waited long enough to see it; plus, my mom and Dad being big fans pretty much cemented a trip to the movies together.
This is essentially a greatest hits album as opposed to something that properly continues the story but, to its defense, it knows that and even so, this still easily surpasses its predecessor while remedying its errors.
It feels like director Joseph Kosinski clearly took some inspiration on what Spielberg did with West Side Story: take the blueprints from the original, reproduce the ambience and update the rest of the quirks with todays modern sensibilities. The director of Only The Brave appears to be aware of the assignment he was given, sticking to the flashy, unabashed bravado of originals testosterone exterior but peeling back the layers of its bruised heart, thanks to co-writer Christopher McQuarrie.
I appreciate how much this film strikes a fine balance between good-humored vanity and half-serious self-deprecation, the latter of which gets more visible screentime than previously. Alongside polished lighting, utilized focus, and a gorgeous palette of color and scenery, the use of the production design here is astonishing. Every scene is equipped with nigh-perfect pacing to atone for the more somber ambience, music pulls double duty on memorability and fitting the moment as it sees fit, it’s surprisingly suspenseful at a few key scenes, a great job is done on making the characters charming, likable or understandable further guided by a killers row of a cast with Tom Cruise delivering possibly his most vulnerable performance yet and yes, the flight sequences and the stuntwork are every bit as enthralling and nerve-clenching as you’ve heard; they’re one and the same regarding possibly some of the best cinematography and editing I’ve seen this year. The sheer kineticism and well-orchestrated awe seen in the Mission Impossible films aren’t visible but there’s still plenty of intense, immersive action guaranteed to leave your heart in your throat.
Of course, it’s the story that gets the short end of the stick in some places. It is of very simplistic nature, a very basic one that we all - in whatever context set - watched a zillion times before but a few melodramatic pieces help set the mood in tow for the rest of the experience and gives it a few legs up compared to the original. The conflict between Maverick and Rooster, in particular, thrusts the main conflicting morals of legacy and family values up a notch and gives a little dramatic heft towards the dynamic that came to bolster the original, fulfilling most of the demands of the script while challenging its disadvantages too.
Yes, there’s fan service here. Now, it’s not like Kronks New Groove where they shamelessly cash in on the nostalgia; on the contrary, there’s a surprisingly healthy dose of it here including a really heartbreaking scene with Val Kilmer but it still falls into those pitfalls with there being too many callbacks and rehashed scenes. Not to mention the romance is tad perfunctory also as well as a few cliches popping up.
In many respects, Maverick is a massive improvement over the first film in almost every which way backed up by a very honest story about changing times and aging which also serves as interesting self-commentary on Tom Cruise himself. It’s surprisingly subtle about the whole situation and while everything else surrounding it is pretty much just a massive update, at the end of the day, I just didn’t care. I came to the movies to be entertained and it delivered massively on that while delivering on a bonus alongside it curtesy of a compelling story.
A risky gamble was taken and a film sequel that came about way too late, a film that really should’ve been nothing was turned into a delightful big-screen extravaganza that excels MOST expectations.