I tend to hold my breath when a studio announces their intention to make a sequel to a beloved, decades-old, action mega hit, but my apprehension was unwarranted with “Top Gun: Maverick.” The film is not without its problems, but it’s a near-perfect master class in giving the people what they want.
Not straying too much from its roots, the sequel is almost a carbon copy of its 1986 predecessor. From the opening synth theme to slightly different situations that deliver a hearty dose of deja vu, director Joseph Kosinski sticks to a formula with a proven, successful track record. It’s a film with an endless supply of nostalgia for those of us who fondly remember the original, but is also updated in a way that can also be enjoyed by the younger generation.
The story doesn’t seem far fetched, but it is unoriginal. After more than 30 years in the service as one of the country’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise, who is still a bonafide superstar) is ordered back to Top Gun, the home of the Navy elite. He’s been tasked with training the “best of the best” new graduates for a dangerous mission that will take a lot of skill and a whole lot more luck. Things get sticky when Maverick learns Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late wingman Goose, is part of the elite team. Confronting the old ghosts of guilt and regret, Maverick must let go of the past if he wants a shot at redemption.
For a story that talks a lot about moving on, it sure is stuck on reliving the glory days. Maverick is set in his ways, and his stubbornness and rebellious attitude is celebrated: but you can’t hide the fact that he’s 60 and has never moved up in rank. There are new characters introduced that are so close to carbon copies of the minor ones from the first film that I found myself referring to them as “the new Iceman” and “the new Merlin.” It’s terrific that the new cast is so diverse, but the hyper-masculine nature of the military is still out in full force. The two major female characters are a bartender and a pilot, neither of which are in powerful positions or rank. It wouldn’t have been so difficult to cast a woman in one of the film’s many Officer roles.
This isn’t a challenging nor particularly intelligent movie, and it’s not one I’d want to revisit nor even begin to consider an instant classic. The first half is formulaic and clunky, with a bland, uncomplicated story. It’s the second half that’s worth waiting for, as Kosinski kicks the afterburners into high gear. The aerial photography (from cinematographer Claudio Miranda) is spectacular, especially when the teams of pilots finally fly the “impossible” mission that feels as if it will lead to certain death. It’s a true edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, and it’s precisely why many of us love summer blockbusters in the first place.
“Top Gun: Maverick” fulfills just about every single thing audiences expect and crave, and it’s a film that does it exceedingly well.