Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenwriters: Ehren Kruger, Christopher McQuarrie, Eric Warren Singer
Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Bashir Salahuddin, Charles Parnell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez
Do you remember how movies used to feel when you were a kid? This is it.
Top Gun: Maverick is sensational. It is movie magic the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t produced in years. It’s grandiose, it’s spectacular, it’s awe-inspiring. It is elite.
Thirty-six years have passed since the late, great Tony Scott rubbed baby oil on some incredibly attractive, muscular young men for his cultural phenomenon Top Gun. The careers of lead actors Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer consequently rocketed into superstardom with all the velocity of their characters’ F-14 fighter jets, and few movies came to encapsulate the 1980s’ music and fashion quite as accurately and spectacularly. To this day, middle-aged women the world over coo over Cruise and company because of Top Gun and Top Gun only, Tony Scott’s very of-its-time release becoming a permanent reminder of the freedoms of youth, young love, and coming-of-age. To a generation, Top Gun is a monument.
Top Gun: Maverick ought to be one too.
Nearly four decades removed from the acts of the first film, Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to the Top Gun department of the United States Air Force to teach a group of contemporary “Best of Class” pilots how to be the spectacular pilot he once was. Their mission is to launch a missile strike on a well-protected base, all they have to do is train to do it in an obscenely low amount of time (and to do so in just a matter of weeks).
Maverick has a lot to offer anyone willing to watch it on the big screen. You’re not going to be wasting your money if you choose to see this in IMAX, or to take the family for an evening out. The earliest moments of the film reassure you of this, and the rest simply elevates from there.
Visually, Maverick is everything that rival big budget blockbusters fail to be in the 2020s: it’s real. So many of the film’s stunts were recorded in actual aircraft, with real USAF pilots pushing the actors to their limits on sky tours of the western United States. And you feel every moment: every abrupt acceleration, loop de loop, every twist and turn. Director Joseph Kosinski echoes the techniques of Tony Scott by placing the camera in the fighter jet itself, making the changes in gravitational push and pull as inescapably real as any character walking down the street in the sun-kissed desert. And those regular scenes excel too, Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda seemingly finding the long-lost old-school blockbuster rule book, reading it, and then depositing all of its secrets onto the screen. Blockbuster cinema hasn’t been this tangibly real in years, and Top Gun: Maverick is all the more significant for it.
Soaked in sweat and glowing in the Sun, the new cast of Top Gun recruits each offer their own character takes to rival the originals. Miles Teller is particularly impressive as Rooster, the son of Top Gun‘s Goose. His story is one of loss and trauma, and his relationship to Maverick is tested by both. Teller wears a through-gritted-teeth expression beneath every proud stance, but he never shies away from bringing the character back to child-like vulnerability when the moment requires it. His rival, Hangman, is self-assured, attractive and arrogant, meaning the two clash heads. Glen Powell plays Hangman so well, with such gravitas, that he looks every bit the future superstar Tom Cruise was in the original – if there’s a star-making moment for anyone in Maverick, it’s Glen Powell.
And yet, after close to four decades since the original, it’s Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise who demand so much of Top Gun: Maverick’s attention.
The passing of time is no more accurately represented than through the visual juxtaposition of Val Kilmer as a young, athletic heart-throb in one shot, and the battle-scarred real-life cancer survivor he is in the next. Iceman is vitally important to Maverick’s narrative, but his in-film reveal is one that forces shivers down your spine, the realities of his very real throat cancer put front and centre, and his presence all the more ethereal for it. His interactions with Cruise echo the brutality of the passing of time, his wounds evidence of our collective temporality. Cruise, to many, is almost inhuman in his continued feats of physical endurance and mental toughness, and he still looks sensational to this day, but Kilmer’s very opposite triumphs work beautifully to tell of how quickly or slowly any beauty, ability or presence may be taken from us, and thus in turn may be taken from any of the fit young men and women we are rooting for in the film itself.
For all that has been said and speculated regarding Tom Cruise over the course of his career, there is one thing that has never been up for debate: his commitment. In recent times he seems to finally be getting the respect that his career deserves. During the pandemic, Cruise was recorded blasting a crew member for not wearing a mask, and was recorded watching a film in a London cinema during production for the next Mission: Impossible. He was one of the few names to attach himself to a movement calling for motion smoothing to be abandoned by TV manufacturers. He insisted to Paramount that the next two Mission: Impossible movies, and this Top Gun movie, be released exclusively in cinemas as opposed to via streaming. His commitment is to cinema, and at no point has this been more clear, more well-defined, and his success more well-deserved.
Top Gun: Maverick tells of a great man returning to his old stomping grounds to teach a new generation how to do what only he can do. It does so both within the narrative of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and in how Cruise himself embraces every on-screen and off-screen challenge to teach his comrades how to get good films made. In doing so to such a monumentally high level, Tom Cruise reminds each of us of exactly what cinema is capable of.
Top Gun: Maverick offers all the excitement, the joy, the threat and the vulnerability of the original Top Gun, and presents it all with a similarly as timeless glow. We have seen studios revert to bland, CG-landscaped fantasy escapist fare so often in the past twenty years that seeing practical filmmaking techniques shouldn’t feel this fresh… but it does. We have seen so many projects fall back onto ideas that find inspiration from films that were inspired by moments from others that we grew up on, that tangible filmmaking passion shouldn’t be this unusual… but it is. In a world of copies of copies, it is a sequel that somehow seems to be the most inspired.
Let Top Gun: Maverick be a reminder to everyone that the purposeful blurring of film and television need not be the norm, and that the big screen experience will be worthwhile for as long as movies such as this get made. Tom Cruise has done it again: Top Gun: Maverick is an unmissable silver screen experience. Don’t hesitate… buy your tickets now.