This is what I’m talking about! This is a proper, edge of your seat, action blockbuster that doesn’t hold back and hasn’t been artistically compromised by trying to pander to the whims of whichever woke cause is yelling the loudest. My favourite decade of movies is the 1990s, (I was born in ’93 so that’s probably got a bit to do with it), and Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick” feels like a 90’s movie in every way, and I don’t think that’s by accident. Tom Cruise is back in fine form as the consummate movie star, the action sequences are exciting, the soundtrack is rousing with just enough nods to that of the original and it’s actually kind of refreshing to see US servicemen and women as young, cool, attractive and optimistic people who aren’t victims of the system or suffering from PTSD. Obviously those are stories which are important and interesting as well, but there are also plenty of soldiers and aviation officers out there who love their job and serve their country proudly. And it was nice to see them being portrayed as heroes again, because they absolutely are and Top Gun: Maverick makes sure that its audience knows this.
Thirty years after his time in the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, more commonly known as “TOPGUN”, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is recruited by Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) to train an elite group of pilots on a top secret and highly dangerous mission to bomb an unnamed enemy country’s uranium enrichment plant. Maverick takes on the young troops, conflicted by the fact that he might be past his prime and that his old crew have moved up in the world (Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) has progressed to Admiral). Not only that but he’s forced to contend with his old friend Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) being part of this dangerous mission and his instincts to protect the kid from the fate of his father. Returning to the Top Gun base also means that Maverick is able to reunite with his old flame Penny (Jennifer Connolly), as she reminds him that everything he’s been searching for isn’t up in the skies, but right there with her all along. And then they make out on top of her sweet ass Porsche in the sunset.
I don’t have the strongest feelings about the original Top Gun, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to love the sequel. In saying that, I can absolutely see why audiences have flocked to it. There is something so unashamedly old school about this film, there are no references to social media, influencers or even modern music (Maverick even has a confronting flashback because Rooster jams away at “Great Balls of Fire” in the local bar just like his Dad). It was potentially a bit of a risk, but it’s paid off beautifully as we are allowed to enjoy the fun and spectacle of the film rather than how it fits into the modern world. I was waiting with bated breath for some kind of criticism of the US military, the diversity of the recruits or some kind of implication of the dangers of toxic masculinity but it never came! There is an underlying sense of patriotism throughout the film, for while the enemy is faceless and never really specified, there is certainly no ambiguity as to who the good guys are. The Top Gun pilots do what they do for their fellow recruits, for their country and for their flag, there’s nothing cynical or condescending about it and movie goers worldwide heaved a collective sigh of relief.
More than anything else, “Top Gun: Maverick” is fun and unashamedly entertaining; from Tom Cruise racing a plane taking off from the runway on his Harley Davidson with “Highway to the Danger Zone” blaring, to the genuinely astonishing acrobatics of the fighter jets, to the recruits playing football on the beach with their shirts off in the setting sun for no discernible reason. Jennifer Connolly as Penny is cool and sexy and knows how to sail, Miles Teller as Rooster has good chemistry with Cruise and is a surprisingly good match as Goose’s son.
I’m glad that they kept Maverick as the central character rather than Rooster. The entire premise that the old dog still has some grunt in him doesn’t quite work if the new pup takes centre stage, and I don’t think anybody was really interested in seeing Tom Cruise taking a back seat for this one. Nobody has really come close to taking Tom Cruise’s spot as the ultimate Hollywood action star, and just like Maverick, it doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down any time soon.
By Jock Lehman