REVIEW: “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022)

It was a Saturday morning in May of 1986. My brother and I were sitting in our living room floor watching MTV (back when they actually played music videos). Whichever classic veejay was manning the waves introduced the poppy, guitar-driven “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins from the “Top Gun” motion picture soundtrack. As was customary, the video featured lots of footage from the movie which happened to grab my father’s attention.

“Top Gun” came out during a time when my dad was really into fighter planes. He watched shows about them, read about them, and put together detailed model kits by the dozens. When he got a glimpse of the “Danger Zone” video, my brother and I didn’t have to do much convincing. A couple hours later, our family was heading to the nearest theater to see what would be the highest-grossing film of 1986.

Directed by Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise, “Top Gun” was very much a movie of the 80s, to the point that younger audiences may have a hard time embracing it in the same way many of us did 36 years ago. But as silly as it can be at times, I’ve always loved it. The cast, the music, the breathtaking aerial action sequences – it all clicks for me in a way that goes beyond simple nostalgia.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Talks of a sequel began in earnest in 2010 and a first-draft of the script was completed in 2012. But following Scott’s death the project was shelved. Five years later, a new script was written with Joseph Kosinski hired to direct and Cruise back in the cockpit and producing. But one big question remained, would this be yet another shameless Hollywood cash grab or did Cruise and company have a meaningful next chapter to Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s story to tell?

Well, “Top Gun: Maverick” certainly embraces nostalgia, and there are callbacks that will leave fans giddy. I mean it opens identically to the 1986 movie – on the deck of an aircraft carrier with Harold Faltermeyer’s classic “Top Gun Anthem” leading straight into Loggins’ “Danger Zone”. Fan service? Perhaps. Yet it’s such a pitch-perfect and smile-inducing way to kick things off.

But “Maverick” is a lot more than callbacks and fan service. It has a lot more on its mind than rehashing old scenes and retreading past storylines (something I feared). In fact, there’s an unexpectedly strong emotional current that runs throughout the story. And its trio of writers (Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie) use many of those familiar past connections in surprisingly poignant and heartfelt ways.

Over three decades after the events of “Top Gun”, Cruise’s Maverick lives in an old air hanger where he spends his spare time tinkering on an vintage P-51 Mustang. He has deliberately dodged numerous promotions much to the chagrin of his superiors. Instead he serves as a Navy test pilot for a hypersonic scramjet program. But at the urging of Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), Maverick is called back to Top Gun, an elite training program for the Navy’s top pilots – “the best of the best”.

Maverick is tasked with training a group of Top Gun graduates for a dangerous mission. An unnamed rogue nation has an underground uranium enrichment facility that poses a major security threat for the world. It’s nestled deep in a canyon and surrounded by surface-to-air missile installations. To make matters worse, the generic enemy possesses state-of-the-art fifth-generation fighters. That means Maverick’s pilots will have to sneak in undetected and get out before the enemy aircraft can engage them.

But there’s some personal tension when Maverick discovers one of his young pilots is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late best friend Goose, who still blames Maverick for his father’s death. To make matters worse, Maverick has Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) breathing down his neck. The one ray of light comes with Jennifer Connelly’s character Penny Benjamin (keen fans of the first film may remember that name). She’s an old flame who runs a beachside bar called The Hard Deck. It’s not a particularly meaty role for Connelly, but she’s a really good and grounding presence.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Of course there are also the signature aerial sequences – jaw-dropping and custom-made for the big screen. The newer technology gives the filmmakers opportunities to do some exciting things and Cruise pushes it and himself to the extreme. It shines brightest in the final 30 minutes which features some of the best aerial fighter footage ever put on screen. See it in the theater. You won’t regret it.

But everything comes back to Maverick who is the story’s centerpiece. He’s more mature and not as impulsive, but he’s still pushing his limits. More, he’s still haunted by the death of Goose and his guilt won’t allow him to forgive himself. It’s a superb performance from Cruise who takes all of those factors (plus some) into account and gives us a Maverick who still has that same rebellious cool, but has a much deeper level of humanity.

If there is a complaint, it might be in the new pilots. None of the performances are bad. But other than Rooster, none of them have much depth. And a couple simply fit the models of pilots from the first film. Also, the unnamed enemy threat feels hollow (marketing was clearly a consideration). Yet there are so many fantastic moments that energize the movie, both kinetically and emotionally. Some scenes are exhilarating while others will bring a tear or two. And they’re all woven into a story that really surprised me. And that gets back to my above question about “Top Gun: Maverick” – was there a meaningful next chapter to be told? The answer turns out to be is a resounding “Yes”!

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022)

  1. I’m seeing it later this weekend and super pumped. I’m so glad they didn’t remake Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” song, as it’s one of the best movie anthems. My one nitpick is that wouldn’t Goose’s son, played by Miles Teller, be close to 40 years old by now? If the original was 36 years ago, and Goose’s son was like 3 years old, well, the math adds up. Anyway, I”m going to go with it and looking forward to having a blast in the theatre.

    • Oh I’m with you 100%. No remake of “Danger Zone” needed. It’s perfect.

      Great question on Goose’s son Roster and actually the movie makes a couple of efforts to address that. One is that he is a Top Gun graduate. He’s already worked his way to Top Gun and is now chosen as part of the small group of potential pilots for this secret mission. There’s another thing too but I won’t spoil it.

  2. I was actually waiting to see the reviews before I saw the movie because so many sequels put out some 30 years after originals are smarmy. Now, I want to see it! Thanks Keith!

  3. I might watch this. I love the first film as I enjoy it more for its homoerotic overtones. I think I’ll watch it for nostalgia reasons and mainly for Val Kilmer’s cameo. Tom Cruise is still a piece of shit.

    • I’ve never gotten the homoerotic vibe people talk about with Top Gun. That interpretation didn’t really gain traction till a few years ago. Those shirtless pilots were on so many young girls’ bedroom wall (my wife’s included 😂).

  4. This movie is a hell of a start for the summer movie season. Honestly, the real stars of the show are Tom Cruise and Miles Teller. The dynamic between these two actors is beyond amazing. I also like how they handled Val Kilmer’s character. The music is still great with Hans Zimmer bringing his unique flair to the movie. I was very much surprised at how much an emotional core this movie had. I was getting emotional when the credits rolled.

    • Absolutely agree with everything you said. I think this is one of Cruise’s best performances. And I really liked Teller too. I’ve been lukewarm on him in the past but he was great. And the way they handled Ice was perfect. Loved it!

  5. I can’t believe the reviews I am reading about this movie! The first I thought was quite cheesy, but it was a lot of fun. I was expecting to read how this one went overboard with the cheese trying to one-up the original and in the process lost any redeeming qualities of the first. But instead all I’m seeing are 4.5 out of 5 and 9 out of 10 reviews for this thing. With the belief everyone can’t be wrong but me I’ll admit it seems I was too quick to judge this one. I’m happy it turned out to be so good and my wife and I are going to see it on our first date night since our 2 year old was born. Thanks for the review!

  6. Saw it today – great piece of entertainment. I get the feeling its goal is to entertain, and it really delivered. I hadn’t planed to see it, then the reviews were so favorable, even from the cranky critics, that I decided to go. I read a little bit about the making of, seems like Cruise had a good deal with how exciting the flying scenes are by pushing everyone a little bit. And, Jennifer Connelly best looking 50 year old I’ve even seen.

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