Here’s a sequel that I initially thought is needless. Sure, the late Tony Scott — the original helmer of 1986 original — was once attached to the sequel over a decade ago before he committed suicide in 2012. His plan? Incorporating the modern theme of drone warfare into the sequel. But even then, I always figured Top Gun is more suitable as a one-off movie that doesn’t justify a follow-up.
Still, 36 years after the original, the sequel — Top Gun: Maverick — is here anyway. It was supposed to come out around July 2019 but the studio (Paramount) chose to delay the sequel to 2020 — the year where the world was brought to a near standstill, thanks to the dreaded you-know-what pandemic. Subsequent release delays followed as if the sequel is destined to stall on the ground indefinitely with no clear sign of take-off.
Now, having finally had the chance to watch Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen, I have to say this otherwise unnecessary sequel turns out to be one of those movies “we didn’t know we needed”. It’s not just the nostalgia done right as director Joseph Kosinski, who previously collaborated with Tom Cruise in 2013’s Oblivion, actually does a better-than-expected job in giving us the ultimate summer-movie blockbuster vibe.
The kind that is best experienced on the biggest screen possible, which in this case, Top Gun: Maverick is shot with IMAX cameras. It sure gives me goosebumps witnessing the sequel in its IMAX glory with all the incredible sound and visuals. Cruise’s insistence on shooting the aerial sequences in the utmost practical way possible with little-to-no CGI is something we don’t see every day in today’s major Hollywood blockbusters.
It also helps that Joseph Kosinski has a great eye for staging all the thrillingly-shot aerial set pieces regardless of training exercises (the earlier set-piece involves two fighter jets performing cobra manoeuvres come to mind) or dogfights. The latter is particularly evident during the elaborate third act as we witnessed Kosinski and Cruise go all out with some of the most breathtaking — and I really mean breathtaking with a capital “B” — aerial combats ever put in a film. Coupled with Claudio Miranda’s immersive you-are-there-feel cinematography and an overall pulsating score from Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and Hans Zimmer, Top Gun: Maverick is no doubt a triumph in all things technical. Come Oscar time, it would be a crime if this sequel doesn’t land a few nominations in the technical categories.
Of course, none of these would matter a lot if there is no underlying emotion to support all the action scenes. And thankfully, Top Gun: Maverick isn’t the kind of a mere visual show-off as the story — credited to Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie — surprisingly brings the necessary heart and soul into this sequel.
But before that, here’s the synopsis for the sequel: Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is already in his late 50s and he still holds the rank of captain. When he received an order from Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) to return to the elite school of TOPGUN, he didn’t expect his mission is to teach a selected group of young Navy pilots (among them including Glen Powell’s Hangman, Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix and Danny Ramirez’s Fanboy) for an upcoming mission.
Then, there’s another pilot named Rooster (Miles Teller), who happens to be the son of Maverick’s late best friend and wingman, Goose (Anthony Edwards). Rooster still blames Maverick for costing the life of his father, who tragically died in the first movie. Maverick, in the meantime, has been reeling in guilt because of the aforementioned tragedy even after decades have passed.
The story does a good job addressing the heated conflict between Maverick and Rooster (kudos to Miles Teller for his solid supporting turn) as well as Maverick’s guilt trip over Goose’s tragic death. But I never expect the brief but pivotal scene, where Maverick meets Iceman (Val Kilmer in a memorable cameo appearance) turns out to be the movie’s most emotionally penetrating moment. Kilmer’s Iceman happens to reflect the actor’s real-life throat cancer, which also addressed his character’s loss of voice in this sequel.
As expected, Tom Cruise steals the show here as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. His signature devil-may-care demeanour and macho swagger that defined the actor’s career in the first place remain intact. It is also impossible not to admire the level of dramatic intensity and magnetic charm that he brings his iconic character to life throughout the movie.
Apart from Miles Teller and Val Kilmer, the sequel also benefits from a mostly above-average cast, namely Glen Powell as the arrogant Hangman and Jon Hamm as the buttoned-up Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson. Ed Harris, in the meantime, made the best out of his otherwise small role of a by-the-book Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain. Personally, it would have been nice if his character has more screen time.
Jennifer Connelly looks lovely as Maverick’s new love interest, Penny Benjamin, whose character was previously referenced in the first movie. Kelly McGillis’ Charlie, the flight instructor who fell for Maverick in the 1986 original is nowhere to be seen or even mentioned whatsoever (the official word here revealed that McGillis wasn’t invited to join the cast for the sequel). Just like the first movie, the love story between Maverick and Penny is strictly perfunctory stuff.
Back to the part where I mentioned Top Gun: Maverick is nostalgia done right, credits go to Kosinski for retaining the first movie’s iconic opening-credit montage, complete with Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” playing in the background. I also love how Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda emulate the slick look and feel of the late Tony Scott’s visual style (the football scene on the beach is a prime example here).
In addition to contributing a score for the sequel, Lady Gaga is also responsible for singing the theme song “Holy My Hand”. As much as I enjoy listening to her song during the end credits, it is still hard to shake off the feeling that Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” from the first movie remains the more iconic and undisputed soundtrack by comparison.
In the age where big-budget Hollywood tentpoles favour more superhero movies these days, Top Gun: Maverick is a testament that old-school action filmmaking still prevails and you have to hand it to Tom Cruise for making this happen. Overall, a great summer movie blockbuster not to be missed.