Sequels to decades-old movies are never good. They just aren’t. You’re attached to nostalgic memories of a movie of another era, and the sequels can never replicate the emotion the original made you feel while simultaneously delivering something that stands on its own. It’s a dilemma that has stumped filmmakers, especially in this age of remaking and rebooting the films of old. 1986’s Top Gun, of course, didn’t need a sequel. The rules say it has no right to be good.
Well… Maverick isn’t somebody who sticks to the rules.
And Tom Cruise isn’t someone who should be underestimated.
Whatever expectations you have for Top Gun: Maverick, it flies by them at mach speed. An immensely entertaining and explosive sequel that properly straddles the past with the present, it’s a movie that, like the naval aviators in the Top Gun program, doesn’t want to be second best. That won’t settle for just being good. That won’t be content with checking the boxes.
It wants to be great.
And it achieves such a status.
Director Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave, Oblivion, Tron: Legacy) and Cruise deliver everything that Top Gun fans could want and then some, and even if you aren’t someone who can replay the original’s soundtrack in your head, it’s a legitimately fun action drama.
The movie hits the right nostalgic beats–the key theme songs, good-looking dudes (and one woman this go-around) playing sports on the beach, and of course Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise–without relying on them too heavily. Kosinski gives the fans what they want without reminiscing too heavily; he gets you feeling how you want to feel but then unleashes a new, more exciting (and more fun) story and amps up the action to meet modern expectations.
Cruise is great as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who thirty years on still doesn’t know how to play by the rules but has matured in other ways. He’s ready to teach the next generation–especially Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller)–but doesn’t know how. He wants the next generation to find their true limits, but the only way he can is by doing.
He could have played one of his most memorable characters on the nose, but that’s a dangerous game to play–even for Maverick. Cruise approaches the role with a blend of reverence and humor; he isn’t afraid to safely poke fun at himself from time to time. Top Gun: Maverick, to that end, is sort of funny in a way its predecessor was not; everyone involved, including its intense star, seems to have had as much fun making this movie as we did.
Equally important, the action is top notch. The original Top Gun may have had style, but with Maverick, Kosinski and Cruise deliver several incredibly exciting aerial sequences that outgun and outrun anything the 1986 classic has to offer. Though it ends with a real dogfight, the original was a training movie; Top Gun: Maverick is the mission.
There are moments where this sequel nearly jumps the shark. The first Top Gun felt and still feels quite grounded; this new one edges into James Bond (or Mission: Impossible?) territory at a couple points. The thing is, as dangerously close as Maverick comes to crossing the line, it never does, and even if it does, the movie is so much fun it really doesn’t matter. The climax is intense, suspenseful, and largely unpredictable–what more could you want?
Top Gun: Maverick could have crashed and burned, but instead it soars to new heights. This is a must-see for any action fan.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.