Tom Cruise proves that old is the oldest when he has to train a bunch of new, cocky fighting roosters before an impossible mission. With action scenes that take your breath away, a big heart and a fair dose of nostalgia, “Top Gun: Maverick” delivers everything a perfect popcorn movie should have.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the coolest guy to wear a pair of pilot goggles in the 80s, is back on the big screen. More than thirty years have passed since he first appeared in the 1986 blockbuster blockbuster, and it’s as if Maverick’s life has been on hiatus ever since. He lives alone in a large, abandoned hangar and looks back on the good old days at the flight school with bittersweet memories.
So when the chance arises to train a bunch of new, young and confident fighter pilots, he happily jumps on his motorcycle again and steers back towards Top Gun – the school for the best of the best.
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“Top Gun: Maverick” is what is called a legacyquel, a sequel with many winks to the original, intended to evoke nostalgic bio-memories from the past. It even starts the same with scenes from the naval base, identically captured down to the red filter and “Danger Zone” on the soundtrack. Still, you find a good balance between old and new. Sure, it gets a reference orgy sometimes, but the uninitiated don’t have to feel left out. Everything you need to know is explained even if you have not seen the first “Top Gun”. The most important thing to keep in mind is that Maverick, who was then just as young and naive himself, was on the same plane where his wingman Goose was injured. The feelings of guilt are brought back to life when it turns out that Goose’s boy, Rooster (Miles Teller), is one of his new students – and bitter as hell.
In a way, the film follows the same familiar template as the original – and yes, there is also a scene with half-naked sweaty men playing beach rugby if that is your thing… But you also take the opportunity to update and refine the “Top Gun” template, which results in a sequel that actually surpasses one.
The plot is simple, the goal clear and the stakes high. America’s leading fighter pilots will enter anonymous enemy territory, perform a series of dangerous maneuvers and bomb a uranium layer to ashes. It’s a bit like training for the well-known “trench run” scenes in “Star Wars” and I’m surprised none of the film’s characters make the obvious joke (they’re probably too young to have seen it anyway). Tom Cruise is admittedly much older than the last time we saw him in the role, but he easily slips into the same old daring and somewhat careless character, who is even ready to become a kind of father figure for his protégés.
Just sit back in the cinema armchair and enjoy. Here are ambitious and heart-pounding action scenes that feel real, because to a large extent they are too. Thank you Tompa who insisted on realism and exposed their opponents to months of training so that they could steer their very own fighter jets. The sound mix is cruel and the editing helps us keep track of a number of characters in fast-paced scenes without ever losing their audience (another thing that director Joseph Kosinski manages better than his predecessor Tony Scott).
But the film also takes time to rest in the calmer scenes. Whether it’s about giving Maverick some cozy time with his new love interest, bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly), or an emotional reunion with old friend Iceman (Val Kilmer doesn’t let his throat cancer stop a nice cameo).
On the same day that the film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Tom Cruise was awarded a Palme d’Or for his long career, now in its fifth decade. Cruise is a movie star who knows what the audience wants, and – like the character Maverick – is determined to push the boundaries and give that little extra. Together with star producer Jerry Bruckheimer, they have put together a worthy sequel that honors the original but also lifts to completely new heights. It dots everything that “Top Gun” fans expect and most of what we want out of our popcorn movies. An audience-free summer blockbuster of the mammoth kind, in short. Such have been in short supply during the last two pandemic years.