Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick

2022 has so far shown that there is no better way to ensure box office success than to play on audiences’ sense of nostalgia, or to at least offer up something comfortable and familiar. These aren’t exactly new revelations, but they seem to hold truer than ever in this post-lockdown marketplace. The 10 highest-grossing movies of the year so far are entirely comprised of sequels and reboots, save for Elvis, which is its own sort of nostalgia-play. Driving this home even further is that the #1 spot is currently held by Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to the 1986 hit. Audiences were apparently so eager to see Tom Cruise back in the cockpit as the title character that they have propelled the film all the way to #6 on the all-time domestic box office chart with a solid shot at breaking the top 5. I remember liking the original as a kid, but I can’t say I expected interest to be this high for a sequel 36 years later.

The movie immediately reintroduces us to Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now a Navy test pilot on a project aiming to cross Mach 10 or around 7,000 miles per hour depending on altitude. Of course, Maverick being Maverick, he can’t help but push things just that little bit further, pushing the jet to Mach 10.3 and causing it to explode (don’t worry, he survives). Instead of being punished for insubordination however, he finds himself ordered to Naval Air Station North Island and back into the Top Gun program at the request of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), this time to train a group of the programs top-ranked graduates for a dangerous mission to destroy an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant located in a deep crater surrounded by high-tech defenses.

While it seems like a suicide mission, Pete begins the process of pushing the pilots to their limits in hopes of preparing them to survive the daunting challenge ahead. Among the students is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late best friend Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), who blames him for both his father’s death and his lack of advancement up the Navy’s ranks, along with Bradley’s nemesis, Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) and several others who aren’t given much to do outside of the flying scenes. When Admiral Kazansky passes away from throat cancer, Pete’s only real defender is out of the picture, and so Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) removes him from the assignment, but Pete knows the pilots will stand little chance without his plan and so fights to convince the Navy to adhere to it.

While he is beginning to show his age, Cruise still effortlessly exudes the easygoing and cocksure charm that endeared the character to audiences decades ago. The new characters all do what they can with the limited material they are given, with only Teller really being afforded any opportunity to stand out. As love interest Penny, Jennifer Connelly ably handles either looking flirty or concerned, which is unfortunately all that is asked of her. This is the sort of movie that is known more for impressive aerial acrobatics to maintain audience interest and there are no problems in that department, with the finale especially taking the action to breathtaking new heights. At times the story can veer dangerously close to feeling like a remake rather than a sequel, with only minor changes made to some iconic scenes, but the whole thing is good-natured enough that it becomes easy to overlook. We don’t get a lot of blockbusters anymore that aren’t overreliant on CGI characters involved in large-scale fights, which makes Top Gun: Maverick both a nice change of pace and a satisfying trip down memory lane. ★★★★

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★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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