“Time is your biggest adversary” a brooding Captain Maverick proclaims looking out onto a pack of hot shot pilots who stare at him with nervous eyes. Time catches up to us all, none of us are immortal and yes that even includes the larger than life Mr. Tom Cruise. Cruise a megastar may in fact be the megastar. The last of his kind. An actor who is more than dedicated to his craft in front of the screen but also miles ahead of most actors behind the screen. It’s not just Cruise’s commitment to be a modern day Buster Keaton using his body as a literal punching bag but Cruise a relic of the past himself continues to believe in another fossil; the theatrical experience. He doesn’t make movies for the streaming dump. Cruise a man who profited greatly off the 80’s will do everything in his powers (and he has a lot) to make sure butts are in theater seats. It is almost as if the audiences and Cruise have made an unspoken deal. If we are willing to give up 2+ hours of our time and money then Cruise will in return make every moment count and give us one hell of a ride. Top Gun: Maverick a sequel 36 years in the making is a reminder that time has passed and has done a number on many of us but that does not mean we can’t try and get back some of it. This is a film that wants us to know that old memories will never leave us but the time we have left in our future must also be cherished. And if all this sounds too heavy for a legacy sequel about fighter pilots don’t worry, there’s plenty of jaw dropping moments, and yes even a shirtless beach game scene. Welcome to Top Gun: Maverick the cinematic ride of your life.
If you don’t know your 80’s film history Top Gun is the Tony Scott 1986 classic that is driven full by male egos, dick swinging contests, Kenny Loggins and enough homoerotic imagery to make you question how anyone could see it another way. A film so built into our cultural celluloid outlook that the possibility of a sequel was laughed off. Whatever needed to be said was already said, and yet it’s been long enough to somehow convince the world we needed more. Thank god they did. Maverick (Tom Cruise) is once again causing trouble for the Navy. In fact, he’s been a royal pain in the ass for all the time we haven’t seen him. He’s refused a promotion amongst all his decorations, and has also avoided discharge of either both honorable or dishonorable action. This is due to his guardian angel, his onetime enemy now closest friend admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer). Kazansky loves his longtime friend and sees his frustration and it’s his kindness that brings Maverick back to the Top Gun academy (much to Maverick’s dismay). Top Gun means a new air boss (Jon Hamm) and a new batch of cocky recruits. The best of the best. All brought on to train for a job that reeks suicide mission. It’s been argued for years that casting directors need Oscars and this is once again clear when you get a load of Mavericks’ new students. They all eager, arrogant and fully stocked with their own nicknames. You have buddy duo Fanboy and Payback (Danny Ramirez and Jay Ellis), runt of the little Bob (Lewis Pullman), lone female Phoenix (Monica Barbado very much holding her own) cocky golden hair boy Hangman (Glen Powell) and Rooster (Miles Teller) the now grown up son of Maverick’s old wingman Goose. Miles Teller is so good at capturing Anthony Edwards’ mannerisms it is actually down right scary. It is impossible for Maverick to look at Rooster and not see every mistake he has ever made and most importantly the one mistake that will haunt him forever; causing his father’s death. While the original film clears Maverick of any wrongdoing it’s impossible to watch the film now and not see Maverick for the cocky prick that he was who easily could have prevented Goose’s death. Thankfully Maverick finds some solace as he reconnects with an old flame, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly reigniting everyone’s crush on the excellent actor). Penny may keep Maverick on his toes but she is also his force to not just remember the good moments of the past but to also come to terms with their impact on the present. Cruise who loves to star opposite women half his age so he can stay in charge has finally found his best match and Connelly never backs down from the challenge of being the one to finally ground him.
For a film about naval pilots a lot happens before one even gets into the cockpit. But boy once they do you won’t be ready no matter how much you prepare yourself. When the filmmakers said no CGI or green screen they sure meant it. The second the F/A-18’s fly off it is clear all of this is real even if you have no freaking idea how they filmed it (seriously check out the behind the scenes featurette). The maneuvers pulled off are never meant to disorient you or make you run for a barf bag. No this is a full sit back and feel the force of every moment kind of film, but one that keeps you secured. Director Joseph Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda have so many visual treats in store for you that Top Gun Maverick may be one of the first films ever that will have you begging to feel what real g-force feels like. Nothing about the actual flying segments feels like a gimmick, one because they most certainly are not, and two because all this real life action is done in the favor of the story. Every piece implemented into the film is all in favor of making sure you take away a true theatrical experience (trust me see this thing in IMAX or Dolby). Even as the score belts in the background you know it’s building up to something big (what it’s building up to is a gigantic ballad by Lady Gaga). But Top Gun for all its exuberant cinematic factors slows down exquisitely to focus on redemption and forgiveness. Rooster who can’t look at Maverick without pure anger and fear must find a way to fly alongside a man who cost him everything. Maverick on the other hand must find a way to lead a young man who doesn’t trust him even though his life depends on it. Teller and Cruise work so well together as a flight pair that it hurts to know Anthony Edwards couldn’t join in the fun (maybe in Top Gun Multiverse of Maverick). But even before enemies start mending hatches Top Gun Maverick has in store for you thrilling flight training sequences, and that pesky shirtless beach football game that actually is more endearing than its predecessors corny but glorious volleyball scene. Not to mention an 80’s reunion that will break the coldest of hearts.
A lot is thrown at you and it’s clear that for all that he can do, Cruise himself is reflecting on how much longer he can keep this going. It’s not to say that he is stopping anytime soon, but when things start to slow down for him he clearly wants to leave an everlasting path behind. One that some young aviators will learn to follow. Cruise wants us to remember him best as the one who never stopped reaching for entertainment at its highest level. The best thing we can do is continue to be his wingman and take off with full speed.
TOP GUN MAVERICK is in theaters everywhere May 27th