Top Gun: Maverick Review – Tom Cruise Sticks Landing
It’s such a dangerous mission that only Mitchell could teach it since he’s the only one to have flown a remote mission like this, and even he wonders if the pilots can come back in one piece. To complicate matters: one of the pilots who is ready for the mission is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the moody son of Maverick’s late best friend and radar intercept officer, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, whose the accidental death during a training engagement decades earlier still haunts Maverick’s conscience.
Once the decor is set, Top Gun: Maverick moves like a precision watch, hitting its narrative beats with such precision that one wonders if director Kosinski could pilot the F/A-18 and knock out the damn target himself (screenplay and story credited to five writers, including regular Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie).
Naturally, Maverick chats with the Commander (Jon Hamm) about his methodology, with Rooster about Goose’s death and Maverick’s own complicated history with Rooster’s career, and with cocky pilot Hangman (Glen Powell) about Goose’s attitude. this last. Entire scenes from the first film are recreated and altered, with a beach soccer game replacing the famous beach volleyball sequence. And instead of returning first lady Kelly McGillis, Maverick rekindles a relationship with local bar owner and single mother Penny (Jennifer Connelly), mentioned but never seen in the original film.
This all plays out predictably, with the new pilots remaining simple archetypes (although thankfully women are added to the team this time around), Hamm does his best in the first film’s Tom Skerritt slot, and Connelly’s character seems there just to look worriedly at Maverick. Yet there are also moments of genuine emotion and sweetness, such as when Maverick visits his old friend, and now Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer). There’s real emotion to their scene together, which is certainly weighed down by Kilmer’s own well-documented health issues.
And then there are the aerial sequences, in which Top Gun: Maverick truly comes to a full, amazing and breathtaking life. The flight sequences are simply amazing to experience, with the actors clearly seated in real F/A-18s piloted by experienced pilots. Special camera platforms were built for the planes, while Cruise himself reportedly subjected the rest of the cast to intensive flight training, but the results capture the grandeur, wonder and terror of crossing the sky at death-defying speeds in a way that no CG or Volume (the high definition LED panels used in The Mandalorian) could ever replicate.
Kosinski, Cruise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and crew clearly model the climactic bombardment and dogfight at the mine after the final battle in the original star warsdown to the risk of enemy fighters, the defensive towers that line the canyon walls, and the near-impossible-to-reach target and steep climb out of the trench (someone even yells, “I can’t shake them!” so that they are besieged by
TIE enemy pilots). The pattern is obvious, but the scene is still breathtakingly intense and a white-knuckle ride almost throughout.