Revvin’ up your engine/Listen to her howlin’ roar/You got your metal under tension/Beggin’ you to touch and go/HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE!
OK, now that we have the nostalgia out of the way let’s dig right into the sequel that is separated from its original by almost my entire life. Thirty-six (?!?) years have passed between the release of “Top Gun” to the Memorial Day weekend release of “Top Gun: Maverick,” and for me it has been completely worth the wait, including the extra TWO YEARS that have passed since the first trailer dropped. (On a side note, this now also holds a personal record for the fastest turnaround on a film from “Why is this a thing?” to “I want this. I want this movie now!”.)
This one finds Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) still working as a military pilot, though as a specialty pilot who is no longer on an aircraft carrier like we left him last. Maverick is called back to Fightertown, USA to train a class of young Top Gun graduates for a dangerous mission. Adding to the complexity of shifting from pilot to teacher, Maverick must prepare the class while dealing with Miles Teller’s “Rooster,” the son of his former radar intercept officer and tragically passed best friend, Goose.
All the reasons to love the original are here with upgrades thanks to the advanced technology available to filmmakers now. I could go on forever on the shots taken in the air alone; if there was any part of you that saw the trailers and thought, “That green screen looks amazing,” know that there is exactly ONE scene shot with CGI. That’s right, even the scenes inside the cockpits were shot practically. If the intensity of these clips could be turned into a drug, I’d be an addict.
If “Top Gun: Maverick” relied solely on its aerial shots, it would still be great but the heart with which every character was written and performed by the cast elevates the movie perfectly. Glen Powell (Hidden Figures) fits the selfish, uber alpha pilot “Hangman” so well that I was surprised they didn’t make him Iceman’s son while Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale) continues to amaze as the kind of character actor that can make or break a film by seamlessly elevating others without having to take over scenes as a guys whose call sign is as simple as his name: “Bob”.
I do recommend revisiting the first film for a refresher on some the callbacks and references to it here, and I look forward to a rewatch of “Top Gun: Maverick” to try and catch everything done specifically for that. See if you notice a particular music choice when we are introduced to Jennifer Connelly’s character, Penny, at The Hard Deck bar.
With an extremely high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even for me, the biggest surprise is simply that I am saying this: “Top Gun” Maverick” is even better than the original by taking the greatness of the first film and both improving and elevating all of its facets.