Tom Cruise returns to the Danger Zone as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick. Set thirty years after the first film, Maverick is assigned to prepare a young group of fighter pilots for a special mission. One of the new recruits is Miles Teller’s “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s former co-pilot and best friend “Goose,” played by Anthony Edwards in the first film. As Maverick pushes his students past their limits, he must also come to terms with his own as he faces being aged out by a new generation of aerial combat. In an era of mind-numbing VFX and artificial stakes, director Joesph Kosinski and Tom Cruise push the boundaries of what can be accomplished in modern blockbuster filmmaking. With its practical effects backed up by a great ensemble, Top Gun: Maverick is the gold standard for what blockbusters should strive to be.
It’s a tall order to have a film released so far apart from the original be this good or to even capture a fraction of its magic. Still, it manages to exceed its predecessor, especially during its aerial sequences. The sequences inside the fighter jets were shot with special cameras which required the actors to learn editing and cinematography in order to shoot and edit their respective sequences. The result is an immersive thrill ride that feels as if you’re also in on the action. The film effectively visualizes the physical toll flying these jets takes on the characters. We see the characters grunting, gasping for breath, and sweating as they maneuver and zig-zag their jets through serpentine canyons. All of this buildup leads to a climax that is one of the most gratifying action set pieces of the year! The practicality and realism onscreen provide the film with stakes and tension as we watch our characters dogfight their way out of enemy territory. The final act is akin to Mad Max: Fury Road in that the action is full-on madness but with a clear sense of geography. The biggest reason that the action comes together so impeccably is because the film spends a good amount of time getting to know the characters.
We are introduced to a colorful group of young enthusiastic actors in a sequence that hearkens back to the first film where all the main characters hang out at a bar. During this sequence, we meet Teller’s “Rooster” as well as Glenn Powell’s “Hangman,” who are both the film’s secondary characters behind Maverick. Rooster is a skilled pilot, but he’s reserved and cautious to a fault, whereas Hangman is the hotshot and a hazard to his teammates. On paper, the Hangman character comes across like a generic jock, but Powell’s superstar charisma breathes life into a character who would otherwise be forgettable. Miles Teller also delivers a fantastic and held-back performance as Rooster. The film’s emotional beats rest mainly on Teller’s shoulders and he carries those beats well. Even with these two breakout performances from Teller and Powell, this is Cruise’s film and his charisma is the glue that holds it all together.
Since Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise has gone through a career resurgence as one of the greatest action stars alive. This has allowed Cruise to work with reputable action directors like Christopher McQuarrie who will physically challenge him, but it’s been awhile since Cruise has been able to flex his acting muscles. If there was any doubt in your mind, Top Gun: Maverick proves that Cruise is still a great actor. In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise gets to play with a wide range of emotions such as doubt and guilt. Maverick is still cool as all hell, but he’s also flawed and vulnerable, which has been something that’s been missing in Cruise’s past few films. The film challenges Cruise’s action hero persona by directly paralleling it with Maverick’s own arc. No matter how young Cruise looks, there will be a time when he won’t be able to perform these stunts anymore. The film does a good job of weaving that theme of age into the story. Top Gun: Maverick is one of Cruise’s best performances in years and deserves to be in the Oscar discussion.
Top Gun: Maverick is an experience. Watching it on the big screen is undoubtedly the best way to see it, but even on home viewing, it remains an effective and engaging piece of entertainment. Kosinski’s direction paired with Cruise’s dedication to delivering spectacle make this a blockbuster unlike any other. It takes all the good things about the first film and builds on them. Most legacy films don’t always do right by their original characters, but Top Gun: Maverick pushes the character of Maverick to his limits and challenges him in ways that respect the character while also taking him in new directions. We need more blockbusters that are made with this much intelligence and craft. As streaming and comic book movies continue to dominate our film landscape, Top Gun: Maverick reminds us why we still love going to the movies.