Review: Top Gun: Maverick
Possessing more than enough charm, warmth and high-octane thrills to rival the original, Top Gun: Maverick proves that it is far more worthwhile than a nostalgia-focused cash grab
Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited follow-up to Tony Scott’s 1986 original, is a film hoping to retain the classic Hollywood magic of that initial outing. It might come as a surprise, then, that it’s really quite successful. Here, director Joseph Kosinski, responsible for Tron: Legacy and Oblivion (two films that are, on the whole, rather mediocre, yet simply gorgeous to look at), alongside a team of writers including the modern Mission: Impossible maestro, Christopher McQuarrie, have constructed a modern remake packed with enough charm from the word go to dispel any justified concerns over their sincerity in making it. Despite the modesty of the hurdles it sets up for itself, Top Gun: Maverick virtually soars over every single one. It’s glitzy, exciting, and, just as the original was, surprisingly touching.
After a slick, wordless opening scene in which Kosinski drops in much of what an audience unacquainted with Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell’s character might need to catch up on, it is revealed that for at least a little while, now, Tom Cruise’s ace pilot has been stewing in a kind of sunny, Californian purgatory of test flights and hobbyist aviation mechanics. Indeed, Maverick (shortened throughout to ‘Mav’) has never progressed past the rank of Captain in all his time since the events of the original; a fact that, though apparently out of his hands, tells something of the nature of the exile Mav is clinging to.
Upon his causing the untimely demise of the flash new scramjet he’s supposed to be testing, Mav is pulled from service, only to be forcefully reassigned to the elite Top Gun program, only this time as a teacher; a benediction which appears to have been passed down by a guardian angel from the heights of the admiralty. The new mission, then, is for the best-of-the-best-of-the-best to train the young, up-and-coming best-of-the-best just in time for a covert strike operation against an unsanctioned uranium refinery located in a conspicuously unnamed nation. But there comes a catch: ‘Rooster’, one of those lucky few best-of-the-bests being sent on what might just turn out to be a suicide mission is the son of Mav’s old RIO, ‘Goose’. And there’s the crux – can either man let go of their respective guilt and resentment over Goose’s sudden death to focus on the task at hand?
Despite the modesty of the hurdles it sets up for itself, Top Gun: Maverick virtually soars over every single one
A spare few of the old, central cast are back. Val Kilmer returns unexpectedly in an emotionally-charged reunion between him and his old rival, during which Kilmer’s own battle with throat cancer is sensitively transposed onto the big screen. Cruise himself is intoxicatingly magnetic, and although the film lingers far too long on its title character (a further fleshing out of Miles Teller’s Rooster would have been more than welcome), that laser-focus is as much a boon as it is a curse. The rest appear largely in tasteful flashback form, haunting the jangling notes of an iconic Jerry Lee Lewis song or the hard decisions that have had to be made by certain characters off-screen.
At its core, though, Top Gun: Maverick is about learning to trust one’s own humanity in the face of its looming obsolescence and although there’s something to be said for this kind of bittersweet last hurrah taking the form of a clandestine US Navy strike mission, it’s nevertheless a genuinely warm and engaging through-line. In this regard, one scene, during which Mav teaches the new-school a thing or two about ariel combat, stands out. Many will be familiar with this kind of beat: the arrogant mentee is sent up by the wizened, experienced mentor, but it’s one that drives the film’s point home whilst also serving to reassure tentative fans that they’re not about to see their icon cynically deconstructed; “Mav’s still got it.”