Synopsis – After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him.
My Take – Though I only managed to watch it a few years ago in my ‘Catch up with everything that has Tom Cruise‘ marathon, there is no denying of the fact that Top Gun (1986) continues to remain a very enjoyable yet cheesy action film, a staple of the decade it released it.
A box office juggernaut at the time of its release, the film is essentially known to be the one that steered a 24 year old Tom Cruise on the path of the mega film star he continues to be today.
But when it was first announced that a sequel, set 36 years after its predecessor, was in the making, with Cruise reprising his role, I was highly skeptical, mainly, as most things 80s, the original has been highly parodied and didn’t actually leave an opening for a follow-up. Thankfully, it took the film all of 10 minutes to throw all apprehensions out the window.
As director Joseph Kosinski, taking over from the late Tony Scott, has managed to create a well-made, visually-stunning film that sticks to the flashy, unabashed bravado of the original but also manages to raise the emotional stakes with spectacular aerial stunts.
The callbacks to the original are expertly done, the story has an enormous heart, the new characters are well cast, the soundtrack is great and of course the action is sensational. The sequel not just successfully overachieves, but also surpasses its predecessor on every level.
Yes, it contains a few predictable tropes, but director Kosinski (Only the Brave, Oblivion) and writers Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) deserve all praise for creating a grand film of truly epic proportions that also acts as a genuine throwback to the era of film stars and true blockbusters, before they were overtaken by CGI infested superhero flicks.
All the while acting as a perfect reminder of why Tom Cruise, with his brilliant and commanding screen presence, continues to remain a global sensation.
Set over three decades after the events of its predecessor, the story once again follows Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who for years has dodged all sort of promotion to continue flying as a U.S. Navy test pilot.
While his latest bravado gets him into trouble with Rear Admiral Chester Cain (Ed Harris), Maverick is once saved by his old friend and former rival four-star Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who instead sends him to train an elite group of Top Gun graduates assembled by Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) and Rear Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell) for an urgent, top secret mission.
But while Maverick begins to settle in by rekindling with his former love interest Penelope “Penny” Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), a single mother and the bar owning daughter of a former admiral, his job quickly complicates when he finds the group of young pilots also contains Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late friend Goose, who resents Maverick for letting his dad die on his watch and for blocking his entry into the Naval Academy.
In an age where we have been so accustomed to CGI magic, it was refreshing to see some real action, and that too in fighter jets. Here, director Joseph Kosinski displays a deft control of tension and suspense at all times, as a result, the sequel easily surpasses its predecessor in terms of the visual aesthetic and thrill of dogfights, which in the original, possibly due to the practical limitations of the time, were always a little hard to follow.
Accompanied by cinematographer collaborator Claudio Miranda, he cultivates a new approach of placing audiences in the cockpits with our central pilots, allowing us to be as immersed in the intensity of these exercises and later, the actual maddening missions themselves, as possible. It’s a true feat to make something this ambitious look this effortless.
The sound design is so intense that the engine’s roar literally shook me in my seat. The immersive cinematography takes us into the cockpit, then the shrewd edit pitches us into the sky, giving us a god-like view of every beat of danger, defeat, and victory.
But at its heart, the film is a father/son story. Though Maverick as a character is still the same hotshot, but has also consistently mellowed down, somewhat accepting that his time is coming to an end, and is focused on flying all he can, and being a devoted surrogate father to Rooster. With Rooster being among the pilots Maverick has to train, the film’s crux revolves around them re-connecting.
Just like how the original was essentially a bromance between Goose and Maverick, this is a father/son bromance between Rooster and Maverick. Sure, the romance angle between Maverick and Penny feels half baked, but the film works solidly enough in similar tone with Cruise’s collaborations with Christopher McQuarrie, like the last two Mission: Impossible films. Making the film play as much as a Top Gun film as it does a Tom Cruise film.
Performance wise, it should be unsurprising that Tom Cruise is brilliant as he reprises the role of Maverick. He is still able to command the screen with ease and dedication that it completely outsizes every single element around him. Exhibiting every emotion at his disposal over the course of the film’s 131 minute run time, Cruise takes us on a tremendously affecting arc right alongside him.
Miles Teller comfortably settles into playing Goose’s son. And to his credit, lands the look by carrying himself with the affable swagger that Anthony Edwards did decades before. Together, with Cruise, he succeeds in providing the earnest macho drama that fans of the original expect. Jennifer Connelly steps comfortably into the role of Maverick’s ex-fling and rekindled romantic interest, replacing Kelly McGillis’ unexplained absence. Despite his limitations, Val Kilmer delivers a memorable performance, and the two actors seem to relish this opportunity.
The supporting cast too is excellent here. With Monica Barbaro being a stand out among the fresh faces, she is quickly followed by Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Bashir Salahuddin, Charles Parnell, Danny Ramirez, Jay Ellis and Manny Jacinto. Veteran actors Jon Hamm and Ed Harris too deliver strong performances despite their limited screen time. On the whole, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is a true blue blockbuster which surpasses its predecessor by brilliantly blending spectacle with sentiment to exhilarating effect.
Directed – Joseph Kosinski
Starring – Jennifer Connelly, Tom Cruise, Jon Hamm
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 131 minutes
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