The original Top Gun is a film I was fairly familiar with but I hadn’t seen all the way through until recently. It’s a film that I know through cultural osmosis but when I saw it I ended up being pretty disappointed. Top Gun: Maverick though is more of the film I wanted the first Top Gun to be.
Taking place over 30 years after the events of the first film and finds Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell still as a test pilot for the navy. When a dangerous mission calls for the best pilots in the navy to be deployed, Maverick is brought back to Top Gun as an instructor. Matters are complicated though by one of the pilots being Rooster, the son of Maverick’s old partner Goose, with Maverick still feeling responsible for the death of Goose in the first film. What works about the film is that the stakes and personal issues feel more clearly defined here than in the first film. Here, we understand the feelings Maverick has and his personal conflict over training Rooster, not wanting to feel the same pain and guilt he felt over the death of Goose. The focus on a singular mission meanwhile gives a clear goal and stakes for the film, creating an omnipresent sense of peril throughout the film and you do get invested over the danger of the mission and whether the pilots will be ready. There’s also a melancholic feel to the film, especially with the return of Iceman with health issues he has, along with the sense that this is the end of an era, with the transition from pilots to drones.
The performances meanwhile do a decent job at selling the film. Tom Cruise works well as Maverick, having the same swagger that makes the character an engaging presence, but the age of Maverick does feel present and he knows that he is a bit of a relic. The darker elements are where Cruise shines though, effectively showing his guilt over Goose and the fear he has over losing Rooster. Miles Teller as Rooster meanwhile works well as the son of Anthony Edwards, having the right look for the character. You understand the anger he has towards Maverick and of the new cast members he is the most compelling. Jon Hamm and Ed Harris are fairly undeveloped but do a good job as the stem authority figures, whilst Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman and Monica Barbaro are decent as the other pilots, even if they feel underdeveloped. The worst hit for underdeveloped characters is Jennifer Connelly who is pretty wasted here with a pretty bland character that doesn’t make effective use of her talents. Val Kilmer as Iceman meanwhile turns a one scene appearance into one of the most poignant moments in the film, with his health issues being worked in respectfully.
The technical elements of the film though are where it truly shines. The flying scenes throughout the film are incredible, the use of real planes and knowing there are flying that fast and high gives the film a great sense of tactility. This tactile feel also adds to the intensity of the action scenes as there is a genuine sense of peril created. In IMAX especially this is a visceral experience and you feel the speed throughout the film, aided by the excellent sound design and effects that highlight the speed and power of the planes.
Overall, whilst there are some characters that could have been developed better, I found Top Gun: Maverick to be a good experience. The story is more engaging and emotional than I expected, working well as a legacy sequel, whilst the flying scenes give it a visceral feel that is a bit missing in blockbusters.
My Rating: 4/5