I have a confession to make. Unlike everyone else, I didn’t like Top Gun when it came to theaters in 1986. The film came out a few years after I graduated from high school and Tom Cruise’s smug Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character reminded me of all of the arrogant jocks I left behind there. I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. At least, that is how I remember it. I recently re-watched the film just before a screening for Top Gun: Maverick and I was able to take in more of the story this time around. With the exception of cringing-inducing lines like, “I’ve got the need…for speed” and “You can be my wingman any time,” I found it to be a much more enjoyable film this time around.
Now, many years later, we finally get that sequel that Hollywood has been talking about for so long and boy what a difference a few decades make. Audiences who were impressed with the flight scenes with the original will be blown away with the sequel thanks to IMAX and the fact that there are no green screens or CGI. It’s beautiful and thrilling. It really gives you a sense that you are riding along with Pete and the gang. Especially the G-force pressures.
This Pete is different. After many years serving as one of the Navy’s top aviators, he is living his best life as a test pilot. He’s older and his attitude is a less grating, but he hasn’t completely grown up either. After 30 years, he’s never settled down, his still wears that same bomber jacket, rides that same motorcycle and his hair looks the same. (Well, it’s obvious that Cruise is dying his hair, but then again, that is exactly the same vanity that Maverick would be concerned about as well.) He’s still that guy who is always pushing things a little too far. But now he has some experience under his belt and he’s going to need that experience in order to get through the thick skulls of the next generation of Top Gun graduates who are all just as cocky as he was at that age.
One of those graduates is Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), also known as Rooster. He just so happens to be the son of Nick Bradshaw whose call sign was Goose, and Pete’s late friend from the first movie. The task laid out in front of them is a grim one. It will force Maverick to face his demons and Rooster to settle the score between him and the man who “took” his father away from him. But besides that, this new team of players are tasked with a life or death mission with it that only the best of the best can complete. Maverick’s goal is to do so without any casualties.
In many ways, Top Gun: Maverick tells the same story all over again, cheesy lines and all. The movie begins with aerial shots of Navy planes set to the music of Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone”. The young pilots at the bar give an “old timer” a hard time before finding out that he’s their new instructor. One student, Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) and his sneer is this film’s “Iceman”. Maverick’s new love interest, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) appears to be living in the same waterfront home that Charlie once lived in. And then there is Rooster who looks exactly like his father with the same mustache and Hawaiian shirts. When he sits at the piano to play, “Great Balls of Fire”, it is all too much. But as the film goes on, the nostalgic music changes to contemporary tunes (including one new Lady Gaga song), the callouts become less and the movie morphs into its own story.
Top Gun: Maverick welcomes back two other characters briefly: Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) now an admiral and Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris), now a rear admiral. Sadly, neither Meg Ryan nor Kelly McGillis reprises their roles from the first film. Ryan’s character has passed away and there is no mention of Charlie at all. But the new cast is great. Jennifer Connelly’s Penny can hold her own and after all of the comedy that Jon Hamm has done in the last few years, his role as Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson reminds you that this guy really can act. He totally fits right in.
There are a lot of other Top Gun graduates in the cast too, but the ones worth mentioning are Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro) the only female and Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman) who doesn’t have a cool call sign but they make a great team.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, Top Gun: Maverick is superior to the original despite its extended ending that feels like it was tacked on. But with all of its incredible footage, Maverick will do doubt receive some award nominations. There is also an overall theme of breaking away from what you know and embracing the unknown which serves to make Pete a little more realistic and a character worth listening to.
There is no doubt that the movie will do well with ticket sales too. Sure, there will be a temptation to create yet another sequel, but that would be shame since this Top Gun makes for a nice bookend to Maverick’s story. Not everything needs to be a franchise. And who wants to wait another 30 years anyway?
Main Image: Miles Teller and Tom Cruise (Paramount Pictures)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.