Sky’s the Limit — Top Gun: Maverick Review

In search of box office returns, Hollywood began turning to reboots and remakes.

Now, tip-toeing out of a pandemic, it looks like we have entered the era of redemption stories.

Top Gun: Maverick, which was originally slated for a 2019 release, was delayed by reshoots, COVID-19 lockdowns, and scheduling issues with its main star. In fact, a sequel to the original Top Gun (1986) was in the works since 2010 when Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer were offered the project by Paramount Pictures.

Being beset by so many issues, including the tragic death of Tony Scott after his terminal cancer diagnosis, I would not have been surprised if — upon finally releasing — reviews came in declaring the movie a dud.

Yet, somehow, Top Gun: Maverick soars and is one of the best action movies I’ve seen in recent times. It’s efficient and compelling with a plot grounded in reality. Coupled with a dynamic camera that will satisfy any audience member’s need for speed, fans of the first movie will leave theaters feeling like they’ve had the ride of their life.

Taking 36 years after the events of the first film, TG:M catches up with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) who now works as a high-speed test pilot willing to take things up to 11, literally. After crashing a top-secret jet in search of Mach 11, Maverick is given one last chance at the behest of his former wingman, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky.

Turns out the Navy has a critical mission for its Top Gun members and Maverick’s the only one who can teach them how to get it done. It’s an impossible mission — pilots will need to traverse a tight canyon at extremely low altitudes and terminal speeds in order to evade surface-to-air missiles before climbing the lip of a valley while inverting in order to hit a feet-long obstacle using laser-guided missiles. Once missiles are launched, pilots will then have to pull hard on their sticks in order to climb a steep mountain face while trying not to black out due to the force of gravity that will feel like they’re being crushed by a one-ton elephant.

And if they manage to do all of that, they’ll have to dogfight against a superior force of fifth-generation fighter craft that will keep them from returning home.

There’s nothing to give away in terms of spoilers — success isn’t ever in doubt even if Navy command isn’t sure Maverick is ready or willing to put away his flight ambitions in order to give his students the attention and training they need. What the movie does well, in spite of it all, is give audiences a journey through the rigorous steps of learning it’s not about the circumstances as much as it is in how one approaches a goal.

Were it not for the emotional plot points, Top Gun: Maverick would still have amazing action pieces, but by raising the stakes and giving each character something to fight for and lose, you can’t help but feel more invested. Maverick, still coming to terms with Goose’s death all these decades later, carries multiple heavy burdens and is forced to confront the ghost of his past when Goose’s son Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw is assigned to the mission.

And while lesser movies struggle to deliver a final act that toes the line between ridiculousness and humdrum, Top Gun: Maverick gives audiences what they want without expecting them to turn off their brains.

There’s a lot to appreciate — cameos and reflections of the past will give fans of the first film a feeling of recognition while a new cast of Top Gun members will possibly fill out a potential franchise if producers feel the need to go faster and furiouser.

Top Gun: Maverick somehow manages to top the first film. If it were up to me, Hollywood would leave this one alone for the foreseeable future.

This one is an action-movie for the ages and will likely inspire — like the first movie — a whole generation of pilots to enlist. Interestingly enough, it’s the movie that questions what place those human pilots will have in an increasingly technological military where drones and unmanned aircraft can launch strikes without human risk or pilot error.

I guess, in the same breath, the movie also shows that when it comes down to it, life and even war is more personal with humans steering their own course.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Bashir Salahuddin, Jon Hamm, Charles Parnell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Glen Powell, Jack Schumacher, Greg Tarzan Davis, Lyliana Wray, and Ed Harris

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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