It’s rare that a sequel outdoes the original, with “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” perhaps being the most prominent example of this. “Top Gun: Maverick” falls into the category of belated sequels, taking place over 30 years after the first “Top Gun” film, and as such, makes a strong case as perhaps the best belated sequel film of all time.
The film follows Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who has long since moved on from the Top Gun program as an instructor, and now finds himself flying experimental aircraft. His current project needs to reach Mach 10, or it’s going to get shut down, and in typical fashion Maverick pushes the limits of both the machine and his body and achieves it, but he goes a little too far and ends up wrecking the thing. This forces his old friend and former rival from the first film Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) to bail him out. Higher ups at the Navy have had it with Maverick, and he’s given one final assignment — to prepare a crop of Top Gun graduates for a seemingly-impossible mission in which they have to evade superior enemy fighters in order to take out an illegal uranium enrichment plant.
This is hard enough for Maverick — who tried and failed to teach Top Gun students before, and is used to being the best pilot in the room. But it’s further complicated when the son of his ex partner, Goose, who died in the first movie, is revealed to be one of the mission candidates. Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) has some resentment towards Maverick, both because his father died under his watch and because, at the request of his mother (which Rooster doesn’t know about), Maverick pulled his papers at the Naval Academy, which set his career back four years. As such, Maverick’s relationship with him is central to the movie; in essence, “Top Gun: Maverick” is a redemption story in which he corrects the wrongs he’s done to Rooster, while proving to the Navy that he still has plenty to offer them.
Also in contention for the mission is Lts. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), who antagonizes Rooster and tries to antagonize Maverick, Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman), Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), Reuben “Payback” Fitch (Jay Ellis), Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia (Danny Ramirez) and a few others, who mostly serve in supporting roles, especially once the primary mission starts. Maverick has the complex task of not only leading them, but making sure that they gel as a team. As such, much like his relationship with Iceman in the first film, they go from being antagonistic towards each other as the candidates see each other as competition, to brothers and sisters in arms. It’s also noteworthy that no character is really wasted, as while only a handful are selected to fly the mission, the rest end up staying behind on the aircraft carrier transporting them in reserve roles. Without spoiling anything, everyone on the team gets their moment to shine.
The action and stunts in this movie are impeccable, with many of them using real fighter jets like the original did. In a cinema scene dominated by bloated films that use too much CGI out of convenience and partially safety, this film’s reliance on real-world stunts instantly makes this film stand out. It serves as a celebration to this type of filmmaking, and inherently of Cruise, who serves as a producer of the film, who insists on doing films that use these type of stunts when others are content with filming in risk-free greenscreen rooms. It also looks much better than the first film, as it takes full advantage of the advances in modern filmmaking, and it feels like this film built off of lessons learned while filming the original “Top Gun” and built off of them.
This all makes the film a must-see experience to see in a movie theater. There is no better way to describe what this film accomplishes other than it makes you feel like you’re right in the cockpit with Cruise and company. It’s thrilling but also terrifying, and really makes you appreciate the insane courage pilots — especially ace pilots like Maverick — have.
But what really elevates this film above other action films is how it expertly ties its flying action to character drama. This team that Maverick cultivates must learn to rely on each other up in the air during their mission because their lives literally depend on it. The extreme challenge of the mission — and the almost certainty that some will not make it out alive — also propels Maverick into this role as a larger-than-life character, as he’s all about pushing human and technological limits, and he serves as both the team’s spirit and source of courage, as he’s able to guide them through accomplishing the impossible.
There is conflict with Maverick at every turn — his greatest strength (pushing past limits) constantly gets him in trouble, as he inevitably has to break rules and protocols to get to where he needs himself and his team to go, which doesn’t fly in the Navy. But it’s also what makes him perfect for this mission. Maverick is the only person capable of ensuring that this team accomplishes their mission, let alone survive it.
This has everything you could possibly want in a “Top Gun” sequel and more. Everything has a place in its narrative — I can’t think of anything that can noticeably improve it — and it delivers one of the best action experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is a film that slowly pulls you in and will hold you in suspense and make you cry before the credits role.
For me, it’s easily the best belated sequel of all time — it works so well precisely because it’s belated, as Maverick’s relationship with Rooster and the regrets he has for not being able to save his father are front and center. I think it also makes a strong case for being one of the best sequels of all time, and it’s certainly one of the strongest films — and arguably the strongest film to release in the theater so far — this year.
It is precisely for those reasons that I am awarding it a rare perfect score. It’s a must-see film.
“Top Gun: Maverick” gets a 10/10