Take me to Miramar! There are a few movies that come out and usually indicate summer, and pure unadulterated entertainment is here. Jaws started it. Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, and a new Avengers movie probably made some kids summers. And in 2022, Top Gun: Maverick is here to remind everyone why a feature on the big screen can be an experience like no other: a rip roaring aerial ride of adrenaline and delight.
When we last left Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), he was riding high after saving the world and his wingman Iceman (Val Kilmer). Years later, Maverick is living on the outskirts of the Navy, test piloting various supersonic jets. After being reprimanded for his latest boundary pushing blunder, Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) tell Maverick he’s been ordered to teach the new crop of Top Gun recruits, the Navy’s best of the best pilots, by now US Fleet Commander, Iceman. Among the recruits being taught are the cocky Hang Man (Glen Powell), the stoic Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), weapons specialist Bob, yes Bob (Lewis Pullman), and as fate would have it, Rooster (Miles Teller), son of Goose, who was Maverick’s Radar Information Officer who tragically perished while flying with Pete.
Even though the movie probably would have been better with Tom Cruise in a supporting role, this movie is called Top Gun: MAVERICK to put asses in the seats. Cruise is front and center for the entire movie, meaning the whole story has to revolve around him. The flying part is easy to write (more on the directing later); the key is to make sure the scenes on the ground just don’t grind the movie to a halt. Again, half of this is in the bag: “Maverick: Top Gun Instructor” works really well, with Cruise playing Maverick smarter, subdued, but just as cocky as when he was in Top Gun himself, hilariously sparring with his boss Cyclone (Jon Hamm) and even having a few touching moments with people from his past. And the Rooster subplot basically writes itself, seeped in Top Gun lore. But that only sets up Maverick with a death wish to pay back Goose, so the story also needs to give him a love story to motivate him to keep living, feel a connection with someone, and teach Maverick life lessons he can relay to the students. Enter Jennifer Connelly. Apologies to Kelly McGillis (at least have her picture somewhere!), but the more talented Connelly makes this subplot work through her sheer force of charisma. She extracts the most emotion I’ve seen Tom Cruise show in a movie in a long time, with her effervescent personality and piercing gorgeous eyes, the alpha in the relationship at all times. The movie needs those scenes to form the emotional crux of Maverick’s arc, and Connelly delivers, every moment she’s there.
But the reason Top Gun is incredible is Joseph Kosinski’s direction. Kosinski has lots of marching orders: pay homage to the 1986 Top Gun, explain the mission so a mainstream audience can understand, make Tom Cruise look like a movie star, and treat the US Navy with reverence and respect. Kosinski handles all of them with class, and sometimes sheer brilliance. He modernizes all the 1986 Top Gun homoeroticism into 2022, giving us another beach sporting event for the ages (not quite Magic Mike, but close), reminding everyone that the point of those scenes is the bonding of the team, just cheesy enough. The mission is brilliantly constructed: there are 4 distinct, challenging, and completely unique pieces, synergistically showcasing the sheer impressiveness of the Navy’s machinery and personnel AND making it easy for the audience to know what it happening moment to moment. Cruise and Kosinski worked on Oblivion together, so the director has Cruise’s trust already. That trust pays off in the highlight of the movie: the incredible, tense, final 40 minutes of aerial majesty. All the buildup from Top Gun training leads to this climax, filled simply with action sequences that have never been attempted or seen on a screen before. Cruise did all of the flying himself, allowing Kosinski to get the camera into places never before seen, showcasing some incredible footage that makes you feel like a pilot but not make you throw up. The planes look like they’re engaged in a dance in the air, filled with incredible moves and countermoves that will make your jaw drop to the floor, all thanks to Kosinski’s eye for a great moment.
Top Gun: Maverick is everything that makes movies great. It’s got incredible moments of tension built around moments that have to be seen to be believed. It taps into that guttural feeling of pure joy you felt as a kid experiencing something exciting, surrounded by people with that exact same feeling. And it gives us larger than life movie stars like Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Tom Cruise, and soon to be superstar Glen Powell, who somehow outshines Tom Cruise in a movie built around Cruise himself. Every will Want Some!! part of Powell after Top Gun: Maverick, of this I am sure.