[NO SPOILERS for Top Gun: Maverick]
“Don’t think. Do.”
Shocking almost everyone, Top Gun: Maverick released last Friday to supersonic reviews, which lead me to wonder – is this more than just another generic legacy sequel? The answer, I found out shortly after, is a resounding yes. Top Gun: Maverick is a magnificent piece of cinema, a purely nostalgic piece of action that does exactly what the audience wants it to do and leaves everyone in the theater grinning ear to ear. As someone who merely tolerated the first Top Gun, its sequel has me genuinely wanting to revisit it, standing on the shoulders of its predecessor to reach spectacular heights. It’s worth noting that the opinion is a consensus, too – Maverick has a 4.2 on Letterboxd compared to a 3.3 from the original Top Gun; CNN just having published an editorial matter-of-factly titled “Why it matters that Top Gun: Maverick is so much better than the original.”
But why is Maverick so special? Well, first of all, the ensemble is diverse, charming, and wonderful. Glen Powell is hilariously smug and arrogant as one of Maverick’s flight students, Monica Barbaro is coolly intriguing as another one, and Jon Hamm as Cruise’s military superior has an exceedingly commanding and convincing presence that fits his character. Jennifer Connelly, the film’s love interest, has great chemistry with Tom Cruise, though I do have some problems with her character. Miles Teller plays the son of Goose, Maverick’s best friend, with surprising emotional resonance. His arc with Maverick is poignant, powerful, and uplifting. And Maverick’s actor Tom Cruise is, of course, once again at the top of his game here. He is always iconic and memorable, filling the screen with his effortless charisma. Finally, though she is not a cast member, Lady Gaga’s original song “Hold My Hand” is catchy, powerful, and well-utilized.
However, the true reason why Top Gun: Maverick is so amazing is the aerial action. The original Top Gun saw brief glimpses of this, but those times in the air were mere tastes of a meal fully delivered in Maverick, a film dominated by aerial sequences taken up a notch from their antecedents. The action is exhilarating and entertaining beyond imagination, for a variety of reasons. The actual utilization of Navy resources is impressive to research, and many congratulations must go out to director Joseph Kosinski for pulling off the sequences so accurately. The sound design is thunderous and impactful, seamlessly putting you in the minds of the pilots. The cinematography is crisp and clean – nothing happening in the air is ever confusing or misleading. The score always enhances what’s happening on screen, and gave me chills multiple times with how it tugged on my nostalgia for the original. Finally, the editing is simply phenomenal. I was in true awe of how deftly editor Eddie Hamilton sculpted already excellent segments into monumental experiences. The beauty and entertainment value of Top Gun: Maverick lies within the breathtaking action that can only be truly enjoyed in a movie theater, though I know I say that often.
I definitely wouldn’t call Maverick a truly exceptional film, though. While it tops any list relating to entertainment, there are some definite issues with the script. Anything occurring on the ground – i.e. a non-aerial sequence – has the tendency to drag slightly, feeling notably slower than the scenes in the air. The side characters feel very onenote and could have used some more character development. Jennifer Connelly’s character is monumentally confusing. Many, including myself at first, might think that she’s a recast version of Maverick’s love interest in the first film. However, she’s actually a new love interest, an old flame who we’ve never met before. But infuriatingly, the film decides to just assume we know this, treating her like an established character well-known in the minds of Top Gun fans. It’s a bizarre and misleading writing choice. And finally, the blatant American exceptionalism can feel a bit tiresome. We’re supposed to blindly accept that this dangerous mission is crucial to national security without even explaining who the antagonists are; the enemy nation never even named. The victorious feelings one is supposed to have during the film are slightly soured by this. These minor issues coalesce into notable writing imperfections for Top Gun: Maverick.
I’ll award Top Gun: Maverick a hearty 4 stars; an immensely entertaining and exhilarating legacy sequel with a few blemishes in its screenplay.