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"Top Gun: Maverick" (2022) Review: Don't Think, Just Sequel

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

Official theatrical poster for "Top Gun: Maverick."

Official theatrical poster for "Top Gun: Maverick."

An Enormously Thrilling Yet Heavily Flawed Aerial Action Adventure

More than three decades after the original film, Top Gun: Maverick sees Capt. Pete 'Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) in the Mojave Desert attempting to reach Mach 10 despite not having the clearance for it. Never surpassing the rank of captain and refusing to retire, Maverick’s inability to abide by the rules has him on the verge of being released from his duties with the Navy altogether. But thanks to a little help from Iceman (the returning Val Kilmer), Maverick’s only option if he wants to continue to fly is to return to Top Gun.

However, Maverick isn’t expected to fly as he’s called upon to teach a class of new recruits. Maverick’s reputation as one of the Navy’s top aviators will be required to show a team of fresh faces that a seemingly impossible flight mission is, in fact, able to be executed. Included in the current Top Gun class is Lt. Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s best friend Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw. With friction between the two that has yet to be resolved, Maverick faces his most complicated and dangerous mission yet.

The Top Gun from 1986 is a terrible, overly machismo, and unapologetically sexist film. Everyone is sweatier than the cast of Alien and every pilot talks about how hard their junk is whenever they refer to flying. The film is like a time capsule of the 80s where the most memorable aspect of the film is the song, “Danger Zone,” which is recycled for Top Gun: Maverick. Watching the 1986 film now is a painfully cringeworthy experience.

The original film is essentially a summer time beer commercial where dude bros argue over whose sky car VROOM VROOM’s the loudest and WHOOSHes the fastest. Maverick meets up with Charlie (Kelly McGillis) for what is implied as a first date at her house for dinner, but arrives late after playing half naked volleyball with the boys and then just talks about needing to shower the entire time. Everyone in this damn movie needs a cold shower.

Tom Cruise as Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Tom Cruise as Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."

A Wild Goose Chase to the Past

The dramatic action sequel opens in the exact same way as the original film; “Danger Zone” playing over the opening credits, the same text as the opening of the original film, and footage of aircrafts being prepared for flight on the runway. It’s updated footage, but it’s filmed and edited in a way to look like the opening footage of the original Top Gun. The film clutches onto nostalgia by featuring story elements and sequences that are homage to the original film. Rooster sings “Great Balls of Fire” while playing the piano when his character is first introduced and the volleyball sequence has been replaced with a game of two hand touch football on the beach (it’s still done half naked though).

The last scene is an overall reference to the conversation between Iceman and Maverick at the end of the first film. Maverick being introduced as the new Top Gun instructor is an immediate throwback to Charlie’s reveal when she first walks up in front of the Top Gun class in the original film. It seems like a ton of unnecessary throwback, especially when one of your key characters is the son of a major character that was killed off the first time around.

Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in "Top Gun: Maverick."

The obvious highlight is the flying sequences of Top Gun: Maverick. Since Tom Cruise is becoming more and more insane as he ages he wanted little to no CGI or green screen utilized whenever they were in the cockpit. So the majority of the cast had to undergo G-force training. The film was meant to be seen on the biggest screen you have the ability to access. The flight perspective and camera placement makes you either feel like you’re riding on the nose of the plane or are sitting shotgun and looking back at the pilot whenever they’re in the air.

You typically only see the pilot from the neck up, as well. This results in totally open sequences where all you see is rotating blue sky and spiraling jet streams as the aircrafts barrel through the air. That feeling of your stomach falling when you’re on a roller coaster and it suddenly drops after a big climb; that adrenaline fueled rush is the same feeling you get during every flight sequence in Top Gun: Maverick.

Jennifer Connelly as Penelope "Penny" Benjamin in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Jennifer Connelly as Penelope "Penny" Benjamin in "Top Gun: Maverick."

I'm Something of a Goose Admirer Myself

Maybe it’s because there are so many references to the first film, but Top Gun: Maverick is plagued by the same writing issues that haunted the first film. With five people credited as either contributing to the story or as screenwriters, it seems like this is an aspect that should be way more polished than it is. The biggest issue is that there’s still literally nothing fleshed out when it comes to who the enemy is in the film. In the first film, it was basically they’re bad because we say they’re bad. In Top Gun: Maverick, we know that they have a new advanced aircraft while the mission they need to fly to stop them requires extremely low altitude while maneuvering through difficult, mountainous terrain.

The film is more of an emotional connection between the audience and Maverick than anything else. His relationship with Rooster as well as his on again and off again fling with Penny (Jennifer Connelly) is what really drives the film. Whether or not Maverick has matured at all over the past thirty years is something the film is forced to address. Flying fast and being the best is as deep as the Top Gun franchise gets; it’s like The Fast and the Furious strapped to rockets and jet packs. As long as the film has breathtaking flying sequences, then a majority of the audience will go home happy.

Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Top Gun: Maverick is a sequel that is a leaps and bounds improvement over the original film. There’s better acting from the entire cast, more of an emotional attachment between at least two of the main characters in the film, and subtle humor that actually lands. But the film’s constant need to fly in the same flight pattern as the original film comes off as more of a restraint than a fond recollection.

The sequel seems to highlight many of the shortcomings of the original film, which in retrospect seems like something you’d try to avoid. With its record breaking box office during Memorial Day weekend, Top Gun: Maverick is an enormously thrilling sequel with unparalleled action sequences that has proven to be exactly what fans have been waiting over 30 years for.

Great Balls of Fire. The redux. Miles Teller as Rooster in "Top Gun: Maverick."

Great Balls of Fire. The redux. Miles Teller as Rooster in "Top Gun: Maverick."

© 2022 Chris Sawin