“To say the film is up there with the best of the best is an understatement. Paramount Pictures Top Gun: Maverick flies so high, it is almost out of the stratosphere”
Some films need to be EXPERIENCED, not simply watched. If you want to watch your movies on streaming, PVOD, or the disc formats, then that’s completely fine. But I believe in the cinematic experience. And there are many films out there that can’t simply be seen, they must be experienced in a darkened theater, with the sound system cranked up to full, just to get the full effect of what is on the screen. The original ‘Top Gun’ is one of these films. To watch the film is doing it a disservice. You need to experience it in full. I did, all the way back in 1986. In a darkened theater, with the sound system roaring along with the jet engines and everything on screen. And it was wonderful.
After thirty-six years of waiting, we finally get a sequel to the classic original. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has been hyped up so much, that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations, right? It will be a letdown to all those excited by it, correct? Is ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ a good film? No. Is ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ a brilliant film? Yes. Is ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ a sheer masterclass in filmmaking, one that will not only become a huge crowd pleaser but a highly regarded film amongst the fans? You damn right it is! This is the kind of film cinema was made for. And needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
I saw it in IMAX and was blown away by what the film contains. Put simply, to say the film is up there with the best of the best is an understatement. Paramount Pictures ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ flies so high, that it is almost out of the stratosphere.
HIGHWAY BACK TO THE DANGER ZONE
The film starts perfectly. The Paramount logo starts to appear. And then the ‘Top Gun Anthem’ starts to play alongside it. We are back in familiar territory. And believe me, the second the anthem starts, its goosebumps, and shivers down the spine time. We now reunite with Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise). Maverick has purposely dodged advancement in his career, preferring to take to the skies instead. Maverick is the test pilot for a brand new stealth fighter and is under pressure to keep the project funded. However, the top brass, led by Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain (a cameoing Ed Harris) wants the project shut down. Will Maverick take this lying down? What do you think?
After coming into conflict with Cain he is assigned back to Top Gun at the behest of Admiral Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer, more on whom later). Maverick’s mission is to train a new team of the best pilots the Navy has to offer for what is a suicide mission. He is placed under the command of Vice-Admiral Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson (Jon Hamm). Simpson doesn’t want Maverick anywhere near the pilots, deeming him a risk. To make things worse, one of the pilots selected for the mission is Lieutenant Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late RIO and best friend, ‘Goose.’ The pair have bad blood between them, which we discover exactly why later on.
As well as ‘Rooster’, Maverick’s pilots include Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin (Glen Powell), a cocky pilot but one who isn’t trusted by the rest. Natasha ‘Phoenix’ Trace (Monica Barbaro), Robert ‘Bob’ Floyd (Lewis Pullman), Phoenix’s WSO. Reuban ‘Payback’ Fitch (Jay Ellis), Mickey ‘Fanboy’ Garcia (Danny Ramirez), Payback’s WSO. And Javy ‘Coyote’ Machado (Greg Tarzan Davis). These pilots are the best of the best. All are capable to lead the mission. But what they want to know is, who is better than them who can teach them better than they know? No prizes for guessing out who that will be.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. The film is astonishing. Forget what you think will happen, it doesn’t. What the film does is take a great dose of nostalgia and mix it with up-to-date weaponry, machines, and topical issues to produce a sequel that is out of this world. Did you come here for the aerial sequences? You’ll get them and then some. You won’t believe what they managed to do with the aircraft during the film. And almost all of it is practical, real-world flying.
There are a few shots that are CGI but they are very few and far between. It is amazing and awe-inspiring. And demand you see them on the biggest screen possible. In IMAX, these scenes soar higher than you’d expect. There is one sequence in particular that I couldn’t believe I was seeing. Believe me, you’ll know it when you see it. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful. And so visually intense, that you’ll be gasping for breath after it.
There are times when we are reminded of what has gone before. As I said, the film is heavily grounded in nostalgia at times. And it shows that what goes around, comes around for the next generation. There is one scene that is heavy on nostalgia but is quite poignant at the same time. Some scenes replicate in some way things that happened in the original film. But these are crowd-pleasing moments, ones that will have the audience screaming and whooping with delight. Many people I saw the film with were clapping loudly at these points. And so will you if the truth is known. The excitement levels go sky-high throughout the film. But surprisingly, the film is highly emotional at times. And I do mean emotional. In one scene, I have to admit, I had a lump in my throat.
The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski. What he has filmed and directed is exemplary. Kosinski has a keen eye for visual flair and for directing actors and it shows. He seems to have immersed himself in the original film and the direction of the late Tony Scott (to who the film is dedicated) and come up with his take on the material. And it works throughout the film. The aerial sequences are choreographed and shot to perfection but Kosinski can also handle the quieter moments. And the scenes featuring the cast give the audience an even better look at the characteristics of their makeup. Kosinski can handle everything that has been asked of him here and his direction cannot be faulted.
The screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie is sublime. All three have taken the plotline from the first film and expanded it out to create something that hits all the right notes. Fan service is paid in spades but they have also crafted a film that goes far beyond the basic premise of Maverick returning. As I said, the film is highly emotional at times to go alongside the thrills of the aerial sequences.
They also pepper their script with a lot of humor which hits all the right spots. Some of what they’ve added to the script is inspired. But they also pay tribute to what’s gone before while fleshing out the characters. That goes especially for Maverick himself. Far from being a replica of the character from the original film, here we see more of his character than we imagined. And we feel for him as well as cheer.
The film wouldn’t have been the same without the contribution of Harold Faltermeyer, who composed the score for the original film. Wisely, the filmmakers have, in conjunction with Lady Gaga, Hans Zimmer, and mostly Lorne Balfe, brought Faltermeyer back to contribute to the score. And boy, do we know it. It isn’t a spoiler to say that Faltermeyer’s anthem is the base for the score of the film. And it works perfectly. With snippets of Lady Gaga’s song for the film ‘Hold My Hand’ included instrumentally in the score, the music fits the film 100%.
It brings back nostalgia for the first film while adding to the quality of the movie. Without the ‘Top Gun Anthem’, the film wouldn’t feel right. Without any heart being added to the score, the film wouldn’t be the same. But the score does everything it needs to do. Fist thumping, adrenaline making at times, slower and more melancholy at times. Every emotion is covered by a score that more than matches the original.
Everything about the film’s production is top-notch in all areas. The Cinematography by Claudio Miranda is without reproach, and the editing by Eddie Hamilton is fast, clean, and crisp. What producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, David Ellison, and Christopher McQuarrie have created is the perfect sequel. Everything is as it should be. But they then go beyond the high standards they’ve set to bring us something that has to be experienced to be fully believed. The sound alone will have the theater’s seats shaking as the afterburners kick in and will bring a thrill to the audience.
The entire cast gives their all to bring us to the next chapter in the Maverick story. Every one of them plays their part in the proceedings. None more so than Glen Powell as Hangman. When we first meet him, we don’t like him. He reminds us very much of Iceman. And we sometimes want to punch him as hard as we can. And he deserves it. Powell takes the role and gives us his all. His interactions with the rest of the team and in particular Rooster give us all we need to see inside his character and Powell plays it up to the max. The relationship between Hangman and Rooster reminds us of the rivalry between Iceman and Maverick in the original. And once again, it works perfectly.
The same goes for Monica Barbaro as Phoenix. Her performance here is top-notch. Hers isn’t the token female role, it is an essential part of what is to come. Her character is essential for what we see on screen. Phoenix isn’t some easy push about, she is a strong female who fights for her spot on the team. And she impresses us at every turn. Except for Cruise and Teller, Glen Powell and Monica Barbaro are, at times, the main focus of the film and two of the central characters vital to what is to come.
Jennifer Connolly as Penny Benjamin is a great character who has very little to do, sadly. The character is the token love interest and unfortunately, apart from a few scenes and speeches, is there to make up the numbers. Where Kelly McGillis in the original was a large, vital part of the story, here Jennifer Connolly has a limited role. Her character Penny is a bar owner, a single mother, and a former flame of Mavericks. You can see where her character is going, and what will happen to her by the end credits, which is a shame as she deserved so much more. But she does push the story forward in some way throughout proceedings and as such, can’t be faulted. Jennifer Connolly is a terrific actress who did deserve more from her role.
Miles Teller here gives us a career-best performance. The role of Rooster is a difficult one, knowing what we do about his father. And for the animosity between himself and Maverick. But Teller pulls it off with ease. His scenes with Cruise are inspired. Maverick wants to shield and protect Rooster while Rooster feels anger, animosity, and in some way, hatred towards Maverick. Rooster wants and needs to go his own way, to follow his own chosen path, something Maverick is standing in the way of. While the rest of the team wants to listen and learn from Maverick, Rooster doesn’t care or wants to learn from him.
Teller’s performance can be compared to Anthony Edwards’ in the original film but to do so would be unfair. Yes, he is similar to Goose in many ways, as a son is similar to his father in many ways. But Teller drags out the soul of Rooster and exposes it for all to see. He is different from his father while also having many of the same traits. And the relationship between him and Maverick is a vital part of the story.
Val Kilmer returns as Iceman around the halfway point of the film. Although his screentime is limited, his appearance is everything we could want. From where we left the pair at the climax of the original, we discover that they have become lifelong friends. And seeing the two actors interact one more time is not only heartwarming but is tearjerking by the same standard. Kilmer’s health problems have been well documented and they are addressed in the film. The scene is the most emotional in the film.
Maverick lays his soul bare during these interactions and his tears are mirrored by our own. Both actors give quiet and restrained performances. But we see the old rivalry between them in a heartwarming moment. Kilmer only speaks briefly, as much as his illness will now allow him to. But when he does, we are riveted to the screen. It is one of the quieter high points the film contains. But is vital without a doubt. And seeing the two actors together once more is wonderful.
But it is Tom Cruise where the film’s success or failure lies. And he has brought back his possibly best character of all time with a bang. This Maverick is older, slightly wiser, but still as brash and cocky as ever. From the minute Cruise appears on screen, we are back on safe ground. From the second he flashes his trademark smile, we are hooked. This is what we have paid to see. This is what we’ve been waiting thirty-six years for. And the wait was worth it.
Cruise delivers a career-best performance as Maverick. I don’t think the Academy will nominate his performance for a Best Actor award at next year’s Oscars. But he deserves it hands down. His performance wrings us out emotionally in every respect. We cheer for Maverick. We feel sorry for Maverick. And we even cry alongside Maverick. But at no point during the film does Cruise’s performance dip. The actor suffered for his art in this film, as well documented. And it shows.
Tom Cruise wrenches every emotion out of Maverick in the film. He brings out elements of the character that we wouldn’t believe. From where we left him at the climax of the first film to where he is during this is like night and day. In the original movie, we saw glimpses of Maverick’s emotional side. Here, it is on display for all to see.
Maverick seems the same on the surface but he isn’t. This Maverick is a tortured soul. He is still haunted by the death of his best friend. He is plagued by self-doubts. And he is haunted by the fact that the Navy doesn’t really want or need him anymore. His time is coming to an end and he knows it. But he knows that despite the advances in technology, the world and the Navy need humans more than they care to admit. And he needs to prove it one more time. This is Cruise’s film, this is what we have been waiting for since 1986. And he doesn’t let us down.
Is this the end for the ‘Top Gun’ saga? Quite possibly. Don’t get me wrong, there is more that can be told with these characters. But I can’t see where they could go to top this sequel. There is more fuel left in the tank to go again with a third film. Where the film ends leaves the possibility that another film could be made. But that is for further down the runway. What Tom Cruise, the cast, and crew have created here will be almost impossible to top. It really is that good.
From the opening bars of the anthem to the closing music over the end credits, we find ourselves strapped into our seats for a flight that will amaze, astound, and thrill us. It takes our breath away (Sorry!) and hardly lets us up for air. We are more than happy to take to the skies with Maverick once again and feel sad when we come into land. Exciting, thrilling, emotional, and completely enjoyable from start to finish. Make no mistake, the film is a rare sequel that is better than the original. And is almost certain to blow the world’s box offices apart when it opens next week. It’s time to take the highway to the danger zone once again. And to feel the need, the need for speed. All in all, it’s top fun!
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ from Paramount Pictures will release on May 25th in the UK and May 27th in the USA. Book your tickets NOW!
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!