“Top Gun: Maverick” (US Rated PG-13)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm
Where to watch: In theaters
I have a secret.
I don’t really know how this happened, but I must confess …
I’d never seen “Top Gun”!
I know it seems crazy. But I had only just turned 10 when it first came out. So, that was a big part of the reason.
But even years later, while I was gobbling up anything I could find on VHS and later DVD, and pay-per-view and premium cable and regular cable and network TV, for some reason, I was able to avoid seeing what many regard as an action/adventure classic, and the film that cemented Tom Cruise as a bona fide action hero and movie star.
Even more surprising is I’d convinced myself I had actually seen it. It’s been referenced so many times in everything from other movies and TV shows to cartoons and commercials, I could have sworn I had.
Plus, that soundtrack is beyond legendary. Oscar-winning Best Original Song “Take My Breath Away” is as amazing today as it was when we first heard it. I definitely knew and loved that song as a kid.
And “Danger Zone” has gone from being supremely annoying to a catchy earworm and back to annoying at least a half dozen times over these many years (still love Kenny Loggins though!).
So, “Top Gun” is a part of us, whether we know it or like it.
And like it or not, a sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” is here, 36 years after the original. It opens today, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend in the United States, and the official start of the summer blockbuster season.
To prepare myself for this massively hyped picture, I decided to finally see what I’d been missing all these years. And oh boy! Now I remember why I wasn’t all that interested.
Despite the stellar cast, many of whom would go on to become some of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the late 1980s and 90s, and despite the soon-to-be-outstanding pedigree of its director, the late great Tony Scott (“Beverly Hills Cop II”, “Enemy of the State”, “The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)”), and despite some truly spellbinding aerial sequences with fighter jets whirling and twirling all about (and no computer-generated nonsense here), the original “Top Gun” is still just your typical Jerry Bruckheimer action flick.
And if you like typical Jerry Bruckheimer action flicks (there are a few exceptional exceptions), then you probably loved “Top Gun”. For the rest of us, though, you know that means “Top Gun” was about as shallow as one of the helmets worn by fighter pilots.
Nevertheless, audiences propelled it to the top grossing film of 1986. Lacking in any significant conflict, besides childish rivalries, and with heaping doses of the standard 80s movie macho/bravado nonsense, it is very much in keeping with what counted as quality entertainment for the masses in the “Greed Decade” – jocks and pretty girls driving/flying around fast and being rebellious against their parents or “The Man”, trying to find their place in the world.
Watching it in 2022, the 80s have never looked so vapid. So, why exactly are we revisiting this?
Well, like the many things we never knew we needed until we get them, “Top Gun: Maverick” is the answer to a question we apparently should have been asking for years.
Cruise is back as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Mitchell is still pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.
Cruise has matured into the movie world’s most complex action hero, capable of believable emotion and compassion along with total “bad-assedness”! We’ve known this with the “Mission: Impossible” series and especially “Edge of Tomorrow”.
Here, he makes that kid he played in the original look like, well, a kid. There’s a classy, sophisticated maturity to the whole production. This ain’t no juvenile frat boy pissing contest anymore!
Everything just seems to be firing on all engines, pun intended.
There’s non-stop but sensible action. “Maverick” has extracted the little meat on the bones from the original and crafted a multi-course feast, much more diverse, more realistic, more spectacular than the source material.
The one solitary touching plot point from “Top Gun” is mined into a pretty good storyline (except for some timelines that don’t exactly add up – but that’s not important).
The strong, fantastic supporting cast includes Miles Teller (“Whiplash”), playing the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards), Maverick’s former wingman. There’s also Emmy-winner Jon Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”), a cameo by original cast bad boy Val Kilmer, a host of up-and-coming young actors, and Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) as Maverick’s love interest.
The action is edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Every frame is intense and exciting. It’s so good, it actually makes the original “Top Gun” seem decent. Obviously, it couldn’t have been that bad if something so entertaining can come out of it.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski (“Oblivion”), “Maverick” is still a Jerry Bruckheimer production. Go figure! Add this to the column for the good ones. And don’t keep it a secret!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.