I first saw the teaser for “Top Gun: Maverick” during those strange 15 minutes of trailers before the movie you actually paid for.
I immediately wrote it off as a cheesy CGI-driven subpar sequel in the vein of “Fast and Furious”, the kind that’s incomplete without orange explosions in slow motion.
Boy, was I wrong. Over the summer, the hype around this movie got to me. I learned shamefacedly that movie star Tom Cruise insists on doing all his own stunts and that this movie is the sequel to ‘80s blockbuster “Top Gun”. After hearing rave reviews incessantly, I gave in and watched the movie.
“Top Gun: Maverick” centers around Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who attended the famed TOPGUN fighter pilot school decades ago and has now been ordered to teach new recruits. Among these is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Pete’s late friend. Maverick must train the recruits to pull off a nearly impossible mission and handle interpersonal conflicts along the way.
This movie was fantastic. There are so many things I liked about it, but the most important was that director Joseph Kosinski kept it simple. The characters and plot are well fleshed out but not overcomplicated. The mission is explained superbly through graphics and natural-feeling introductions. As a result, the audience understands which maneuvers the pilots are attempting and experience nail-biting stress and relief at just the right moments.
The stunts and filmography were incredible. Cruise holds a pilot’s license himself, and the entire cast of pilots learned how to fly jets in a three-month training camp. Kosinski said that “when you see the film you really feel what it is like to be a TOPGUN pilot,” and I wholeheartedly agree. You can practically feel the wind on your face when the planes accelerate.
Full disclosure: I never watched the original “Top Gun.” But I am told that the sequel paid touching homage to iconic characters and scenes from the predecessor, such as a chorus in the bar, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and the beach football scene. If those phrases mean anything to you, that’s nice. I’m here to tell you, however, that this movie is extremely enjoyable even if you have literally zero knowledge of the first.
As much as I liked it, I don’t think the plot of this movie was particularly groundbreaking. Besides a twisty section near the end, things work out pretty much as you’d expect them to. The magic of “Top Gun: Maverick” is that you want everything to work out well. Even minor characters were given such personality in their expressions and lines. I was really attached to all of them, and I cheered with the rest of the theater with the pilots’ successes and fell silent at their failures. Not everything has to be different to be good. “Top Gun: Maverick” is a classic action movie done to perfection.
Maybe part of the reason why I like this movie was that it was the first blockbuster in a while to not be a Marvel movie, which only grow more corporate and cookie-cutter by the day. Before the movie started playing, a recorded Cruise gave us a quick monologue about how much the film meant to him and that he hoped we enjoyed it. Cruise helped produce the movie and reportedly insisted that it only be released in cinemas, so his message felt genuine. This movie really does feel like a labor of love.
I think the people who are predicting cultural shifts and debating geopolitics based on “Top Gun: Maverick” are maybe reading too much into it. This is just a movie that is a lot of fun with great marketing. And sometimes a great movie doesn’t need to be more than that. “Top Gun: Maverick” gets five crabs from me.