It’s been 36 years since the original “Top Gun” was released.  It was generally well-received at the time but hasn’t aged as nicely as nostalgia for the film would lead us to believe.  When “Maverick” was announced, it joined a long line of decades-late sequels fans wanted but were hesitant to embrace, especially since most of the follow-ups on this list ended up disappointing.  Director Joseph Kosinski, and screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie respect what made people love the original and lean into it, while at the same time paying more attention to the areas it was lacking.  The result is a movie that ends up exceeding its predecessor in every way.

“Maverick” starts off the only way it can, an adrenaline-filled montage of fighter jets and crew scrambling across the deck of an aircraft carrier while the Top Gun Anthem plays.  It may even be a shot-for-shot remake from the original, but with newer tech, and much crisper visuals.  After getting the audience in the mood, we’re reintroduced to a much older Maverick (TC).  In many ways, he’s the same man he was before.  Arrogant, brash, pushing the limits, and breaking the rules.  Some things have changed though.  He’s not as selfish as he once was.  Many of the choices he makes are for the betterment of others.  Maverick also hasn’t been able to shake the blame he feels for the death of Goose (Anthony Edwards) in the first movie.  This weight has poisoned the relationship he has with Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) who has also become a Top Gun pilot.   Their paths intersect again when Iceman (Val Kilmer) recruits Maverick to train a select group of pilots for a top-secret (suicide?) mission.

The narrative takes a while to get where it’s going.  This could be seen as a negative in some movies, but here the film is taking its time to establish the characters and explore some of the tough choices Maverick will have to make by the third act.  By doing so, there’s more urgency and weight given to the action scenes and the movie truly earns its best moments.  Even the sweet romance between Maverick and bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly) is given considerable more screentime than his fling in the first film.  This doesn’t mean the movie takes itself too seriously because it certainly does not.  A handful of lines are groan-worthy and some scenarios exist outside of reality, but it’s all done with delightful earnestness that it doesn’t really matter.

It goes without saying that the true audience draw for this film is the fighter jet action scenes.  One would expect the visual effects in this film to be superior to what was achievable in 1986, but what’s seen in this movie exceeds all expectations.  With wide-angle Imax lenses at the front of the cockpits, we can easily see the pilot, the scenery flying past them, and occasionally even other aircraft.  It’s impossible to find the line between VFX and reality, especially when we can see the effect pulling extreme G’s has on Tom Cruise’s face.  More and more films are boasting “shot for IMAX” these days, but “Top Gun: Maverick” is one that begs to be seen on the largest screen possible.

Top Gun: Maverick
4.5