The original Top Gun holds a special place in my heart; it’s the first film that I can remember truly falling in love with. Whenever my dad upgraded the sound system on our TV, this is the film he would use to test it; the sound of an F-14’s afterburners lighting up, before launching straight into Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’, is still associated with movie magic in my mind. Packed full of iconic quotes, incredible aerial photography, and with a soundtrack that I still love listening to, Top Gun is basically untouchable to me. But what of this sequel, more than three decades on?
I was certainly pleased that there was going to be another Top Gun film, but also tried to be realistic; I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as the first film, particularly in the current age of film where unnecessary and underwhelming sequels and remakes are ever more frequent. On the other hand, even if it was a disappointment, the original would always be there. Following multiple delays for obvious reasons, and then the fact that I was out of the country for the release date, I was positively itching to see Top Gun: Maverick by the time my dad and I finally got to the cinema.
Was it worth it? Yes, and then some.
It’s difficult to say whether Top Gun: Maverick is better than the first film. Naturally my long-time love of the latter is going to influence my thinking, but there’s also the fact that the two films have been produced in very different times. What can be said is that Top Gun: Maverick successfully takes the original concepts and translates them into the modern day. The film’s opening scene illustrates this perfectly: it’s essentially a remake of the original’s opening – modern F-18 jets taking off from an aircraft carrier, viewed from seemingly every glorious angle, accompanied by the ever-reliable ‘Danger Zone’ – which certainly helps to show the audience that they’re in for something both engagingly fresh and reassuringly familiar. The film as a whole has just the right amount of enjoyable callbacks to what came before, without overdoing it and coming off as lazy or forced.
The story reflects this approach as well; rather than just rehashing, clear effort has put into making it a natural, satisfying follow-up. Our hero, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), is now a Navy test pilot, unwilling to either retire or be promoted into a non-flying position. Unexpectedly, he is called back to Top Gun for a teaching role: a group of graduate pilots has been selected for a special mission over enemy lines, and Maverick – having experience of engaging enemy aircraft – has the necessary experience to train them. It’s certainly not an easy assignment: not only is the mission itself exceptionally difficult and dangerous, but one of the pilots being considered is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s best friend Goose, whose death still haunts him.
Just about everything works to make the film entertaining from beginning to end. The flying scenes, produced mostly with practical effects, are intense and immersive, putting the audience right there in the cockpit with the actors to the point that you can almost feel the G-forces. If what’s on screen wasn’t enough, the power of the sound effects – from the very first scene – make it clear why this needs to be experienced in a cinema. Harold Faltermeyer returns to handle the musical score, accompanied by Lorne Balfe, Hans Zimmer and Lady Gaga, and the result is wonderful.
Tom Cruise, naturally, is the heart of the film, smoothly settling back into the role of Maverick: from when he first appears on screen, everything about him reassures us that while he may be older and more mature, he’s still the same Maverick at heart. It’s not all about cocky smiles and defying orders, however, as Maverick has plenty of emotional baggage to deal with: his identity as a pilot and what his future looks like; the lingering impact of Goose’s death and the tension between him and Rooster; and his relationship with his old flame Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). Cruise brings it all across excellently, even if the love story is a slightly underdeveloped weak link compared to everything else. The rest of the cast handle their roles perfectly too, including Val Kilmer, who makes a welcome appearance reprising his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, in one of the most affecting scenes in the film.
On an objective level, Top Gun: Maverick probably has more emotional layers and intensity than the first film. Subjectively, I can simply say that I enjoyed watching it just as much. It is everything that a Top Gun sequel ought to be, and more. Rating: 5/5!