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edge staff writer


‘Top Gun: Maverick’ flies even higher than the original

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It’s no surprise that, in a cinematic landscape increasingly defined by IP-driven franchises, studios reach farther back into the past to mine content. Where once it seemed as if an idea was past its prime in a matter of months, these days, it’s not uncommon to get sequels that come a decade or more after their predecessors.

But what if a sequel arrived nearly four decades after the film that came before? Could a movie coming that much later possibly have anything like the impact of the original? It seems unlikely, but hey – when you introduce Tom Cruise into the equation, anything is possible.

The long-anticipated “Top Gun: Maverick” has finally arrived in movie theaters, more than three years after its initially-scheduled release and some 37 years after the release of “Top Gun.” It is a movie that seemed fated to fall short, based on a flawed-but-beloved jingoistic action classic and delayed multiple years due to circumstances both planned (extensive reshoots) and unplanned (COVID shutdowns). We’ve been waiting so long – how could it meet the inevitably-inflated expectations?

Reader, not only does it meet those expectations – it exceeds them. This movie is better than the one that inspired it, and not by a little. It is superior in terms of action, of emotional investment, of performance … just the better film, across the board.

I’m as surprised as you are.

That isn’t to say I though the movie would be bad – I didn’t. And I was definitely someone who came of age at the right time to have real affection for the original “Top Gun,” flaws and all. So I was poised to have a good time with this one. It’s just that I assumed that’s all it would be – an engaging-enough exercise in nostalgia that would be enjoyable in the moment but otherwise shoulder-shruggy.

Instead, what I got was far better than that, an exercise in top-tier action filmmaking that blends practical stunt work with CGI as well as anything we’ve seen before. Sure, some of the issues that marred the original are still here – the unabashed military self-celebration foremost among them – but thanks to a strong ensemble and a Tom Cruise capital-MS Movie Star performance, “TG:M” still manages to find an emotional resonance, exploring what it means to realize the obsolescence that comes with age and the difficulties that come with seeing change looming, even if it hasn’t yet arrived.

Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise) – callsign “Maverick” – is still a Naval aviator. He’s also still a captain some 30-plus years in, having deliberately avoided any and all promotional opportunities that might have left him deskbound. All he wants to do is fly.

After an incident involving an unsanctioned test flight, Maverick is dressed down by Rear Admiral Cain (Ed Harris), only to be told that he would be returning to Top Gun at the behest of Admiral Tom Kasansky (Val Kilmer) – AKA Iceman, Maverick’s former rival turned lifelong friend. And so, Maverick winds up in the office of Admirals Simpson (Jon Hamm) and Bates (Charles Parnell) – callsigns Cyclone and Warlock, respectively – being told that he will be teaching the next generation of hotshot fighter pilots for a secret mission, likely one of the last to be undertaken by pilots in the air as drone technology looms.

As it turns out, there are a few blasts from the past yet to come. Maverick’s old flame Penny (Jennifer Connolly) owns the favored fighter pilot bar; it’s there that Mav gets a chance to put eyes on some of his soon-to-be pupils without their knowing who he is. Among the most prominent are Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Payback (Jay Ellis) and … Bob (Lewis Pullman). We also meet Hangman (Glen Powell), a staggeringly arrogant hotshot who believes himself to be the best of the best.

And then there’s Rooster (Miles Teller), real name Bradley Bradshaw … and the son of Maverick’s deceased best friend Goose. No need to get specific, but it’s no spoiler to say that there’s a bit of bad blood between Rooster and his dad’s old pal.

Maverick has been brought in to train this group for a secret, incredibly dangerous mission – to destroy an underground nuclear facility in a never-named foreign country. It’s a mission that is deemed almost impossible, with Maverick likely the only one capable of conveying the necessary information for each piece of the mission, though not even he has ever done it all at once.

Facing an uncertain future, Maverick must try and reconcile with the people he once held close while also ensuring that this next generation has what it needs to get the job done.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is absolutely jammed with the sort of aerial derring-do that you want to see from a movie like this one. It is wildly kinetic, with long sequences set in the air; the heavy practicality of it all – these folks are really in planes – contributes to that kineticism, lending the entire thing the weight of verisimilitude. It is undeniably exciting, the sort of film that leaves the audience breathless and exhausted from the sheer adrenaline of it all. It’s exhilarating in a way that you rarely experience at the movies anymore.

Too often, nostalgia results in lazy storytelling poorly executed, as though just the act of fond remembrance is enough. That isn’t the case here, with a real effort being made to tell a story with an emotional center. Obviously, this isn’t some sort of deep-delving dramatic film – it’s essentially just people flying airplanes really fast – but the relationships are developed enough to achieve a degree of real resonance.

The idea that we’re revisiting this character again after nearly 40 years is crazy to think about, but here we are. And yet … Cruise makes it work. Again, it’s a movie star part – this isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis we’re talking about here – but the same charisma that made his previous turn as Maverick a starmaking one has been honed to near-invisible sharpness by the ensuing decades spent on-screen. Is there a whiff of Ethan Hunt here? Sure. But it’s still nice to see this guy again, and Cruise even allows himself to show a (very) little bit of vulnerability to flesh it all out.

On the supporting side, we get some good ones. Teller is quite good as Rooster; there’s some heft to his relationship with Cruise and there’s no doubt that he looks very much like Goose’s son. Powell is a chiseled d-bag in all the best ways. Connolly offers her usual excellence despite the relative thanklessness of the part; she gets a couple of good scenes, but for the most part, she’s here because there has to be a love interest. Hamm always give stuffed-shirt authority figure performances and this is no exception. The other pilots are all good, with Barbaro and Pullman as highlights. It’s a good cast, though unsurprisingly, this is very much the Tom Cruise show.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is precisely the sort of movie that should be seen on the big screen. It makes total sense that Cruise and company were so adamant about eschewing the streaming route – the sheer size of this movie makes it a natural fit for the theatrical experience. I wouldn’t have thought that we needed another trip into the danger zone, but this film definitely took my breath away.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2022 11:48


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