Sun drenched SoCal nostalgia permeates every land, air, and beach surface of Top Gun: Maverick and it’s a pleasure to bask in the glow. Many a franchise lately has attempted to tap into our sentimentality and many have failed. 36 years after the original, Maverick elevates what preceded it while making us misty about those very events from the mid 80s. Perhaps most thrilling is watching a movie star firmly in control of what’s made him a headliner for five decades.
Captain Pete Mitchell aka Maverick (Tom Cruise) has refused upward promotion in the Navy while spending the bulk of his working hours skyward as a test pilot. The romance that took his breath away with Kelly McGillis is seemingly long dormant. His friendship with Iceman (Val Kilmer), now a decorated Admiral, saves his tail after a work mishap. Instead of washing out, he’s sent back to San Diego as a TOPGUN teacher. Against the wishes of a Vice Admiral who goes by Cyclone (Jon Hamm), Maverick is tasked with instructing a new generation of pilots.
Their mission (and they’re forced to accept it) is to destroy an unnamed enemy nation’s uranium enrichment plant. It is (ahem) a potentially impossible mission and Maverick’s tutelage is complicated by one of the students. Rooster (Miles Teller) is the son of the late Goose (Anthony Edwards) from the original. You may recall that he perished in the arms of the leading man and therefore eliminated his ability to talk to anyone except for metaphorically.
While the dynamic between the teacher and his pupil is the pic’s emotional through line, there’s subplots aplenty. This includes Maverick’s courtship of Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who checks the boxes of being an ex-flame, single mother, and bar owner where standards from the 1960s can be drunkenly belted out. We also get a truly emotional sequence with Cruise and Kilmer made more touching by the latter’s real world health challenges. And, of course, there’s a whole new crop of pilots. Most memorable, by far, is the cocky Hangman (Glen Powell). You’ll leave the theater convinced Powell is going to become a major headliner himself.
Then there’s the fact that technology has soared by leaps and bounds since the first one. To put it simply – the aerial battles in the third act are awesome and I would suggest an IMAX venue to take it in. As mentioned, many fan service attempts in recent times have been serviceable at best or less. Top Gun: Maverick, with its megawatt star, is more than that. It earns its stripes.
***1/2 (out of four)