Captain Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is recalled to the Fighter Weapons School in San Diego to train a collection of former graduates - including Bradley 'Rooster' Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his deceased co-pilot - for a daring mission with a low chance of success. While training a new generation of pilots, Mitchell reconnects with an old flame (Jennifer Connelly) and an old friend (Val Kilmer)...
It's not surprising that the Cruiser is back in the cockpit, flying jet fighters and clenching his jaw into oblivion. Paramount needs a box office hit. Cinemas need a box office draw. Audiences are looking for action that doesn't require complete knowledge of a cinematic universe to understand. If you're over the age of 30, odds are you've seen 'Top Gun' and if you haven't, it's because you just chose not to. For a time in the early nineties, it played almost every week on Network 2. Everyone had it on videotape. Some of us even played the insanely difficult Nintendo game. As much as there's comfort in nostalgia, 'Top Gun: Maverick' wrestles with the idea of moving on and letting go at every juncture.
The opening sequence is straight out of 'The Right Stuff', all sun-bleached deserts and a test flight carried out in direct contravention of the rules and without the blessing of higher-ups. Yet, when he's brought back to the ground, Maverick is reminded of his lowly rank - still a Captain - and his time is almost up. Just as he walks out the door, he looks over his shoulder. "Maybe so, sir. But not today," he replies. Bam. And there's your movie in a nutshell. The mission is a go. It's cheesy. It's ridiculous. Nobody should look as good as Jennifer Connelly or Tom Cruise do at their age, fighter pilots are a thing of the past in the real world, but in 'Top Gun: Maverick', you've still got pilots with callsigns like Coyote, Payback, Phoenix, Hangman and yes, there's Bob.
As a send-off to Tom Cruise's star-making role, 'Top Gun: Maverick' is a success. Well over a quarter-century later, Cruise is still able to command the screen with ease and his supporting cast all do what they can with what they're given. Miles Teller, however, feels miscast as the son of Anthony Edwards when you've got Glen Powell on the screen right next to him. Likewise, the gravel-voiced Ed Harris has all of maybe two scenes, while Jon Hamm's barely-restrained contempt almost feels like it's too real at times.
Joseph Kosinski uses every square inch of the screen to put you directly into the action. IMAX cameras are literally welded into the cockpits and the aerial combat sequences will blow your hair back in an instant. Harold Faltermeyer's wailing guitar score and Lady Gaga's torch song 'Hold My Hand' all add to the exaggerated atmosphere that it's going for. Subtlety isn't the order of the day here, nor should it be. Yet, for all of this, there is a sense that both the script and Joseph Kosinski are never quite able to push the envelope to match the original. It's prepared to fly right up to the cheese, circle it, but then it has to stay within the confines of what we deem acceptable today. It's just a little bit too chaste for its own good, instead opting to keep the ridiculousness on the action and the aerial photography.
On that, 'Top Gun: Maverick' exceeds with flying colours. The final act, for example, is just too goofy to describe but you have to admire its self-belief and more pointedly, its commitment to making a big crowd-pleasing finish. If you're looking for political complexities or an examination of the military-industrial complex as it relates to cinematic endeavours like this, look elsewhere. This isn't it. 'Top Gun: Maverick' exists in a world that is all of its own making. There are golden sunsets, perfectly crisp white t-shirts, exquisitely coiffed hair, and long-held flames of romance that make it all impossible to resist.
Like Maverick implores his pilots, you think in this world, you're dead. 'Top Gun: Maverick' requires you to let go of good taste and instead enjoy the flight into fantasy. If that happens, it'll take your breath away.