I FEEL THE NEED! THE NEED….for another decades in the making legacy sequel to an iconic 80’s film property! That’s right, Tom Cruise is back as the titular character arriving 36 years after the original film in Top Gun: Maverick.
Legacy sequels are all the rage in Hollywood these days and with them come a lot of pitfalls. One famous recent instance is Star Wars: The Force Awakens; this movie continued the story of the original trilogy along with introducing a new cast of characters. The problem that many people have with this movie is that it is almost an exact carbon copy of the story from Star Wars: A New Hope. My personal favorite legacy sequel from recent memory was Ryan Coogler’s “Creed”. This movie expertly continued the Rocky franchise while passing the torch to a new star and telling a unique and emotional story both for new comers and the people who loved that franchise for decades. I remember crying, screaming, standing, and fist pumping throughout the entirety of that film. The good news is I almost captured that same feeling during Top Gun: Maverick, and from the sounds of it, copious amounts of people around the globe had the same experience with this film that I had with Creed.
Admittedly, I was nervous during the 1st 30 minutes or so of this latest film which featured an abundance of recreations from the original. The opening credits are almost verbatim the exact same. Tom Cruise speeding against the sunset on a crotch rocket? Yup! Beach bar scenes with singing sailors and a piano? Check. Danger Zone?!?! Of course! Homoerotic scene featuring oiled up muscles for beach sporting events? Oh you betcha! It continues even further from there. I’m happy to say though despite these early signs, the movie subverts your expectations and takes this tale into exciting new territory.
The only true big time returning characters are Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Ice Man. I was very pleased to see Val was brought back despite his major health circumstances and the film does an excellent job integrating his condition into this iconic character. Outside of text messages, the two actors share one extremely touching scene together and allows Val to play this character through the lens of how he lives his life today.
Along with those 2 icons, a bevy of interesting actors both well known and new join the fold for this outing. Miles Teller, after living in cinematic purgatory for several years, makes a big turn in this as Rooster, the son of Goose Mavericks old partner who died in the original. Teller can be hit or miss and he largely spends the first 70% of the movie brooding with angst towards Maverick, his sue-do father figure. I’m happy to say he pulls it off admirably and I can see several starring roles in his future. Jon Hamm comes in to play the big dick (who better right) in Admiral Cyclone. Jennifer Connelly comes in as the new (age appropriate?!?) love interest Penny. She is absolutely magnetic in every scene she’s in and let the internet know she HAS BEEN hot for the last 30 plus years, this is nothing new. Among many other fresh and charming faces, Glen Powell is most notable as an interesting character blend of Maverick & Ice Man named Hangman.
The greatest achievement of this movie to me is that they both deliver exactly what you’re expecting, while also subverting expectations. I covered the original Tony Scott film from 1986 on Episode 4 of the Reely Refreshing Podcast. In that episode, I talk about the misconception people have about that movie if they haven’t seen it; mainly, they belief it’s a war movie. Of course it is entirely based around the military, but I deduced in the episode deep dive that it’s actually just a love story and an academic competition tale. The only real combat shown happens in what’s essentially an epilogue after Ice Man is crowned the Top Gun. The new movie takes quite a different approach.
In what I find to be the most genius play, this movie works around the structure of a heist film. All the young bucks that come in to Top Gun are expected to be apart of this covert mission (dare say IMPOSSIBLE mission?) they’re not even there to win the Top Gun title. They’re going to war and Maverick is responsible for teaching them how to pull off the impossible feat. You will repeatedly see and hear the plans to bomb a secret Uranium plant hidden in the mountains in undisclosed enemy territory. The first 2/3’s of the picture is Maverick going through the trials and tribulations of building a team, getting them to break the rules to be the best, try to fix his broken relationship with Rooster, and still find time to try and get into Penny’s pants. Spoiler Alert: he does.
Breaking the mold from the first movie, this one spends the last 40 minutes or more actually executing the plan in real combat and it is truly thrilling. I legitimately did not know what was going to happen literally any character could die at any moment and it would narratively make sense and deliver a huge gut punch. It’s refreshing to feel like there are actual stakes in a big budget blockbuster. Interestingly, the third act also takes us into some real action movie like territory, more in line with Tom Cruise’s OTHER major film franchise. There’s an onslaught of emotional lines delivered that ALMOST had me but I persisted without any tears in my eyes, but admittedly, with a heavy heart too. This movie makes you FEEL and it especially makes you feel GOOD. An absolute joyous cinematic experience.
Let’s Get Technical
Joseph Kosinski takes over directing duties from the dearly departed Tony Scott. Kosinski is best known for helming Tron: Legacy (another legacy sequel!) which was a pretty vanilla movie with absolutely gorgeous visuals. His talents with the camera really come into play with this film and coincides perfectly with Tom Cruise’s devotion to capturing things for real. The actors perform a great deal of their own flying in this film, every close up in the cockpit was real and they had to train the actors how to operate the cameras up there in the sky, along with the actual aircrafts.
The movie is not clear of CGI use, but you can tell the difference in a major way and almost every scene pops off the screen when they’re really doing the thing. I went to see this movie in IMAX, which a great deal of the picture was shot in, and it was truly stunning. However you feel about Tom Cruise and his cult like church, there’s no denying he’s doing the lords work in the world of cinema. Outside of the wondrous imagery, sound editing, and performances by beautiful people; the script itself is extremely solid. It’s incredibly difficult to make a blockbuster picture that caters to every demographic but this one absolutely hits in every area.
Sweeping on every technical level, charming in all the right ways, this is summer movie going at its finest. People have been thirsty for a great cinematic experience not involving superpower folks in capes and this absolutely delivers. Is it the Citizen Kane of legacy sequels? No, but it’s an excellent time at the movies for anyone to enjoy. Kudos to Paramount for continuing an absolutely epic year at the box office. I give Top Gun: Maverick 8 oily man bodies on a sun setting beach out of 10.
Listen to the Reely Refreshing Podcast covering Top Gun (1986) HERE.