This week I had planned to review the new Minions movie but things changed. I did go to see Minions: Rise Of Gru yesterday but I also went to see Top Gun: Maverick for a second time because a couple of my friends wanted to go. I realise it’s a bit old now after being out a couple of months but since it’s still in UK cinemas and doing well, it doesn’t feel too late to share my thoughts on this film. So here goes.
I remember first hearing the name Top Gun as a kid, around the time the first movie was released in 1986. My Dad took my two older brothers to the cinema but I wasn’t allowed to go because I was too young for the film. It’s fair to say at the time that it was a massive blockbuster hit and a cultural phenomena. I had the soundtrack on cassette, now that makes me feel old. I played Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins on my Walkman quite often. When I first heard there was a plan to make a sequel 36 years later, I wasn’t optimistic to say the least. I expected it to be a disaster. By all accounts so did Tom Cruise. He apparently refused to sign on for the film a couple of times. Until he was sure the script was actually good and it could be a decent film in it’s own right. There are also all the stories of him making the other actors go up in jets and attend basic flight training to make it more realistic. I don’t know how much of that is true but he does have a reputation for insisting on doing his own stunts.
The film begins with our protagonist Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), 30 years on from the original film, still flying jets for the US Navy as a test pilot. He has consistently dodged promotions that would prevent him from active flying duty. As Ed Harris character Chester Cain explains in the opening act. “You should be at least an Admiral by now, maybe even a senator!”. There’s a lot of that kind of talk in this early exchange. You’re a fossil, you’re the past, the future is unmanned flights etc etc. He tells Maverick that he’s been called back to the Navy’s flight combat school TOPGUN much to Cain’s distaste. As we quickly learn though it isn’t to fly in an active mission. Instead Maverick is told he will be training some of the best young graduates from the programme to carry out a highly difficult and dangerous mission. Jon Hamm is very good as the cantankerous Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, commander of Naval Air Services and Maverick’s new boss. He plays an important role throughout the movie and really provides the authority figure for Maverick to kick against.
Complicating the situation for Maverick is the fact that one of the graduates in his class is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of his former flight partner Goose. Whose death is a major plot point of the first film. We also learn that Maverick prevented Rooster from joining Naval Air Services when he was younger and set his career back 4 years. Rooster resents Maverick for this and their relationship becomes a key part of the story. Can Maverick get his young charges ready for this mission in just 3 weeks? Is it even possible? Well to find out you’ll have to watch for yourself because I’m not giving any spoilers. Sorry.
As I mentioned earlier I didn’t have very high hopes for this film given the 36 year gap and the fact the original really hasn’t dated that well. I saw it a while ago and it wasn’t nearly as good as I remember. Perhaps that’s because I was a kid the first time who knows, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t looking forward to this. I’m very happy to say I was completely wrong and Top Gun: Maverick captivated me with it’s impressive visuals, great acting, soundtrack and little nuggets of nostalgia, which deliver nicely but stop short of the heavy handed touch I feared. There is enough in there for fans of the original to recognise, even some footage from the original film used to add emotion at moments. But it doesn’t lean on the original and I would say you don’t even had to have seen Top Gun to enjoy Maverick. Obviously camera technology has changed a lot in 36 years and the flight sequences are exciting and visceral. The choice to use as little CGI as possible is a good one. You can almost feel the speed as the planes take off. It’s definitely something to behold on the big screen. Whether that translates to home viewings I guess we’ll find out in time.
The cast is well chosen. Jennifer Connolly is excellent and exudes attitude in her role opposite Tom Cruise. It would have been very easy to include a one dimensional love interest here but she shows she is every bit his equal. The inclusion of Val Kilmer as Iceman and the way they pull this off is touching. Kilmer has been very ill in real life and can’t really talk any more because of his treatments for throat cancer. The way this is addressed is clever. It was nice to see him on screen again. I’ve always liked Miles Teller since his breakthrough in Whiplash, and his performance as Rooster adds emotional depth to the film beautifully. The supporting cast are all excellent but I have to concede here Tom Cruise demonstrates he is still a bone fide film star. I have my issues with him in real life, and some of his Scientology backed statements on subjects like mental health have been particularly idiotic. Still, I was able to separate the artist from the art and he deserves every credit for his performance as Maverick. I can see the film being nominated for a few prizes when awards season comes round again. It could very well win some of them as well.
Overall Rating: 5/5
Overall I can’t think of any negative things to say about this film really. Nobody is more surprised about that than me. Despite it’s run time of over 2 hours I never felt bored or restless once. I would even go so far as to say it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. I probably enjoyed it more the second time, which really says something. It’s well worth getting along to see it on the big screen before it’s extended run finally finishes. Allow yourself to swept up by this dramatic story and you’ll have a great time. Whether you’ve seen the original or not.
Have you seen Maverick? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below, also via email or Twitter if you like. I’m not sure what I’ll review next week but I’m open to suggestions and requests. Thanks very much for reading this, if you made it this far, I really appreciate it.
Until next time take care of yourselves. I’m off to go find my aviator shades and buzz the tower while digging out my old Walkman hehe 🙂
Without spoiling the plot, the central mission parameters are carefully contrived to make Maverick’s old piloting skills uniquely suited to it. Further, most of the major character arcs and relationship resolutions are predictable. A few specific moments were little twists and unexpected, but twenty minutes into the movie I knew how it was going to end.
And I still enjoyed the hell out of it. This is one of Tom Cruise’s best films.