Like many of my generation and before, I grew up with Top Gun. A thrilling film filled with love, duty, and camaraderie, Top Gun is an 80’s classic. And what’s not to love about it? Boasting the star power of Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, and Tom Cruise at one of the few major peaks of his career, Top Gun has everything going for it, and it executes flawlessly. The action is gripping, the tragedy is heartbreaking, and the story wraps up with a clean and satisfying conclusion. I must have watched it at least a hundred times before this summer even rolled around. It was one of the movies that taught me to love film and inspired me to pursue filmmaking.
All of this is to say that when they announced Top Gun Maverick, a sequel to a movie that didn’t need a sequel, coming out decades after the original was released, I was a little skeptical. I wasn’t alone either; many people were unsure of how the movie would turn out. Most fans never even imagined a sequel would be a reality, let alone that it could be a good addition to the original. So, when it was finally released, Top Gun fans made their way to the theaters, anxious to see how Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was doing after three and a half decades. To everyone’s surprise, he’s as good as ever.
Top Gun Maverick is an incredible movie and an incredible sequel. It’s hard to overstate just how good this movie is. From the striking visuals to the pitch-perfect performances, everything comes together in a way that is not often achieved by its contemporaries. Every moment of the film has something to marvel at. The soundtrack is immaculate, beautifully merging much of the original music with contemporary pop in a way that never becomes jarring. The camera work is astounding, with interesting uses of depth and color creating a visually striking environment no matter where the action is located. Tom Cruise’s more modern commitment to real stunts makes the flying sequences particularly gripping, as the real speed and stunts transfer beautifully to the screen. Nothing in this movie feels fake; every moment feels like a real, lived moment. The character interactions are convincing, partially due to the stellar cast as well as the tight script. The dialogue is snappy and clever during lighthearted scenes but grounded and impactful when things get serious. The actors, as I said before, are all firing on all cylinders. Miles Teller, in particular, really showcases his range in this film, perfectly finding Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw at his highs and his lows. The film is incredible, and it displays a level of talent, technical skill, and dedication that is not often seen in today’s corporate Hollywood.
More importantly, however, the film is a phenomenal sequel. Before the movie was released, many, including myself, questioned why it was coming out in the first place. Top Gun was not a movie that lent itself to a sequel; in fact, it almost did the opposite. The film resolved all of its plotlines and character arcs so completely that it seemed like there was nothing left to explore. Beyond this, it had been so long since the original that it was hard to imagine Tom Cruise stepping back into that role without some level of disconnect from the original character. We are also currently in an age of constant, unending sequels, many of which only exist to cash in on existing properties and brand recognition. These were all concerns that audiences brought to the film, but they left without them. This is a movie with a purpose. The story continues perfectly from where we left off 36 years ago, with a plot that modernizes the formula of the first without forgetting what happened before it. The film honors and references the first without ever stepping on its toes. As I mentioned above, it uses a large amount of the original soundtrack, but it never feels like it’s reusing material; it just feels natural. There are even shots that are recreated directly in the film, but it never feels lazy or repetitive. I can think of one scene in particular, in which Tom Cruise races his motorcycle against a jet that is taking off. As the camera focuses on Cruise, a giant smile comes across his face, and it’s clear that it’s a smile of genuine joy at returning to his iconic role.
On that note, the performance from Cruise in this movie is one of his best in years. He plays the character faithfully, incorporating the growth and maturity that comes with the 36-year gap without abandoning the core of who Maverick always was. I brought it up once before, but Miles Teller is a standout in this film, not only for his strong performance but also for his perfect casting. He plays Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Maverick’s partner Goose in the original. Teller is the spitting image of Goose; his casting is so perfect that I had to research whether or not he was actually Anthony Edwards’ son (he isn’t). Val Kilmer even reprises his role from the original, although mostly as a cameo, as health complications have rendered him voiceless. The only notable absence is Kelly McGillis, whose strong-willed love interest Charlie has been replaced by the similarly spunky Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly. This absence would be disappointing for fans of the original, but the wonderfully written character of Penny more than makes up for Charlie’s absence. This movie more than earned its place alongside its predecessor, which is not an easy feat given the quality and lasting legacy of the original.
Top Gun Maverick released in theaters on May 27th, 2022. At the time of writing this, exactly four months later, it is still showing in theaters across the country. It has outlasted films that were released well after it, and the ticket sales and sold-out auditoriums are still rolling in. When it was released for digital rent and purchase, it broke global records for the number of sales it achieved in a single day. This is a movie that has taken the world by storm with no signs of stopping. It is truly a film worthy of sharing the name Top Gun.