By Reed Ripley
- Directed by: Joseph Kosinksi
- Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm
- Action/Adventure | PG-13 | 2 hr 11 min
A few minutes into Top Gun: Maverick, an admiral admonishing the latest act of insubordination from Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell says bluntly “your kind is heading for extinction.” Maverick coolly responds “maybe so sir, but not today.”
Not today indeed. Maverick ostensibly delivers the line to defend navy fighter pilots like himself, but the line applies just as much to bigtime, original blockbusters and bona fide movie stars. With Maverick, Cruise backs up that bravado and near single-handedly warps his audience back to a simpler, action-packed time when movies, and stars like Cruise, defined entertainment. Well, at least for the summer.
Right from its opening aircraft carrier credit sequence set to the familiar, synth-boosted sounds of “Danger Zone,” Maverick is absolutely exhilarating. It’s easy to get fatigued hearing Cruise and his fans speak so frequently, and so enthusiastically, about his near-insane commitment to stunt performance and authenticity. But when you see the results, the substance behind the bluster becomes crystal clear.
The air stunts in this film are the best that have ever been put to screen, period. Whether its Maverick pushing the limits of an experimental stealth plane and blurring the lines between air travel and space travel, or dogfighting drills set over the rocky terrain outside Miramar, there’s an electricity and palpability that could only have come from practical stunt work. These are real planes with specially commissioned cameras strapped directly to the fuselage, and (upon Cruise’s insistence), what we see is what the cast experienced, G forces and all.
Yet the exhilaration and tangibility that kind of stunt work produces is nothing new. The 80s were chock full of movies that delivered those sensations, with Top Gun as a prime example. Maverick doesn’t rise above pure nostalgic spectacle because of how far it pushes its stunts or the extreme scenarios in which it places its characters. Instead, it pushes past its spiritual predecessors through a focus not only on its fireworks, but also on the connective tissue that gets us from Point A to stunning Point B.
Where the original Top Gun suffers mightily from awkward placeholding scenes between its high-flying set pieces, Maverick embraces those moments to give the story real emotional weight. The performances further highlight those story choices, most notably Miles Teller’s reserved-yet-warm performance as Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw.
The climactic final forty minutes that cap off the film’s stunt extravaganza are instantly iconic, sure. But as time goes on, I’m willing to bet scenes such as Rooster banging out “Great Balls of Fire,” the same performance his late father so often delivered with aplomb, as Maverick sadly looks on; a touching reunion between Iceman and Maverick as Ice deals with the same disease Val Kilmer battles off screen; and touching moments of understanding between Maverick and Jennifer Connelly’s Penny, will stick with audiences just as long.
It’s also refreshing to see a much more diverse cast this time around, albeit with a plot that still relies heavily on a couple white guys who would rather pull 10 G’s on a near-suicide mission than go to therapy. And while it still fails the Bechdel test (at least one conversation between two women about something other than a man), Phoenix and Penny at least get plenty of cool stuff to do, and that’s a marked, if still wanting, improvement.
There are plenty of moments in Maverick that border on absurdity. But in this film, rationality is often sacrificed at the altar of intentional extravagance. That’s what blockbusters are for, and Cruise and Co. delivered a great one.
You can find more review from local movie critic Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com