We are weeks away from the launch of Top Gun: Maverick and this review is honestly one of the hardest we’ve every written. Why? Because we love Top Gun. We love it so much, we can quote just about any line of dialogue from start to finish. But love, like any other passion, is double edged. It means that any follow-ups that bear the name have incredibly high hurdles to clear. Top Gun: Maverick clears many of these hurdles with ease: Does it feature that iconic introduction complete with those unmistakable anthems? Yes. (Plural because Kenny Login’s Danger Zone is as much an anthem as Harold Faltermeyer’s Top Gun anthem alright)

On March 3, 1969, the United States Navy established an elite school for the top one percent of its pilots. Its purpose was to teach the lost art of aerial combat and to ensure that the handful of men who graduated were the best pilots in the world. They succeeded.

Today, the Navy calls it Fighter Weapons school. The flyers call it…

Are there gripping aerial combat scenes which show pilots flying by the seat of their pants? Yes.

So what happened?

The Unbearable Weight of Tom Cruise’s Massive Talent

Yes. That’s what happened. Top Gun: Maverick is, well, all about Maverick. It’s in the title and if you plot Tom Cruise’s inevitable rise to super stardom, you can trace it all the way back to his role as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Let’s first talk about what the first movie did great: It was a popcorn movie, it doesn’t deal with exposition. It was a “sports movie” (pilots competing for Top Gun trophy – which does not exist in real life) wrapped in the trappings of high octane aerial combat. So it had the basic elements of tension: rivalry between pilots; frowned upon romance: instructor and pilot and of course, the lovable best buddy: Goose, whose ultimate demise gave the titular character a challenge that his sheer skill with a F14 Tomcat could not readily overcome. These elements are missing from Top Gun: Maverick.
Top Gun Maverick
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
Produced by Tom Cruise, starring Tom Cruise and about Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick creaks under the unbearable weight of Cruise’s massive talent.  In behind-the-scenes movie featurette, Top Gun: Maverick reveals that Tom flew a jet himself for the movie, one-upping everything he has ever done since Mission Impossible; and because he is so invested in this, the ensemble cast of Top Gun graduate pilots are just foils for him and him alone. In the original, Top Gun was about Maverick, a lone wolf adapting to team dynamics and so you got to learn about Iceman and Slider at the very least – even you felt for Hollywood and Wolfman when they shot down. When they launched off the deck of the USS Enterprise in 1986, you were genuinely invested in their survival which made dogfighting scenes especially gripping.

In Top Gun: Maverick, the ensemble of pilots are nothing more than caricatures. You have Glen Powell‘s Hangman, this movie’s Iceman facsimile (who incidentally never gets selected for the final mission) and of course, it’s the 21st century and there are female fighter pilots now, so you have Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, but we never really get to understand why she’s been selected for the mission aside from the fact that she’s pilots the two seater reconnaissance F/A-18D which allows her to have a RIO (Rear Instrument Officer) “Goose-type” character in the guise of Lewis Pullman’s Bob (his callsign not his name by the way). That said, the movie does nothing with it and nothing for the characters other than have them have a “bird strike” flat-spin situation where no one dies.
We don’t even get to know their first or last names; heck, we still remember Tom “Iceman” Kazansky and we continue to remember it because he has become an Admiral in the decades since he shot down a MIG28; this means that by the time we get to this new generation of Top Gun pilots’ “crisis situation” we don’t care for anyone in it save Maverick.
Furthermore, since they’re graduates, we don’t even have a gauge for their skill levels relative to one another since they’re not competing for the trophy but rather engaging in a series of “Death Star trench runs to hit a small 2 metre target” (really, this is not hyperbole. The target really is two metres wide and they have to fly between canyon walls). More egregiously so, the Top Gun pilots engage in aerial combat and training without a backing soundtrack equal to Cheap Trick’s Mighty Wings.

In the original, Viper preyed on all of Maverick’s weaknesses. He knew Maverick was a cowboy, and needed to teach Maverick a lesson about teamwork. Viper understands the Skyhawk is known for its maneuverability, so he bounces all over the place. He never moves in a straight line, constantly turning and changing his position, Maverick’s radar can’t acquire a lock.
By shifting his position, Maverick has to make adjustments to try to keep the A-4 in sight and keep it time to get a tone. All the while, Viper knows that Jester got Iceman, and he is waiting for Jester to come from behind Maverick and take him out for abandoning a teammate for the sake of trying to be a hot shot. Maverick never gets to impart these lessons to any of his charges. Not one of these hot shots even comes to giving Maverick a run for his money.

Who’s that moustached dude we see playing piano in the trailer? Well, his callsign is Rooster. So no guesses for what song he is playing on those ivory keys and whose son he is. So if there’s any emotional tension its between Maverick and Rooster forced. What made Top Gun work was that Maverick ultimately learns his lesson: he can’t no longer be just a talented loner, it has already cost him his best friend and he has to learn how to play supportive Wingman using lessons imparted by Viper and in the course of the mission, evolves into a bonafide combat leader and mentor.
In Top Gun: Maverick, we learn that he’s no longer a Top Gun instructor and still hung up about Goose (he died 30 years ago dude). So, the director/script writer engineers a fairly convoluted plot to have him posted from his job as an experimental pilot back to the Navy Fighter Weapons school, this time no longer in Miramar but Nevada, cue fan service music – you know the one and cue, motorcycle scene, you also know which one.
Yes, Penny Benjamin, the admiral’s daughter (mentioned but never scene in the first movie) played ably by Jennifer Connelly is a reminder that some women age fantastically well and she’s a capable stand-in for Charlotte Blackwood callsign ‘Charlie’ (looking great riding on Maverick’s Kawasaki Ninja in the sunset is a serious skill) alas she doesn’t do much for Maverick’s character growth other than remind Maverick of his Maverickness.
Judging by the war in Ukraine, the Russians combatants of unknown nationality flying a red star on their tail fin are no longer the enemy but rather an unknown country which so happens to still operate F14 Tomcats (in the real world, Iran is the only other country outside of the United States that has them) so that the director/script writer can have a fairly convoluted plot device to put Maverick and Rooster together in the same jet fighter and to impossibly recreate the chemistry of Anthony Edwards and Cruise.
Ultimately, we don’t really know why Maverick never got over Goose since the original movie shows him tossing Goose’s dog tags into the Indian Ocean, in essence: letting him go; so to have both Maverick and Rooster still dealing with Goose’s passing over three decades ago is a big narrative question mark and an even more questionable plot driver.

Gentlemen, this school is about combat.

What Top Gun: Maverick does amazingly well

Aerial combat. Really. When Tom Cruise says that the film is a tribute to aviation. He’s not joking. We see all manner of F/A18 hornets in single and double seat configuration do all sorts of close quarter acrobatics. It’s just as you see in the trailers, the fighter jets are barely two metres apart and the reason for this is because cinematically, a more authentic engagement will see the audience starring at dots and shapes on the horizon.
In Top Gun: Maverick, they’re so up close and right above the canopy, we even get to see exactly where the flares that trick heat seeking missiles are launched from and for F14 nuts, that analog bullet counter in the cockpit that counts down the rounds left in Maverick’s 20 mm M61 Vulcan Gatling cannon. We even get to see “aggressor painted” 5th generation F22 Raptors playing enemy bogeys from the un-stated nation engaging our Top Gun pilots in dogfighting.
The F22 is the first U.S. super-maneuverable aircraft with thrust vectoring and a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.26 at 50% fuel and it’s incredible watching it outclass F18s and eventually the Maverick’s own hijacked F14 – let’s just say, a 5th generation fighter will fly circles around 4G craft – but once again, it’s Maverick’s show, he gets all the kills and does everything and saves everyone except for one final scene involving Hangman. Thankfully, we don’t get a “you can be my wingman anytime” moment on the flight deck which saved us from flinging our popcorn at the Lido IMAX screen and risking a fine for littering.
JENNIFER CONNELLY PLAYS PENNY BENJAMIN AND TOM CRUISE PLAYS CAPT. PETE “MAVERICK” MITCHELL IN TOP GUN: MAVERICK FROM PARAMOUNT PICTURES, SKYDANCE AND JERRY BRUCKHEIMER FILMS.
Ultimately, Top Gun: Maverick succeeds as a thematic successor of the original however, it doesn’t quite convey the spirit and camaraderie that made 1986’s Top Gun so infinitely quotable. No one will be leaving the theatre telling you to “stop writing cheques your body can’t cash” or warn you about busting you down to “flying rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong”, there will not be any pilots giving you an equally quotable “feel for a need for speed”, nor will you even remember the soundtrack after you leave the theatre.
You remember Berlin’s Take My Breath Away and all the awkward licking in silhouette? Well, Lady Gaga handles the “soultrack” of Top Gun: Maverick but we bet you that you won’t even remember the chorus. That said, you can count on the fact that almost every consumer electronics store with a home theatre department will be demonstrating sound systems with air combat scenes from the movie but chances are, you won’t want to stick around in the hopes that they might happen to play the entirety of the movie. Everything great about this movie, comes fortunately (or unfortunately) from the original 1986 film’s most iconic moments. That said, it is a fitting tribute to how incredibly well Tom Cruise and his iconic smile has aged, on his motorcycle with the wind in his hair, he looks just as he was from the 80s.
Top Gun: Maverick in theatres 25 May 2022, Wednesday

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