Tom Cruise is truly the last man standing among traditional movie stars. In a world where everyone is a Marvel star and they’re all about the size of Rocket Racoon, Tom Cruise manages to still feel larger than life on the big screen, his films insistent and bold in ways that are going to get that guy killed one of these days.
A sequel to Tony Scott’s Top Gun is a terrible idea. Released in 1986, the film feels like more of a Navy Recruitment film mixed with softcore sex worthy of a Meatloaf music video (and a heaping spoonful of homoeroticism) than a traditional narrative. Cruise starred as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a reckless maniac with a Cheshire Cat grin that happened to be the absolute best pilot in the history of pilots. Decades later that premise not only seems out of touch, but it also seems downright ridiculous in a world where we can render a ship on a computer that can fly through the stars. With that…who needs a story about a badass Naval Aviator?
Tom Cruise did. Turns out we did as well.
Mav may have been the best of the best, but in 2022 that seems trite. Sure, he takes an experimental plane into the upper atmosphere to 10 G’s in spite of the insistence of a hardass admiral (played by Ed Harris because of course he is), but he’s also informed whether or not he’s the best no longer matters. The future is here, and with it comes automation and remote-controlled flights that put fewer lives at risk. Still, Maverick is notified by the aforementioned hardass that he’s being sent back to the Top Gun academy to train a distinguished group of pilots for a near-impossible mission and that it will be his last hurrah. Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm, fed up with everything from the word “go”) reminds Maverick that he is only here at the behest of four-star Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer returning as a more loving, quiet, dignified version of his previous character). Enter our new recruits, among them Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), Natasha “Pheonix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), Reuben “Payback” Fitch (Jay Ellis), and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Tom Cruise will have to bring all of the pilots up to snuff as they enter the most dangerous territory of their careers, repair his father/son relationship with the son of his former RIO Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, and explore his relationship with old flame Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) in order to fulfill his entire mission – to prove to literally everyone that he still matters.
It’s rather fitting that Tom Cruise has used the Top Gun memory to make a film about himself. In a world that is increasingly reliant on digital technology and merely “getting the job done,” Maverick is a character that is constantly reminding everyone that sometimes we need a legend to feel alive. Cruise is our last living movie star, still able to make humongous spectacles featuring insane stunts that still connect and feel real despite the artifice of the silver screen. It’s something wild to see a person be more than human, instead trying to transcend while acknowledging that their demise and obsolescence are certain by merely replying, “Not yet.” This film may be directed by Joseph Kosinski, but it’s a Cruise movie through and through.
Held up to the “military boys on leave at a neon strip club” vibe of the 1986 film (complete with its garage band sound and dedication to as much excess as possible), Top Gun: Maverick is a slick and smooth pop ballad that manages to be technically stunning while still maintaining its heart. When the dogfights start there’s no safety, but those in the theatre will be cackling with glee or awestruck at the absolute power of seeing these planes do these things for real. The IMAX footage (Claudio Miranda as an absolute beast, daring Christopher Nolan to come at him) is beyond breathtaking and must absolutely be experienced on the biggest screen possible. We haven’t had another film this kinetic and insane since 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout (gee, wonder what those have in common), and the dedication to creating this kind of bold stuntwork is fueled by pure Cruise.
It’s matched musically by all involved. While it doesn’t take too much to get me psyched about a cinematic composer (there are a fair few great ones out there), seeing the credit of “Score by Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer, & Lady Gaga produced by Lorne Balfe” is enough to give me the vapors. Gaga wrote the track “Hold My Hand” for the film, handing it over to Zimmer where it was combined with music from the original film and new songs by Zimmer for Balfe to approve. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming, and achingly sincere set of pieces that just demolish the original works.
That’s the whole point, isn’t it? These legacy sequels are doing okay so far, but perhaps few have been able to truly take the appeal of their original and make it into something so wildly thrilling. I laughed, I cried, and at points I outright lost it (Iceman is my boy and I will hear nothing against him). It’s a movie that opens with Maverick looking longingly at his corkboard, staring at pictures of him with the love of his life (that would be Goose, who died in the 1986 film) as well as pictures of the boy who he’d have as a son. He flirts with the intention of a man that has nothing left to lose and still cares about what everyone in his life could lose. During the COVID-19 Pandemic an audio file of Cruise yelling at people on the set of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Pt. 1 leaked online. The man was worried about what would happen to everyone employed by the production if it were shut down for an outbreak, terrified that his crew would lose their homes or go hungry because they couldn’t work. That’s what Maverick has become in his autumn years, but it’s truly what Tom Cruise embodies. You’ll see no other film this year that is as expansive, as sincere, and as loving as what this team poured into Top Gun: Maverick. We may never see the likes of this ever again, but while we’ve got it we best cling to it for dear life. The G’s may be intense, but I guarantee you’ll have never felt more alive in a theatre.
Top Gun: Maverick is exclusively in theatres.