Thirty-six years after winning our hearts by leading one of the coolest pilot films of all time, Tom Cruise is finally back as Maverick in the second installment of Top Gun. Top Gun: Maverick follows him from thirty-six years after the events of the last film. Now he’s close to being retired from the navy. However, he’s given one final chance at staying involved in the matters of the navy flight division. This time, he’ll be teaching new recruits for a daring mission, preparing them for infiltration and extraction to pull off an apparently impossible plan. And among the recruits is the son of his old partner who died in Top Gun. Played by Miles Teller, Rooster is a reminder to Maverick of what had happened, and the film mainly tells the story of how they work out their differences, how Maverick inspires his trainees to give it their all, and eventually approach the mission head-on.
Among other characters from the previous film who appear is Val Kilmer as Iceman. Then there’s Jennifer Connelly as the one and only Penny Benjamin. In Top Gun, she had only been named as someone with whom Maverick had fooled around as a youngster. Top Gun: Maverick just hints at a complicated past for the two and clarifies the infamous incident that the characters alluded to in the first film, but doesn’t spend hours giving us a timeline of their relationship. And the most charming part of the duo’s screen presence is Tom Cruise and Jennifer Connelly’s chemistry. They seamlessly seem to acknowledge years of past encounters despite basically playing the two characters in a film for the first time. You won’t realize that they aren’t old flames reuniting under new circumstances.
Miles Teller also beautifully fits into his role as Goose’s son, with the makeup department giving him a mustache that makes him practically a spitting image of Anthony Edwards who played Goose in Top Gun. His chemistry with Cruise is central to Top Gun: Maverick and the drama is well complemented by their performances. Actually, just like the first film, there’s a lot of heart in the film that’s treated lightly as the secondary subject matter as compared to the flight scenes. That may sound like it makes the film flippant but in fact, it adds a charm to the entire affair. For one, the thrill of the ride becomes the primary focus and for two, the brevity of the drama scenes actually leaves enough time for rumination to make the resolutions convincing despite being simplified.
No matter how much the films are basically just white men being macho, often throwing around weight, conforming to toxic masculine norms, there’s at least some powerful female presence. Charlotte from Top Gun (Kelly McGillis) was predictably much sexualized and that did take away some of the empowerment the creators were going for in including her in the long list of characters, but in Top Gun: Maverick, there’s a female pilot Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) who is treated with as much respect by the camera as her male counterparts. That being said, the machismo isn’t missing as we have a new Maverick in Hangman (Glen Powell), always boasting about his skills and showing off and also putting his teammates in risk in true Maverick style.
One thing that changed from Top Gun is the lack of homoeroticism in Top Gun: Maverick. Yes, it was not acknowledged in the first film but the atmosphere was clearly charged with gay energy. This one is much more heterosexual and I tuned out of the personal stories pretty soon. I mean, sure, the drama is compelling but I see action flicks as eye candy, and unlike Top Gun, where it was both human and machine in nature, in Top Gun: Maverick, it’s entirely the machines that provide any kind of eye candy in the form of the superior adrenaline-fueled stunts.
And then there’s the flight! If Top Gun needed to say it, Top Gun: Maverick makes you feel the need… the need for speed. The cinematography is even more engrossing this time and the stunts even more daring. For any fan of fast-paced action, this is a must-watch and for fans of Top Gun, it’s basically a dream come true. The reactions had been explosive when the trailer had dropped and the film’s action sequences live up to the hype. You’ll feel like you’re one with the pilots, experiencing the rush and the peril that they are, and I honestly cannot exaggerate how cool it feels to see the film on a big screen. The flight scenes in Top Gun: Maverick are lengthier than in Top Gun and the sense of impossibility much higher. In fact, if not for the absence of the other crew members from the Mission: Impossible franchise, this could have practically felt like the latest installment of that.
So while it doesn’t break ground in terms of inclusivity, Top Gun: Maverick is a more sensitive film than Top Gun with the toxic masculine antics actually being confronted much more and never celebrated. And despite seeming ridiculous, the flight scenes are actually accurate in the sequel. It’s a fun watch that’s jam-packed with thrill although the start is slow, or rather the middle where the focus is almost entirely shifted to the relationship dramas between Penny and Maverick and Maverick and Rooster. If you liked the first film, you’ll love this one. Top Gun: Maverick has stayed true to its roots, has added a powerful angle to Maverick’s narrative with one character even telling him he doesn’t belong in the future, and is thus both a nostalgic and a thrilling ride of a film.