I don’t often trust remakes and reboots, particularly when they arrive in screens 36 years after the original. So I’ll admit, despite my admiration for Tom Cruise and love for Top Gun, I was a little cagey about Top Gun: Maverick when it was first announced. It took the film all of 10 minutes to throw all my apprehensions out the window. Top Gun: Maverick is a visually-stunning, well-made film that reminds us all why Tom Cruise is a superstar. The film has its flaws–mainly that it uses predictable tropes–but not for one moment does it get boring. It is a grand film that is a throwback to the era of megastars and blockbusters, before both these terms were taken over by superhero films. And at its heart is the brilliance and commanding screen presence of Tom Cruise. Also read: Top Gun Maverick trailer: Tom Cruise zooms in a fighter jet to May 27 release date. Watch
The 1986 film Top Gun catapulted Tom to superstardom. It showed his character Maverick joining Top Gun–an elite training school for US Naval aviators and how he begins to trust his instincts and work with a team. It introduced us to his mate Goose and foe-turned-friend Iceman. Top Gun: Maverick is set years after the 1986 original. The protagonist Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is a veteran in the US Navy now. With his service record, he should have been an admiral by now, but he remains a Captain (or as he reminds everyone, a highly-decorated Captain). His old pal Iceman (Val Kilmer) is now an admiral and assigns him on a mission that takes him back to Top Gun. Now, Maverick must train a batch of young Top Gun graduates in a near-impossible mission. The catch–the group includes Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw, son of Maverick’s late wingman Goose and someone he shares a fraught history with.
In terms of the story, Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking. It is predictable and clichéd at times. The characters are archetypes that we have seen several times. And unlike the F-18s and scramjets on show, the twists in the story can be spotted from a mile away. But despite this, the film remains engaging. Predictable, yes. Boring, no!
Maverick uses the age-old storytelling tropes of the battered veteran, the prodigal son, the underdog, and even a ‘forbidden’ romance but it uses them well. It packages them neatly and tightly in a smartly-made presentation, so that they don’t look dated or stale. That’s why Maverick works. It remains contemporary and relevant. Yes, the film serves you old wine in a new bottle. But the bottle is sparkling and the wine has never tasted better, making the whole experience quite palatable. Director Joseph Kosinski has kept the feel of Top Gun alive while bringing in newer elements quite competently. My one complaint though is that if they were keen on including so many throwbacks to the original, maybe they could have brought back Take My Breath Away too. Maverick, without ‘his’ song, feels incomplete.
It’s hard not to compare Maverick with the original, particularly since the film opens with the same background score and infuses the nostalgia with the familiar setting and Maverick’s trusty-old Kawasaki. But despite being pitted against one of the most iconic films of all time, Maverick comes out on top. The sequel is not a superior film but it accomplishes a far tougher task–tie in the loose ends and culminate a story arc that began almost four decades ago. If Top Gun was a coming-of-age film, Maverick is about redemption and comebacks. It puts Maverick at a cross road in his life and career, where he knows he is running out of time but does not know how to let go. Tom Cruise has brought out the stubbornness and charm of the character wonderfully. And he has also allowed Maverick to grow older and somewhat wiser over the years. Despite the larger-than-life setting, he seems relatable, and the audience will grow to love him easily.
The performances of the support cast are competent. But the drawback is that Tom outshines them, partly because of his natural screen presence and partly because the writing doesn’t allow them to do much. This is one department in which the film lags behind the prequel. The supporting characters are not as well fleshed out here. Apart from Rooster, we hardly know anything about their lives and motivations. They are archetypeps, present to propel Maverick’s arc forward. Despite the limitations, the actors do well, particularly Miles Teller as Rooster and Lewis Pullman as Hangman. Jennifer Connelly is Maverick’s new love interest Penny Benjamin (an in-universe joke for anyone who has seen Top Gun). But the sparks don’t quite fly between Penny and Pete. Veteran actors Jon Hamm and Ed Harris deliver strong performances despite their limited screen time, while Val Kilmer’s cameo is nothing more than some good fan service.
The real USP of the film are the stunning aerial sequences and the cinematography. In an age where we have been so accustomed to CGI magic, it was refreshing to see some real action, and that too in fighter jets. Top Gun: Maverick easily surpasses its predecessor in terms of the visual aesthetic and thrill of dogfights. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say it may even rival Hell’s Angels in terms of the novelty it brings to aerial sequences. The fight sequences are more thrilling and exciting than any extravagant stunt that has come out of Hollywood in ages. They give you goosebumps and on more than one occasion, draw gasps of admiration. Watching them makes you realize why Tom Cruise was adamant on delaying the film for a big-screen release. Also read: Top Gun Maverick expected to be Tom Cruise’s career-best opener with expected opening weekend earnings of $125 million
The film is, in a way, a meta homage to Tom Cruise’s life and career. It may puzzle the current generation why he is a big deal but at one point, he was arguably the most recognizable face in the world, a screen icon. Over the last decade or so, his place atop Hollywood’s summit has been taken by a slew of superheroes from the Marvel and DC stables. Top Gun: Maverick is superstar Tom Cruise’s last-ditch effort to stay in the game. In an exchange early on in the film, an admiral tells the ageing Maverick, “The future is here and you’re not in it.” The hero smiles and replies, “Maybe so, sir! But not today.” The exchange sums up the intent of the film for me. The man dubbed ‘the last superstar’ is saying he isn’t going anywhere, at least not without a (dog)fight.
Film: Top Gun: Maverick
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Monica Barbao, Lewis Pullman, Bashir Salahuddin, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer