But despite a lot of undeserved praise, especially from stinging hands clapping at Cannes, the much-delayed sequel Top Gun: Maverick works as a semi-decent, modern-day improvement on the original – and, thankfully, without drowning completely in nostalgia for Hollywood’s most overrated decade.
Tom Cruise resumes his classic, action movie charisma as Top Gun hero Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. Maverick is now 35 years older and he’s still a Captain, not wanting a promotion or a retirement package. You see him dig out his old jacket and unsheath his blanketed motorbike, both soundtracked by familiar thrums from co-composer Hans Zimmer. These are instant red flags, typical of money-grabbing movie sequels.
In the opening, Maverick defies the orders of his Rear Admiral (Ed Harris) to chase his classic 'need for speed'. Instead of punishment, he’s sent back to the Top Gun training school to prepare pilots for a special mission. This mirrors, almost exactly, the structure of the original. As the sequel continues, you realise the beats of the two films match. The team even play in the sand at one point.
But it could be worse. Although the nostalgia floats around via bangers from The Who and David Bowie, Maverick doesn’t dwell too much in the past. ‘The future is coming,’ warns the drone-obsessed Admiral, ‘and you’re not in it.’ Perhaps by accident, the sci-fi concept of self-driving planes fortuitously sets up the Star Wars-like objective of the mission.
The chosen Top Gun officers have to precisely destroy the Enemy’s secret Uranium Enrichment Plant, which has a small weak spot. It's protected by tall and curvy cliffs, massive missiles and fighter jets – requiring dangerous manoeuvres to navigate.
Unlike the first film, the sequel’s training exercises actually have purpose. Serving also as a producer, Cruise insisted on the actors training in real planes and you can feel that authenticity ripple throughout. The intense close-ups also lend a characterful intimacy to the pilots. Though lacking deep character back stories, it’s nice that Maverick enjoys the people as much as the planes.
Miles Teller appears as the begrudging Rooster, son of Maverick’s dead flying buddy Goose. Tensions and egos fly high, and the team need to learn to work together.
It’s a refreshingly diverse mixture, but it’s still remarkable how there’s only one woman in Top Gun (well, two if you count the speechless one in the background). Phoenix is cool, skilful and holds her own, but she’s still a token woman in a hyper-masculine environment coveted by the filmmakers. Jennifer Connelly is a thin relief playing the sailor and bartender Penny, a decently drawn love-interest for Maverick.
After many wonderfully choreographed training scenes, you arrive at the final showdown. And even this cynical critic has to admit: it’s a superbly supersonic sequence that rolls onwards and upwards and never stops speeding. Cruise excels in these moments, returning to his perfected performative triad of severity, comedy, and fearlessness for crazy stunts.
The notion of an unidentified ‘enemy’ is still distracting, conservative and childish, the antithetical soldiers always obscured and dressed in black. But these climactic flights proceed with such unabashed thrill, likely bolstered by Mission: Impossible filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie’s contribution to the screenplay. They're so good that you nearly forget the constant booms of nonsense that preceded them.
But it is this nonsense, held on from the original, that weighs down much of the film. Top Gun fans will love it; for this critic, Maverick is a silly but serviceable continuation.
Top Gun: Maverick will be in UK cinemas on Friday 27 May.
|What||Top Gun: Maverick review|
27 May 22 – 27 May 23, IN CINEMAS
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