ST. LOUIS — The danger zone for sequels is merely rehashing what worked before and hoping the audience didn't notice the lack of quality or care in the midst of six-packs, beach games, and high-flying jets--something "Top Gun: Maverick" wisely avoids.
When you're in the company of Hollywood's tireless Maverick in Tom Cruise, premium entertainment is promised. Nostalgia and emotional resonance in old yet viable characters is the icing on the cake in Joseph Kosinski's sequel. It's been over 30 years since Cruise's Pete Mitchell aggressively took to the skies to steal the hearts of 80s romantics and beat the bad guys in the end, but little rust can be seen on the new film. He's still pushing the limits of the marriage between the aircraft and the sky in the opening scene, flying a brand-new updated jet through the clouds fast enough to doodle a circle in pursuit of a Mac10 finish.
The G-force created by the jets in this film is real, and you can feel it. While the cast and crew do a wonderful job of bringing back the fire of the late Tony Scott's original, it's the aerial action sequences and dogfight combat scenes that will take your breath away here, pushing the film to another level. Before the pandemic caused further, multiple delays, they were the initial reason that the film's star and studio wanted to delay the release date after fans got the first trailer over three years ago. The wait was well worth it, because these scenes push the envelope for what Hollywood can do in the sky.
Think of Cruise's pilot as that incendiary (for a good reason) element that won't accept less than top-tier entertainment. When Maverick finishes the flight by going so fast over a closed down gas station that the roof lifts temporarily into the air, you'll feel the good vibrations too just like Ed Harris' old curmudgeon Rear Admiral does, even if his "Hammer" doesn't approve of the younger Captain's methods.
Every character has unique call names, like Glen Powell's Hangman (a combo of young Maverick and Iceman) and Miles Teller's Rooster. It's Teller's affecting portrayal of the son of Goose, Anthony Edwards' best friend to Cruise's pilot in the first film, that acts as the launch pad of the plot. His dad's history hasn't been known and absorbed by the characters in the film, but by the audience as well. When Maverick is called back in to train young top guns, the tempestuous relationship with Teller's Ben Bradshaw burns at the core of the mission. How do you teach someone whose father you couldn't save?
The relationship between the drama from the original carries over well here, thanks to a deft script from Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie. The writers lean into the assorted treats and thrills of the source material while giving it all a nice upgrade. The arrival of Jennifer Connelly as the flame that got away from Maverick is a classy, old-school cinema romance, and Jon Hamm makes for a steely Admiral. The St. Louis actor mixes his mean Don Draper persona with the decorated, by-the-book thread of his Beau "Cyclone" Simpson here. It all just works well together.
Little works better or will become more emotional than Val Kilmer's return scene as Maverick's former rival and current friend, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. Without going into detail to spoil the impact, it's a very well-acted and well-written scene that pushes on the relationship of the characters as well as shining a poetic light on Kilmer's recent battle with cancer. Soulful is the word, and it's a scene you won't soon forget.
"Top Gun: Maverick" is a movie I won't soon forget. With all the tragedy happening throughout the world, a little Cruise goes a long way. He's the glue that holds all of this together-making you believe in everything his daredevil pilot can do by doing as many of the stunts himself as possible. He's the real-life Maverick, pushing the envelope until it sticks together, forming a cohesive sequel that makes you feel the rugged yet exhilarating power of Scott's original. As people call into question his ruthlessness on set and his unusual offscreen persona, the legendary actor proves he's still got the need for speed--as do we.
Cruise and company were all set to get this film going ten years ago before the director's untimely death, and I think this is something Ridley's brother would absolutely adore. From the Lady Gaga theme song-she's easier on the eyes and ears than Kenny Loggins-to the piano sing-along scene to the thrilling finale that will keep you guessing, "Top Gun: Maverick" checks all the boxes of a worthy sequel. Eventually, it flies even higher than the original.
One more piece of advice: See it in a theater. A big, loud, and crowded one. See it with the fans. That's the way these summer blockbuster blasts were designed to work.