Back in 1986, Tony Scott’s Top Gun was derided by some critics as an exercise in style over content, but audiences couldn’t care less what critics thought and made Scott’s film the biggest hit of the year by some degree. It’s perhaps surprising that a sequel has been in the works for so long, given the simplicity of the film and the ease with which the route-one narrative can be repeated or extended; Top Gun 2 has arrived close to 40 years after it was originally mooted. That’s usually too long for any sequel to recapture the magic of the original, but have no doubt; Top Gun: Maverick is exactly what you’d hope for and expect.
In Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) returns to Top Gun to teach, something he’s been avoiding for 36 years while he test-drives fighter jet prototypes at Mach 10. Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain (Ed Harris) is about to ground Maverick for insubordination when he unexpectedly sends him back to Fightertown USA and a fresh assignment; training a crew of pilots for a dangerous mission overseas to blow up some enriched uranium before it can be weaponised by dark forces. Maverick hooks up with old flame and bar owner Penelope ‘Penny’ Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) , but there’s complications from the past in the form of pilot Bradley ‘Booster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who turns out to be the son of Maverick’s tragic wing-man Goose. Maverick’s old sparring partner Iceman (Val Kilmer in a moving cameo) is now an admiral in ailing health, but he helps guide the new crew to new heights of heroism when Maverick ends up leading the assault on an unnamed country that, based on the snowy vistas and underground bunkers, really has to be Russia…
Those who criticised Top Gun for feeding Reagan-ite Cold War fantasies will be muted by reality catching up with fiction; the war in Ukraine means that a red-hot, trigger-happy war-footing is a given here. But what made Top Gun super-special was the access-all-areas to military machines supplied by the US Navy, and Top Gun: Maverick doubles down on this with stunning action sequences that may use some special effects, but you really can’t see the join. Planes fireball, bases explode, vintage choons blare, the good guys win against all odds and everyone is happy; there’s no point in diluting the formula, so everything from the beach sports to the earnest romance are duplicated here in style. It’s worth noting that the volleyball match has been upgraded to some kind of hybrid American football game with offence and defence at the same time; that means several balls in play, which feels just about right for a franchise with a celebrated excess of testosterone.
Top Gun: Maverick may have been delayed many times, most recently by the pandemic, but the slick end result dispels any doubts; this is an absolute blast from start to finish, with awesome aerial combat, some salty support from Jon Hamm and Glenn Powell, and a general feeling of a franchise firing on all cylinders. At a time when super-heroes and comic books are ruling the roost at a subdued box-office, Top Gun: Maverick strikes a blow for the old-fashioned blockbuster, exceeding the range and grasp of the original, and giving a new generation a taste of the Boys Own heroism that made the first film a classic. It’s the job of a critic to find faults, but any complaints are pointless; Top Gun: Maverick is a direct hit.
Thanks to Paramount UK for big screen access to this title. Top Gun Maverick hits US and UK cinemas on May 27th 2022,