Tom Cruise is back as the ace pilot, and we've seen the movie and have plenty of thoughts.
"The future is coming and you're not in it."
With those words, Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) bitterly learns that times are changing. It's been 36 years since the last movie and fighter pilots are a dying breed, and he's not getting any younger. The future is coming whether he's ready or not, but there's still time for one last battle. Navy Admiral Cain (Ed Harris) doesn't move a muscle behind the massive mahogany table as he tells the ever lauded and decorated aviation ace that he should be in command by now and not still test flying prototypes in a program that will soon be scrapped in favour of the aerial fighter of the future: drones, a reliable war machine that doesn't need to sleep or eat. A weapon without emotions.
After crashing a billion-dollar plane somewhere in the desert, both a court martial and dismissal should of course been on the agenda for the aviator who has always gone his own way, but just when the end seems as close as an enemy plane following behind after violating someone's airspace, everything turns around. Maverick is ordered to go immediately to the only place he really knows, the place he both loves and hates. Where memories linger long after he's escaped history's clutches. He must return to the place where it all once began. North Island. As he leaves the office with a smile on his face, he answers the statement that really tells us everything about Pete Mitchell.
"You should be a two-star general by now, yet here you are."
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"I am where I belong, Sir."
It may have taken 36 years and a pandemic that threatened to stop both plans and planes from taking off, but in the end it was inevitable. It was time, to the tune of Kenny Loggins, to once again fly into the danger zone. It was time once again to gather the country's best pilots in a bar, on a sunny beach to separate the weak from the pack. It was time to gossip, toast in ice-cold beer, throw darts and sing Great Balls of Fire. But this time as a spectator. The time has come for the ageing master to pass on the knowledge to a new generation. Gone is the Iceman, gone is Goose, gone is the Viper. There are new roosters in the henhouse, literally.
Rooster (Miles Teller), is the son of the blessed Goose and you can tell right away that there's bad blood running through his veins. Time hasn't healed any wounds and he still has a goose unplucked with Maverick after what happened to his old man. Then there's Hangman (Glen Powell) - God's gift to man - a man too good to be true, by his own admission, and it becomes clear early on that this is of course Iceman and Maverick in new younger garb. Neither of them know it, there and then, but the reason Maverick is there is to train the new recruits to be able to carry out a mission of a level of difficulty not even he himself has managed to slap on his solid resume.
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This is also to be done in three weeks, according to Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (Jon Hamm). Six of the twelve conscripts will then be selected to fly behind enemy lines and knock out a primordial spring located in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and missile ramps in a few measly minutes. It's a suicide mission, but if there's one thing Maverick knows, it's never giving up and being able to make others believe in themselves, even when it looks impossible on paper.
It's very similar to the original. You could even say that this is a pure remake and that's not really wrong. The one-liners, the eighties-heavy soundtrack, the F-14 Tomcat, the bar, the motorcycle, and the sing-alongs to the tunes of Jerry Lee Lewis. Many of the scenes are filmed the same, the same angles and the same feel and Joseph Kosinski is all for bygone times and old heroes but if you scratch that nostalgic surface you'll find that a lot has changed too.
We have a female pilot now, Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). She's one of the guys and not a damsel in distress who needs rescuing. In fact, she's more badass than many of the male recruits. The newfound romance between Mitchell and Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who now owns and operates the infamous watering hole "The Hard Deck" is handled nicely and feels neither sleazy nor forced. The bare upper body parts are fewer and the jokes less awkward. The Iceman, like Val Kilmer himself, suffers badly from his illness and it's genuinely painful to watch him struggle through his sparse stage time but it's done with respect and warmth.
On the whole, Top Gun: Maverick is a much more emotional film than its shallow predecessor. There is room for love here, real love. The sorrow and the fear and all the while, the subtle humour that serves as an outlet to release all the blackness that rests behind all the smiles. It's a story about growing old, about forgiveness, about giving people a second chance, but it's also a film about flying at supersonic speeds and shooting down enemies in breath-taking action scenes that are unprecedented.
The need... the need for speed is very much present. It's an unforgettable experience to follow Maverick into the cockpit as he tries to outdo his recruits and himself through nerve-wracking manoeuvres. When the student becomes the teacher, it's hard not to shed a little tear. Of course, as in its predecessor, it is still very American, patriotic and self-aggrandising, but Kosinski still manages to avoid the worst traps with fireworks and waving flags.
The enemy is also, as usual, extremely anonymous. They are nameless soldiers in black helmets who are gunned down with no real explanation other than that they pose a threat to the United States. There are political implications that do not exist, but are created purely so that Tom Cruise and his men will have something to shoot at. This is perfectly understandable given that Top Gun has always been a blockbuster first and foremost. Entertainment for the moment but the sequel takes a step out of the gunpowder smoke and plays on the emotional heart strings. I would have liked a bit more context here but that's also the only weakness I can find.
Top Gun: Maverick is so superior to its predecessor that it almost seems unlikely. That after 36 years and on such a weak foundation as Top Gun actually was, story-wise this film manages to rise to such heights is nothing short of impressive. Some scenes are so perfectly executed that I actually forget I'm sitting in a cinema and if there's one thing I love about film, it's being rewarded and hand on heart, isn't that why we go to the cinema? If I "sacrifice" two and a half hours of my life, I want to be richly rewarded. I want to feel that an effort has been made to give me the best movie experience I can have, whether it's an emotional Oscar-hopeful drama or flashy blockbuster action. I want to feel that this film was made just for me, I want to leave the cinema feeling that I have been rewarded with a gift of immortal memories. That will be my reward and I will cherish it because it doesn't happen often.
Top Gun: Maverick is that movie and it's mainly thanks to Tom Cruise. The fact that Cruise is still going strong at the age of almost 60 is of course something to marvel at, but above all he is a perfectionist in everything he does. He is a primal force, a supernova that never seems to go out, a superhero with no tights. I'd even like to use the epithet the last action hero because that's exactly how it feels when the adrenaline is pumping out of every pore of the man. And then there's this thing about him insisting on doing the stunts himself, it's nothing short of impressive and I can reveal as much as it is at times absolutely insane, it's easy to wonder if the fellow doesn't have some sort of death wish or a screw loose.
The feeling of being constantly thrown between life and death is felt right down to the pit of the stomach as one of the most daring chases of our time unfolds in G-forces. You can think what you want about Cruise but one thing you can never take away from him is that he always gives one hundred percent when required and without this one man's relentless love for his profession, I dare say this would have been just another of many mediocre sequels that should have stayed at the idea stage.