Written by: Hannah Tran | May 26th, 2022
Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski, 2022) 4 out of 4 stars.
Entering the twilight of his career, test pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has lived a long and full life since the last time we saw him. Similar in some ways and transformed in others, the Top Gun hero steps into this sequel’s titular role as a man struggling to let go of the skies when he is asked to take over the training of Top Gun’s finest pilots for a seemingly impossible mission. Much like its central character, this sequel seems aware of its own potential for greatness, but it never relies on name recognition to prove itself. Exceeding its own legacy, Top Gun: Maverick is practically a stand-alone film that handles a healthy amount of nostalgia without ever dwelling on the past. As Maverick takes over his former program, bringing him face to face with the resentful son of his deceased friend and co-pilot Goose, Top Gun: Maverick honors its roots and boldly showcases the thrilling action and sincere emotion that elevate it to an entirely new height.
The thematic intent of Top Gun: Maverick feels natural and simple, and it deftly handles its heavy messages on grief, acceptance, and growth. There is an undeniable harmony between the script and screen, and this allows the film to deeply explore these themes visually, narratively, and even metatextually at times. Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) effortlessly proves why he is one of Hollywood’s greatest movie stars. This time around, he is unafraid to face the realities of his aging body.
As his character tests his physical limits, Cruise pushes his own ability as an artist and delivers one of his greatest performances to date. The cast that surrounds him is equally perfect. The short but indispensable time he shares with Iceman (Val Kilmer, Val), for instance, is a heart-wrenching display of the impeccable talent of both actors that perfectly plays into the themes already at hand. Miles Teller (Thank You for Your Service) as Rooster (Goose’s son), moreover, who is just one of a number of charming new characters, feels born to play this role and makes a more than worthy screen match for Cruise.
Unlike the more episodic, slice-of-life approach that made the first film both charming and flawed, Top Gun: Maverick is extremely plot-forward; there is a clearly laid-out goal. It is complicated and challenging, but it is expertly presented to the audience. This allows for a number of exciting set pieces with a nearly sublime conclusion. And while there’s never a moment where the stakes of the mission are forgotten, it still finds open moments for genuinely funny dialogue and a sweet (if perhaps slight) romance.
The rapid editing is tense and engrossing. The immaculate sound and score are perhaps even more so. All of these virtues are wrapped up in the beautiful warm grain of the cinematography. And much like its predecessor, the aerial shots are still sleek and shocking and beg to be seen on the big screen. Director Joseph Kosinski (Only the Brave) succeeds on so many levels. With unparalleled action, performances, and stakes, Top Gun: Maverick offers everything the best blockbuster should. Filled with heart and thoughtful direction, it is a dedicated homage that both exceeds its predecessor and sets a new boundary towards which similar movies can strive.