If you yearn for all the things 1986's Top Gun gave you, you'll get in the first post-covid summer blockbuster film Top Gun: Maverick.
Tom Cruise grinning at you in a leather flight jacket? ✅
Roaring fighter jets making heart race? ✅
A Tom Cruise love interest that isn't really important? ✅
Young, hot aviators with emotional issues with each other being competitive? ✅
Young, hot aviators getting sweaty playing an outdoor sport mostly shirtless? ✅
Actors posing in front in of jets or motorcycles with a gorgeous sunset behind them? ✅
All this being said, Maverick scratches every itch you have for the iconic and silly original film.
In this iteration, Maverick (still only a captain because he's... umm... Maverick and breaks the rules) is the aging legend who's called back to the Navy's elite flight school to teach the new crop of aviators. Cruise, who looked 15 in the first movie, now only looks 35. (By the way, he's actually 59 yrs old)
Cruise's Pete Mitchell is staring his obsolescence in the face in the newest class at Top Gun. There are very few characters that don't take a jab at his age. Hotshot pilots, Jon Hamm as his commander, even children remind him his time is over. But the old dog is needed to show the kids new tricks because he prove's still an ace. There's a special mission that will save the world from a nameless "rogue state" with weapons of mass destruction.
Adding to the tension, one his students is Lt. Bradley 'Rooster' Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Goose, his best who friend who died in the original film. Maverick still feels responsible for Goose's death. And guess what, so does his son.
History repeats itself with a flirting romance that is humming in the background of this story. Jennifer Connelly plays Penny, an on-again off-again flame who now owns the one tavern on base.
With original 80's powerhouse producer Jerry Bruckheimer at work, Maverick leans into all the 80's movie tropes (there's a lot of posing, plot points aren't always necessary, and lingering on lines that might be a catchphrase). But it's a credit to them to give the audience what it wants. Moviegoers are not coming for a grittier, more realistic, arthouse film.
One original actor's return gave the movie some extra gravity because of the real-life circumstances of Val Kilmer. If you've seen the documentary Val, you know Val Kilmer is in terrible health. When you hear Iceman is going to appear in the movie, you wonder how this very sick man without a voice will be portrayed. His scenes have much more emotional punch if you're privy to Kilmer's real-life struggle.
There are some genuine laughs that come from moments that aren't just fan-service to lovers of the first film. Details about the enemy are so vague to the point of silly. They're so generic, briefings feel like the dialogue was lifted from early 2000s PC games. No one's naming the country, probably so they can play the movie worldwide without making enemies. China can say it's Russia. Russia can say it's North Vietnam.
Top Gun: Maverick's entire third act is essentially the attack on the Death Star from Star Wars (A New Hope). The only thing missing was Admiral Ackbar giving mission parameters.
One of the big catchphrases from Top Gun: Maverick is "Don't think. Just Do."
That's my advice to anyone thinking about seeing this long-awaited sequel. Turn your mind off. Buy a ticket. Feel the rush of naval firepower and memories.
My grade: 7.5
(Jim is a member of the Music City Film Critics Association in Nashville, TN)