Where I Watched it: Paramount Plus
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Legacy sequels are all the rage now. Nostalgia is a business by itself, convincing people to continue to buy into a franchise they once loved, with mixed results. When the world found out that Tom Cruise was moving forward on the long awaited Top Gun sequel, it just felt like more of the same. like it was Jamie lee Curtis returning to Halloween, Neve Campbell returning to Scream, or the Sanderson Sisters casting spells again for hocus Pocus. It’s still a trend that is carrying on into 2023 as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito look to finally make Triplets a reality, Stallone and the gang reteam for another Expendables, Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne to Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Hayden Panettiere brings Kirby back to the Scream franchise. So, nostalgia is in full force. If you’re looking for proof, NBC is starting off the year with a Night Court revival, because… well… nostalgia.
But Top Gun Maverick isn’t your normal dose of nostalgia. No, Tom Cruise, who has managed to evolve the mission Impossible franchise into something truly no one saw coming, is more interested in telling a real story than just getting back in a plane and blowing shit up. Yes, there’s some of that, but where his Maverick had all the hope in the world, confidence for days, and boyish charm, he’s now the opposite.
Gone is the care free attitude he exhibited in the original. Gone is his belief that somehow being the best pilot gets you to the end of the day. not only has he been changed by the events of the first film, but a career, of which we’ve been told he’s a pain in the ass, but a talented pain in the ass. Still, no one flies like Maverick. But now, Maverick refuses to put others lives in danger. He might not care about his own, but he cares about others, likely a side effect of losing his best friend 30+ years ago.
So, after proving himself to be the absolute best, having flown and achieved things that no other pilot has managed to do, Maverick finds himself summoned back to Top Gun, not just to teach new pilots, but to teach those who already passed Top Gun, and are being considered for a critical but impossible mission (pun intended). It’s his old rival that has put him up, as we soon see Val kilmer’s former rival is dying from cancer, an easy way to explain Val’s voice, but ultimately a weighty and tragic loss for the franchise.
Top Gun Maverick doesn’t care if you don’t know what’s going on, and refuses to explain itself in obvious expository form. There’s a guy running Top Gun, played by jon Hamm, who hates Maverick, but sees this as a means to an end. Giving Maverick twelve potential choices, and asking him to whittle it down to six, of which only a few will fly the actual mission, one which Maverick believes no one can return from. Making matters worse, is that one of the twelve is Rooster (Miles Teller) who has a very complicated past with Maverick, that gets very naturally explained as the film progresses.
Also along for the ride, and without extra exposition, is Jennifer Connelly, who plays a former flame of maverick’s that he met at some point between the first film and now. Kelly McGillis? It was never meant to last. Plus, Tom Cruise looks like he’s barely aged, so having him play opposite cast members from the original can be problematic.
Top Gun Maverick is so well crafted. The tone of the film is far more serious, which is why it actually makes sense in the Oscar race. it gets rid of the goofy charm of the original, and puts a ton of emotional weight into the story, with Maverick doing more emoting in the first quarter of this film than he did in the entire original. By having Rooster there, and not really explaining the history, we get to know them over time. We assume it’s something simple, like “you killed my dad”, but it’s actually deeper than that for both. Not only does Cruise deliver the best performance he’s given in years, but Teller is excellent as well. Really, not a single person in the ensemble doesn’t work. Everyone makes this thing fly. And those flight scenes? I understand that visually, for those that have seen it, they are stunning. So much so, this film is a front runner for Best Cinematography. But even for me, as a blind moviegoer, the narration provided is perfection, and captures the action of the moment, and the white knuckle near death experiences many of the pilots run into. You do spend quite a bit of the film on the edge of the seat, with the fate of some pilots up in the air at certain points.
The score, and the selection of songs for the film are equally fantastic. It pays homage to the original, while blazing an honest new path for itself. And instead of having some hip new band remake 80’s music, like Fall out Boy destroying the Ghostbusters theme, we have the originals left as is, and hold My Hand closes out the film in spectacular fashion.
I saw Spider Head first, so i assumed Joseph Kosinsky lacked the talent to be able to properly direct this, but now I know what he is capable of, at least when Cruise is looking over his shoulder. This is a film that will likely get seven or eight Oscar nominations, and deserves every single one. It brings back fun, it brings back the importance of a good script not relying on heavy exposition, it gives Tom Cruise an actual performance, it provides one more reason to say Miles Teller is overdue for an Oscar nomination, it has a kick ass song, and it could have been four hours long and I wouldn’t have noticed. It’s a blast from start to finish, and even to a blind audience that might think they’ll miss out on the air battles, I would wholeheartedly say that this film is a must.
Final Grade: A