Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise is back as Top Gun Maverick. Image courtesy Paramount


M, 130 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Why are we watching Top Gun: Maverick today? To see why Joe Biden got hooked on aviator sunglasses, to make a joke of cocky American can-do attitudes, to check out how Tom Cruise looks at 59, or to soak up some exhilarating excitement and have a fun time?

All of the above, and it’s better than expected with more to it than hard-driving action. Quite a lot better. Characters have a few dimensions, which is more than you can say for much of the other actioners around, and at least some of the action is real.

A balancing act of performer egos,  techno input and human drama that often takes place on the ground

There’s a smart, crisp screenplay, from collaborators Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, that rolls along while quickly establishing the right, irreverent tone. Who had the inspired idea that Ed Harris, as the stern old-style Rear Admiral Chester Cain, would not duck or flinch although the roof flies off a nearby shed as Maverick flies directly overhead? Funny, and one of many casual reminders that TG:M offers some thrills but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Director Joseph Kosinski has managed a sensitive balancing act with the various performer egos, with balancing the techno input and the human drama, and with acknowledging a real-world issue or two, like rogue states and the struggle to maintain a technological advantage in the military.

While dropping a real-world issue or two, it  is more than dead-set driving action and quickly establishes the right, irreverent tone

It struck me, however, that in terms of running time, most of the drama in Top Gun: Maverick takes place on the ground. Not in the air behind masks inside cockpits, but in the offices where Cruise’s Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell confronts his superiors, in the class of elite young pilots that he is preparing for the mission, on the tarmac where they have to do push-ups if they get shot down during practice. And it takes place around the pool table in the bar where the competitive young guns relax, and take each other down.

Now that one of the pilots, Natasha call-sign ‘Phoenix’ (Monica Barbaro) is female, there’s far less time in the locker room. This and less of a white-bread cast is another minor concession to modern audience tastes.

From my perspective, I liked the fact that Top Gun: Maverick maintains the tradition of a female love interest who is capable and independent. Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) is a single mum with her own business, and she can sail a boat while Maverick doesn’t have much idea. There is no sign of actor Kelly McGillis’ Charlie, who Maverick fell for in the original film of 1986, but there is a new edition Porsche to remind us of her.

By the time Maverick and co. are fired up for their mission to take out a secret foreign uranium enrichment plant, much of the drama has played out

The interpersonal drama in this legacy sequel of 2022, is surely also a concession to today’s audiences whose expectations will be different from the young demographic that the original Top Gun, with a 24-year-old Cruise, was aimed at. There will be the action die-hards, but also loads of older punters who want to revisit the old-fashioned action flick of the 1980s that was all the rage when they were young.

By the time Maverick and his team of FA-18 pilots are fired up for their mission to take out a secret uranium enrichment plant in an unnamed rogue state, much of the human drama in this new Top Gun: Maverick has already played out, but the climactic scenes carry plenty of grunt. As the four fighter jets enter a precipitous, pine-clad valley, below the radar on their way to their nuclear target, who is to say someone won’t black out, or the frame of a plane won’t begin to bend?

In various ways, the film makes subtle, effective connections with the original movie. Actor Val Kilmer, now struggling with health issues, hasn’t fared nearly so well as Cruise, and there is respectful acknowledgement of his real-life condition here with his character Ice, now an admiral but an ill man.

Kosinski and his team have got the balance right. While revisiting the bland original was a bit of a chore, I never once suppressed a yawn during TG: M.

And Cruise’s acting is so much better now. He has always been a decent actor, especially proving his range in Born on the Fourth of July and Magnolia, though there has been that tendency to fall back on the trademark, ultra-white grin. There are fewer toothy grins here.

First published in the Canberra Times on 27 May 2022. Jane’s reviews are also published on Rotten Tomatoes