Review: Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Preamble

Legacy sequels are all the rage these days. However, the strangest among them (at least on a conceptual level) is Top Gun: Maverick. Does it prove its worth and still have the need for speed? Well, you can find out after the drop. What did you think of Top Gun: Maverick? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

Top Gun is the perfect hang out movie. It’s infectiously fun despite suffering from a glaring lack of stakes and pretty weightless action sequences. It exists as something to vibe and revel in (preferably amongst a group of friends or a packed midnight fan screening). With my mixed emotions on the original, it comes as something of a surprise that Top Gun: Maverick is a fascinating counterpoint to the 1986 movie. In fact, it’s quite an exhilarating, deeply moving and ultimately humbling sequel.

Picking up over 30 years after the original movie, the legacy sequel is about famed and decorated navy test pilot- Pete Mitchell aka Maverick (Tom Cruise) returning to the Top Gun academy. He’s been instructed to train a new generation of graduates for an impossible mission. A team of six pilots have to bomb a facility that’s filled with enriched uranium and smart airborne missiles.

Complications arise for the title character when he finds out one of the students is Bradley aka Rooster (Miles Teller), who is the son of his former wingman, Nick Bradshaw aka Goose (Anthony Edwards). Goose died during a training exercise at the tail end of the first film. Along with navigating this strained relationship, Mitchell is also reunited with an old flame- Penny (Jennifer Connelly). She owns the bar that the ageing pilot used to frequent in his younger days.

If the original Top Gun was a post-modern showcase for a latter-day Cruise, and his penchant for doing death-defying stunts with a boyish enthusiasm; then the 2022 film is a humbling of that screen persona. There are many scenes that comedically and dramatically knock the character down a peg or two. One amusing recurring joke is some of the characters saying “Don’t give me that look”, a testament to Maverik’s one-note charm in the original.

And an opening speech by Chester Cain aka Hammer (Ed Harris) about Mitchell’s place in the future of aviation (with the advent of growing drone technology) exists as a grim spectre that looms over the film. For all his bravado and proficiency as a pilot, there’s a sense that Maverick can’t outrun his problems or stop feeling like a failure. This pendulum swing between making a case for the title character and picking at his flaws is the secret to why Maverick works so well.

This aspect also extends to the nostalgic homages, which have an inherent melancholic edge. No longer are motorbike rides during the sunset filled with a carefree and dreamy sense of triumph. Instead, they’re tinged with the bittersweet sting of time playing its subtle tune of wear. Another good example is a scene in the first half where Bradley sings and plays “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano. It’s a touching reminder that Goose’s sense of showmanship lives on his son, but also a potent reminder of the guilt Mitchell has for his former wingman’s death, and his conflicted feelings about sending Bradley on the mission.

Maverik represents Cruise’s most layered and interesting performance in years. Not only is the charm of his character present, but also a world-weariness and a palpable feeling of his emotions boiling under the surface. This last quality has defined Cruise’s performances ranging from Eyes Wide Shut to Minority Report, displaying a great source of vulnerability and humanity for the movie star. Equally as impressive is Connelly whose silent moments of regret and parental angst are a great illustration of how much more grown-up this sequel proves to be.

Despite the success of the performances and writing, the true headline of Top Gun: Maverik is its action sequences. They solve the problem of the original by giving the planes a great sense of weight, not only from how they’re captured (via great use of wide-angle and long shots) and framed but also with the sound design that makes them sound like majestic and roaring animals. Above all, the planes exist as an extension of the characters. One memorable scene is when Rooster and Maverik have a sparring war of words amid a training session, and the planes almost become stand-ins for piercing swords that punctate their heated sentiments.

By the end of Top Gun: Maverick, a single thought occurred to me: only one person has died in this entire movie. On the face of it, Maverick shares some of the qualities of its predecessor and many Tom Cruise movies (yes including one scene where he runs like the Energizer Bunny). However, the emphasis is unique. It fundamentally earns its crowd-pleasing moments because it creates a believable level of stakes and emotions in its dramatic aspects. More than any other blockbuster in recent years, it’s alive and energetic. But between these two states, it’s also an illustration of how time and ageing can change us.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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