This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
With the dominance of CGI in theaters today, you have to sit up and take notice when a movie like Top Gun: Maverick comes along. The revival of the ’80s classic is as authentic as possible with the Tom Cruise-led cast actually flying up in real jets to film the scene’s many amazing aerial shots. The result is a movie that feels like it brings you closer to the action than practically anything else Hollywood has to offer.
Whether it’s seeing Cruise test the upper limits of a jet’s speed or soar through the air for mind-blowing stunts, Top Gun: Maverick is a mile-a-minute thrill ride from the very start. The movie never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, even if you might feel a little secondhand queasiness from all the twists and turns in the process.
The fact that a film this exciting somehow manages to keep one-upping its death-defying exploits along the way to an explosive, breathtaking finale just makes it all the more impressive. It’s a true testament to the stunt crew’s high quality of work and the cast’s impressive commitment to creating an authentic experience.
Even for a movie with as awe-inspiring visuals as Top Gun: Maverick, the promise of more heart-stopping thrills can only go so far though. There’s a lot of other elements that have to come together to make a film like this a well-rounded success. Fortunately, the movie’s balancing act while grounded is almost as impressive as its aerial act.
In many ways, the heart and soul of Top Gun: Maverick is the plot itself. Tom Cruise packs a legitimate emotional punch into Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s story of a pilot and thrill seeker who’s facing the one enemy that no amount of skill can stop, time.
The movie opens with Maverick disobeying orders in a desperate attempt to keep his jet program operational in the midst of a push towards automated, computerized pilots. His actions earn him a trip back to the Top Gun program where he’s forced to teach a group of young hotshots how to complete a seemingly impossible mission that calls for the air force to be at a technological disadvantage if they want to have any hope of succeeding.
It’s a simple plot, with scant details beyond the necessary. The enemy is vague as is the technological advantage they hold over the air force. None of that really matters anyways, as the story centers on Maverick’s struggles to come to terms with the fact that this may very well be his last mission. A mission with odds that are decidedly against him, no less.
The fact that he’s saddled with training an unruly group of students that happens to include the son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s former friend whose untimely death still haunts him, only adds to the emotional toll on Maverick.
The movie’s ability to keep all those dramatic plot threads alive, and eventually pay them off in satisfying ways no less, is a feat. An expertly placed cameo really drives home Maverick’s fight with time, just as Cruise’s ability to switch seamlessly between a devil-may-care smile and a grim, serious visage sells the physical stakes of the mission at hand.
The rest of the cast also excels in their respective roles. Miles Teller, in particular, is compelling as Goose’s son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw. He’s able to give a multi-faceted performance that illustrates the depth and soul of an important character that frankly doesn’t receive much time on the screen alone. On the opposite end of that emotional spectrum is Glen Powell’s Jake “Hangman” Seresin. His role as the team’s smarmy, overconfident bully is so over-the-top that you can’t help but hope he takes a solid hook to the face every time his smirk shows up on screen.
It’s that careful dichotomy between the cheesiness that a movie like this craves and the earnest drama that’s required for it to not slip into parody status that drives Top Gun: Maverick. For every melodramatic shot of a sunglass adorned Cruise slipping on his jacket and riding out on his motorcycle with the sun blazing over his shoulder, there’s a proper emotional counterweight that keeps the movie from missing its marks.
The only slip-up comes in Maverick’s love life. His romantic pursuits involve Penny Benjamin, a character who receives a passing reference in the original Top Gun. Benjamin, played by Jennifer Connelly, is a single mother who runs a local bar near the Top Gun training facilities. When Maverick shows up, she makes it immediately clear that they had a long history together with the kind of baggage that makes her reluctant to rekindle any romance with the brash pilot.
Of course, that reluctance doesn’t last long and soon they’re deep in the throes of a big budget Hallmark movie together. It’s a clunky plot development that almost perpetually lacks the deftness to successfully thread the needle between hokey and heartfelt. The fact that there’s apparently a long history between the two as well only serves to further highlight the absence of Kelly McGillis as Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood given the movie’s otherwise close ties to the original Top Gun.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to harp on a tacky love story too much when there’s such amazing acrobatics and well-earned drama surrounding it. When all of the other plot threads come to a head for the movie’s final act, Top Gun: Maverick soars to some of the highest heights that you can find in theaters this year with its truly pulse-pounding conclusion.
As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is nothing short of a visual knockout with a mostly successful emotional core to boot. It’s more than worthy of being one of the tentpole summer blockbusters of 2022.
Spotlight Score: 9/10