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Is The Top Gun Sequel More Than Apple-Pie Nostalgia?

Top Gun was a 1986 film that made joining the US Navy look cool, created a market for fashionable bomber jackets, and featured a ton of quippable 80s lines and scenes that tread the line between machoness and homoeroticism. In all seriousness though, it was a breathtaking action film with a loveable rogue bunch of leads and was a technical filmmaking marvel from the late-but-great Tony Scott.

Top Gun: Maverick is a pretty on-the-nose nostalgia pandering-heavy sequel which is a hoot to watch because it entertains and delights with its action scenes and, surprise surprise, its charismatic lead character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise).

Wings That Are Mighty

The film quickly brings us up to speed: Maverick has been serving for 30 years as the best aviator in the army, with his recent gig being pushing a high-tech plane past Mach 9. However, he’s been transferred to teach the latest Top Gun graduate pilots to be the best in a top secret mission that requires fast planes and elite skills. Complicating matters is that one of the graduates is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his dead co-pilot and best bud Goose who clearly doesn’t see Maverick in a good light. Oh, and Maverick meets up with one of his flings; a bar owner named Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). And the top secret mission involves dealing with a foreign landing strip that happens to house an F-14A Tomcat for some reason.

We also get to see the other graduates ranging from token gruff female Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), nerd jockey Bob (Lewis Pullman), and actual jock Hangman (Glen Powell) who is clearly the Iceman stand-in, but with a more punchable face. Speaking of which, your old favourites Iceman (Val Kilmer) makes a cameo, but not the rest like Kelly McGillis and Tim Robbins because they either said “no” or grown out of that 80s phase.

Tom Cruise clearly hasn’t, which is why he gave it his all being the risk-savvy pilot who has to teach new recruits how to fly well while still exuding that he’s still at the top of his game. This is obviously Tom’s pet project and he makes all this look good. Yes, you’ll forget the rest of the pilots apart from their caricatures, but you’re here to see Maverick fight his way out of his current job and eventual final mission.

Joseph Kosinski’s trademark directing makes Top Gun: Maverick look really good and authentic to its 80s roots despite taking place in contemporary times. Fitting, considering his works include lovely-looking fares like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Even if you aren’t in-tuned with the callbacks -then why watch the obvious sequel to Top Gun?- the film is gorgeous to look at. The flight scenes and final mission do deliver and then some; they’re easy to follow and they do justice if you’re watching it on an IMAX theatre. Seriously, it’s really hard to watch this on anything lesser than an IMAX setup.

Zone of Danger

The only fault I can think of is the film plays it pretty safe with its beginning, middle, and end. I was actually shocked with the going-ons in the first Top Gun. But here, I do feel I’m on edge for the action scenes. But blown away? Not so much. Without revealing too much, you can call this predicament the case of filmmakers and film houses preserving the status quo of the franchise while shaking it up a bit. Others call this crowdpleaser films that still stays true to the original; in this case it’s a macho image-laden boy’s club film dressed up as military flight school propaganda. And it succeeds with literal flying colours, setting out to do what it does and delivers.

Clearly, Kosinski did his research and directed the film with his crew to mimic and stay true to the original 1986 film while making a logical sequel that touches on Maverick’s anime redemption arc, even down to the obligatory shirtless men on the beach scene that helps with team-bonding and give every wife accompanying their husbands to relive the 80s some pleasant eye candy. There’s substance beyond this nostalgia cash-grab, as we get to experience Maverick’s journey to end his flyboy legacy while also patching up loose ends; a 2022-era sunset ending for a show that honestly didn’t need one.

Still, we welcome it anyway because not many can resist Tom Cruise’s drive to relive his glory days and with style and aplomb. And eternally thankful that there’s no bastardized “alternate” version of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” shoved into the film’s score.

Final Score: 80/100

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