Ride Into the Danger Zone – Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

In a world where return-on-investment decisions have seen all kinds of properties get rebooted, remade, and/or franchised to death in recent years, it’s actually a little strange to think that a Top Gun sequel hasn’t come about until now (I’ll get to that). Despite enjoying the original movie plenty, Maverick was the sequel I never knew I needed. Not only does it pay the proper respect to the original, honoring the story and (most of) its main characters, it elevates all the things the first one did well to a whole new level.

This movie is awesome and speaks for itself, so I will make sure not to give anything away that isn’t readily advertised in the trailer. It is the kind of action film that thrives on the big screen in front of a large audience and it’s certainly clear that taking the time to do things the right way paid off. Thiry-six years after the release of the original and three years past its originally slated release window, Top Gun: Maverick finally hit the big screen and the response has been incredible. 

After ruffling the feathers of several superior officers, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is sent back to the training academy where it all began to train the next generation of Top Gun pilots for a mission, unlike anything any of them have ever faced. One of those pilots he must train is the son of his former partner and best friend, Goose.

I imagine it was hard not to have fun if you’re Joseph Kosinski, seen here laughing with his cast

Joseph Kosinski had some big shoes to fill, stepping into the director’s chair for the late Tony Scott. Despite the pressure, it’s easy to see the kind of love and appreciation Kosinski had for Scott’s original film and, while he had to go bigger, he made sure to pay respect along the way. Thankfully, the screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie shows a lot of reverence towards the original script and the original characters by Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr., with Warren Skaaren who was uncredited. There’s a lot of connective tissue that makes it work as well as it does and finds all the best parts of the original and builds upon those.

Here, you can see Cruise going over some footage with newcomer Monica Bacaro, aka Phoenix

None of this happens without Tom Cruise. He was involved in seemingly every level of production and essential to making sure the film was as authentic as possible. He wanted real planes, real pilots, and real training that he designed. Whether you like him or not, he’s a bonafide movie star, one of the few remaining, and his passion for this project shines through the screen. He’s made a number of films I have enjoyed plenty over the last two decades, but this is maybe his best performance since Collateral in ’04.

Shots like this give the film its identity, letting you know that’s the real actor in a real plane, and highlight the camera rigs and the stunt pilots

Speaking of real planes and real pilots, there is a long list of stunt pilots and stuntpersons who deserve a world of credit. Without them, this film wouldn’t be nearly as impactful. Making this film with CGI had to be part of the conversation, but Cruise knew the value of doing as much of it with real jets as possible. In a word, it’s authenticity. Thanks to some bold cinematography choices by Claudio Miranda and some great editing from Eddie Hamilton, the flight sequences are the kind of white-knuckle joy ride that every action film will strive for from here on out. 

The evolution of Iceman and Maverick’s rivalry evolved during the original film and is expanded on in this new script.

The action is incredible and IMAX was totally nuts (worth spending extra on in this case), but the film has a really big heart that makes all the other elements worth it. I mentioned the story and direction earlier, and all of those choices lay the foundation for the film to earn its best moments. Nothing is given or taken for granted. Everything is earned and that makes a world of difference in how the audience responds. It’s the reason this movie made $300-million globally in five days and set the record for the best Memorial Day weekend haul of all time. 

Character history is essential to this story and Maverick and Goose’s son, Rooster (played by Miles Teller), share plenty of that.

The whole cast is awesome too. Denise Chamian put together a fantastic group with a great mix of veteran star power and young talent. Miles Teller was an excellent choice to play Goose’s son Bradley and he leads the group of young pilots with particularly strong turns from Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, and Danny Ramirez. It is pretty evident that Paramount and Skydance have positioned themselves well to option this property into a franchise with fresh faces if they choose to do so.

Jon Hamm absolutely nails the role of Admiral Hardass…sorry…Simpson

And I mean come on…you’ve got Jon Hamm who is pretty much excellent in everything he does and he’s the perfect authority figure to cheer against here. Jennifer Connelly is an amazing actor and so much more than just the love interest at this point in her career, but she exudes that powerful confidence in her portrayal of Penny Benjamin. That gives the relationship a different dynamic and actually makes the chemistry between her and Cruise work exceedingly well. If that’s not enough you also have Ed Harris and Val Kilmer, plus very strong performances from Bashir Salahuddin and Charles Parnell who I would like to know more about as well.  

The music is brilliant too because it’s Hans Zimmer working with Harold Faltermeyer, Lorne Balfe, and Lady Gaga who also contributed the original song. Not only does the music hit the right tone in all of the key scenes, but it also feeds the tension in the background beautifully. The whole thing was crafted with such technical expertise and attention to detail. As far as studio blockbusters go, I don’t know that you can do any better. Don’t be shocked to see this one again during awards season. It’s that good. 

I saw Maverick on its opening Saturday in IMAX, and it was spectacular. So much so, that I took my stepdad to see it again on Memorial Day and it was still incredibly enjoyable a second time around. I hardly ever double-dip like that, so that says something. When I watched Top Gun as a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot and all these years later, Maverick captures all those same feelings. For that reason, I am going to go check it out again one more time in 4DX because it’s the kind of film that’s made for the most immersive experience.

Recommendation: See it on the biggest screen possible and remember falling in love with that experience all over again.

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