Film and drama Opinion

Top Gun: Maverick aims for the skies and soars high

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Former Top Gun pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is called back to train a new group of students for a perilous mission. Digital editor Dan Jensen takes a ride into the danger zone for 2022's most exhilarating cinema thrill ride.

THE ORIGINAL Top Gun was one of the most successful blockbusters of the ‘80s, but despite the nostalgic love many film fans have for it, it’s really not a very good film.

Top Gun featured a protagonist who was shallow and loathsome, barely anything resembling a plot and was essentially a string of music videos put together to sell Ray-Bans and increase Navy recruitment. But it came out at a time when action scenes set to a cracking soundtrack (along with good-looking actors with better-looking haircuts) sold tickets, so its timing was perfect.

Cut to 36 years later and we now have a sequel to that movie that few are willing to admit is pretty bad. It’s generally not a good sign when a lot of time passes before a sequel is released, so it was natural to be sceptical of Top Gun: Maverick. But wow… believe the hype because this film is arguably the greatest sequel ever made in terms of improvement over the first film.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who in the 36 years since the events of the first film has refused to rank up in the Navy and is still a Captain. When his old rival-turned-friend Tom “Iceman” Kozansky (Val Kilmer), now the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, recruits him to train a new squad of students, he reluctantly accepts the task.

The students are being trained for an extremely dangerous mission to take out a uranium enrichment facility in an undisclosed country and among them is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s former co-pilot Goose who perished in the first film, leading to Maverick’s prolonged grief and career stagnation. Initially, the students regard Maverick as a washed-up dinosaur from a past era and tensions arise between Mitchell and Bradshaw, leading to pressure as time is running out to get the pilots up to scratch.

Top Gun: Maverick succeeds in nearly every department that its predecessor failed. The dialogue isn’t made up of quotable one-liners and actually serves to develop the characters and plot to the point where the audience genuinely cares about what happens. The performances are better, with every actor focused on making a more realistic film. And the third act features a mission that is heart-poundingly tense, where any character could perish. The stakes are real this time around.

But one of the areas where the film truly excels is in its aerial combat footage. Featuring zero CG trickery and putting the audience directly in the pilot’s seat, the combat scenes are nothing short of exhilarating. Every time you see Cruise and the other actors being squashed into their seats by immense speed and G-force, it’s real. And you feel it along with them. The direction by Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy, Oblivion) is masterful, taking equal time between crafting big-screen spectacle and a rich story.

Along for the ride is Jennifer Connelly as Maverick’s new love interest, Penny Benjamin. Connelly is a great actress and her character is fun, but ultimately doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the overall story. Penny does have a reason to be in Maverick’s life, but could have had more emotional weight by the film’s end. That being said, her scenes were anything but boring and she ultimately winds up being entertainingly useless.

Harold Faltermeyer returns to score the new film along with Lorne Balfe, Lady Gaga, and Hans Zimmer and there are some absolutely terrific throwbacks to the original, especially the opening sequence that bridges the nostalgic feeling of 1986 to present day. The costume design of Rooster is also a treat, bearing the signature moustache and Hawaiian shirt of the character’s father. Top Gun: Maverick is full of fan service but never once feels forced, giving fans of the original plenty to smile about.

But at its heart once again is Tom Cruise. Say what you want about his personal life, but this guy has made a reputation for himself as one of Hollywood’s hardest working action stars, putting himself in the danger zone to wow audiences in bigger and more thrilling ways with each film. Aside from managing to deliver a great performance while being thrown about the cockpit of a fighter plane, he maintains the charisma that turned him into one of the world’s biggest stars in 1986 while giving Maverick a maturity and profundity that makes the character far more realistic this time.

And for those wondering how Val Kilmer can be returning in his current condition, where throat cancer has robbed him of the ability to speak properly, just make sure you have tissues on standby as the scene reuniting Maverick and Iceman was far more emotional than one would expect from an action blockbuster.

Top Gun: Maverick has everything one could ever dream of in an action film — a great script, stunning aerial scenes and white-knuckle tension through the entire third act where you really care for the characters. Do not hesitate to go along for this ride!

Top Gun: Maverick is now showing in cinemas across Australia.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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