TOP GUN MAVERICK movie poster | ©2022 Paramount Pictures

TOP GUN: MAVERICK movie poster | ©2022 Paramount Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Val Kilmer, Glen Powell
Writers: Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks, based on characters created by Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: May 27, 2022

TOP GUN: MAVERICK is a tough movie to evaluate in terms of quality. Exactly how one reacts to it will depend greatly on the affection, or lack thereof, that one has for the original 1986 TOP GUN.

With TOP GUN: MAVERICK, we get the feeling that star Tom Cruise, director Joseph Kosinski and the producers made exactly what they intended to make. This appears to be, apart from up-to-the-minute technical updates and casting of supporting characters that nods at inclusiveness, a sequel that could just about have been made in 1986. It’s nostalgia in its most direct form.

The screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie, from a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks, based on characters created by Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. for the original TOP GUN, gives us Cruise’s U.S. Navy aviator Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as we pretty much expect to see him, blasting down the highway on his motorcycle. Don’t worry, he’ll be back in a cockpit soon enough.

Maverick, we learn, should have been an admiral by now, but his method of handling things (see the nickname) has continually irked the Navy brass. However, he is still their best combat pilot.

The Navy has learned that some bad guys are trying to set up an illegal uranium enrichment operation. The plan is to bomb the site before its toxic contents can be delivered. Maverick thinks he’s being called in to fly the mission, but no – the Navy just wants him to train younger combat pilots how to do it. Maverick will have to select the best six out of twelve candidates.

Adding to the stress is that one of the twelve, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is the son of Maverick’s old and much-mourned wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards, seen in copious flashbacks to TOP GUN I). Maverick still feels responsible for Goose’s death and is determined to protect Rooster; Rooster blames Maverick for all sorts of things.

Anyone who has seen at least five movies over the course of their lifetime should be able to figure out pretty much where all of this is headed. This makes it all the more admirable that director Kosinski and company ratchet up genuine suspense in some sequences. We also get good acting, some decent banter, and plenty of speed.

Additionally, there is a surprising amount of footage from TOP GUN I, as well as a few soundtrack hits from the earlier film. If people are here because they want more TOP GUN, TOP GUN: MAVERICK is happy to oblige.

While it can’t possibly be a spoiler to say there are aerial dogfights here, TOP GUN: MAVERICK is scrupulous in not identifying the antagonists. Even though it’s established that whoever they are, they’re a rogue outfit, “the enemy” (the only thing they’re ever called) is not given a country of origin, a stated location, or even helmets that show their faces. For a group that isn’t backed by a nation, they do have quite a large airbase. All of this, more than anything, really takes us back to 1986, when major studio films often didn’t question thoroughly dehumanizing our heroes’ foes.

Cruise is in top shape and gives a performance of full conviction. He is ably supported by a cast that includes Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and Jon Hamm. Teller is fine as the irate young pilot.

Ultimately, those who liked TOP GUN are given every reason to like TOP GUN: MAVERICK. Those who didn’t like TOP GUN are unlikely to enjoy the sequel. Those who never saw the first TOP GUN but generally like big ‘80s actioners will be fulfilled by TOP GUN: MAVERICK, as well as filled in on any necessary back story. Those who didn’t see the first TOP GUN and don’t generally like big ‘80s actioners … you get the idea.

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