I wasn’t a big fan of the original Top Gun.
Reviewing it for City Life Magazine in 1986, I complained that the film felt like a glossy advertisement for the US Navy – and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised when the American military elected to instal enrolment booths in cinemas showing the film, so that pumped-up youngsters could walk straight out of a viewing and sign themselves up for active service.
This sequel had already been a long time coming before the pandemic obliged its release date to be pushed back several times. Finally, here it is, with Tom Cruise still looking perfectly serviceable in the hunky action man role and with Joseph Kosinski taking up the directorial reins on behalf of the late Tony Scott.
Years after the events depicted in the first movie, we meet Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, still a mere Captain, while most of his contemporaries are either dead or have risen through the ranks. He’s now working as a test pilot and is still more than ready to bend the rules when the powers-that-be threaten to close down his current project.
Close to facing a court martial, he’s ‘rescued’ by his former teammate Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who gets him assigned as instructor to an elite group of young pilots, training for a dangerous mission in Iran.
Mitchell soon discovers that one of his students is Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his old wingman ‘Goose.’ Bradshaw blames Mitchell for the death of his father – and for the the fact that he chose to hold him back in his training for several years. Can Maverick somehow bury the hatchet with Rooster and, at the same time, teach him to become a valuable member of his young team?
Hey, does the Pope shit in the woods?
Maverick is, I’m glad to say, a major improvement on the original film. Yes, it’s still pumped full of testosterone and yes, there’s still (inevitably) some major dick-swinging on display, but this story is considerably more nuanced than its predecessor and at least here the female characters are allowed to be more than just compliant love interests. There is still some romance, of course: Maverick hooks up with an ex, Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), now conveniently divorced and running the local bar. It’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that, yes, old sparks are destined to fly.
As with the first movie, there are some extraordinary flight sequences here and they are given extra oomph when I remember that Cruise is doing it all for real, which is a mark of the man’s commitment to his craft. Unlike its perfectly honed lead, the film does get somewhat lumpen around the mid section, when a series of training sequences go into rather more detail than is necessary. It could do with a little less of that.
But things rally magnificently for a genuinely pulse-quickening final half hour and (yes, I admit it) a heartwarming conclusion. While you could argue that plot-wise it’s all faintly ridiculous (and you wouldn’t be wrong on that score), this is nonetheless a slice of highly polished entertainment that largely succeeds in taking its original premise to unexpected new heights.