Joseph Kosinski | 2hr 11min
Delivering a sequel for a beloved 80s action movie is no foreign concept in this era of collective nostalgia and intellectual property-based movies, so it is even more gratifying when one such film can stand on its own merits as well as Top Gun: Maverick. It is a little worrying at first when it opens with the exact same expository text as its 1986 predecessor and goes on to reheat the slow-build montage of jets preparing to take off on a runway at sunrise against the instantly recognisable ‘Danger Zone’. By the time we are up in the air though, it is evident that Joseph Kosinski is interested in pushing its adrenalising aerial sequences just a little further than what Tony Scott previously achieved. With fully transparent cockpits, the landscapes outside the fighter jets tumble around aviators in gravity-defying acts of grandeur, as sharply present as the actors themselves within the epic scope of its IMAX cameras.
While Top Gun: Maverick maintains a charismatic Tom Cruise at its centre, the film otherwise sees an almost complete turnover in its cast, filling in familiar archetypes with younger characters who never let their mere plot functions hold back their sheer charisma. It is this ensemble of fresh faces which Pete Mitchell A.K.A “Mav” is tasked with training for a stealth mission in a foreign country, after being pulled from his post as a U.S. Navy test pilot where he has willingly sat without promotion for decades. Though he has come to terms with the death of his wingman and friend, he evidently still harbours some guilt over it, and it is not long before we learn of the tension between him and Goose’s son, Rooster, following in his late father’s footsteps as an incoming Top Gun recruit. Around them, we meet pilots Hangman, Bob, Phoenix, and Payback among others, rising as the new generation to play beach volleyball, sing along to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ – and of course, deal with the life and death stakes of their dangerous line of work.
With a clear deadline guiding this narrative towards its thrilling conclusion, there is a tightness and direction to Kosinski’s storytelling that supersedes the original, and there is no doubt that his acute, dynamic editing plays a large part in this. In one training scene that sees the pilots run a simulated course, Kosinski skilfully intercuts between the failed run and the disappointing debrief down on the ground afterwards, detailing the team’s weaknesses both visually and verbally. Not only this, but here we also familiarise ourselves with the obstacles and steps of the key mission, foreshadowing some thrilling later developments that keep on driving up the suspense. Across all Kosinski’s aerial sequences, the precise coordination of the fighter jet stunts and communication between each pilot makes for some heart-pumping scenes that never lose sight of individual characterisations, least of all Maverick’s hubris which constantly pushes him just that little bit further than what convention dictates.
In combining its character work and action, Top Gun: Maverick’s energetic pacing flies by with ease, though at times to the detriment of Maverick’s redemption arc. Little time is spent dwelling on his lowest point before he quickly picks himself back up again and gets back in a plane, breaking rules with gleeful abandon just to prove a point. Still, there is otherwise a strong foundation to this emotional journey in his relationship with Rooster, with whom he shares a troubled personal history. There is a tension between them right from the start that keeps them from speaking to each other, but in the air this cold remoteness manifests as outright competition, each trying to get one up over the other.
The dynamic shift that takes place between them does not come easily, but in echoing the spirit of their departed friend and father, Kosinski does draw out a shared grief between the two, driving them forward in their careers. It is ultimately in this intersection of drama and sharply executed, thrill-seeking action that Top Gun: Maverick takes flight, building on the original and resolving its lingering threads of guilt with sensational, breathtaking vigour.
Top Gun: Maverick is currently playing in theatres.