*SPOILERS (DANGER ZONE) AHEAD*
Imagine someone comes to you and says, “I just ate the best hot dog I’ve ever had.”
If you’re like me, your response would be something along the lines of “Where did you get it? Because I’d like to go there myself as soon as possible and eat one of these delicious hot dogs.”
If you’re not like me, you might scoff and say, “Who cares? It’s a hot dog. I like cuisine, not crap.”
So it goes with Top Gun: Maverick.
I’m not going to craft a 2,000-word analysis for this film, because one isn’t necessary.
The movie kicks ass.
When I saw the original trailer for TG2, which happened something like three years ago, my first thought was “why do we need this?”
Like many other properties from the 80s and 90s, we were getting a seemingly unnecessary sequel or reboot. My usual reaction after watching one of these projects—even ones that I wind up thinking are ok—is “fine, but we’d still have been better off without it.” That’s certainly how I felt after watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife, for example, but the same can be said of the Star Wars sequels or the reboot of my favorite 1980s detective show whose existence I won’t even acknowledge by saying its name.
Once in a while, though, one of these projects not only works, but exceeds expectations and makes you grateful the creative forces behind it didn’t give up. That was my reaction after watching the first season of Kobra Kai, for instance, which I found to be inspired.
Top Gun: Maverick is something else.
If you had told me on the day I saw that first trailer “picture the best version of what a sequel to this 30-plus-year-old movie could be,” Top Gun: Maverick still would have exceeded those expectations.
I should also mention that I have no particular nostalgia for the first film. When I saw it as a kid, I wasn’t that impressed, even then. I thought it was just so-so. I revisited it recently in anticipation of seeing the sequel, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s still not a great movie, and I had the benefit of doing a little user-end editing by fast-forwarding through some of the unconvincing love story and the beach volleyball scene (which has more chemistry than the love story, but I digress), turning a decent 1:45 movie into a pretty exciting and fun hour-and-a-half.
Against all odds, the sequel is superior to the original in every way, especially when it comes to the incredible stunts. Yes, there’s some CGI, especially when you see distant shots of multiple aircraft at once. But a lot of the flying is real—and a lot of the non-real flying looks darn close. Seeing it in IMAX was especially stunning.
Cruise is great as always, and he continues to amaze me with his ability to be this kind of star even as he approaches his 60th birthday. Jon Hamm is perfect as the obligatory, by-the-book, stick-up-his-rear military man who is, of course, hugely skeptical of Maverick. Jennifer Connelly is well-cast as the sexy divorced mom who has a torrid-but-distant history with Mav. I don’t want to spoil anything, but you’ll NEVER GUESS what happens with the two of them during the movie!
I must admit, I was a little worried about Val Kilmer returning as Iceman, given his health challenges—but they handled it with dignity and grace, and Kilmer’s inclusion was a very welcome one. On another front, Miles Teller is a convincing stand-in for Goose as Rooster, Goose’s son. Likewise, Ed Harris makes a brief appearance as a drone-happy admiral at the beginning, serving as a James Tolkan analog.
Oddly, I thought they were setting up the movie to present a “man vs. machine” storyline after Ed Harris’ character made such a big show of telling Maverick that aviators were dinosaurs who would soon be replaced entirely by machines. Yet, it never came up again.
Meanwhile, the story is, of course, predictable at points and absurd at others, but that is COMPLETELY fine. The plot is solid overall, with a plausible baseline scenario and a structure (centered around briefings and trainings) that provides an organic way to include a lot of necessary exposition.
By the time we get to the final sequence, the audience knows the mission as well as the characters do, and I mean that as a huge positive: there are several specific, difficult mission objectives that the audience understands as they see the characters attempting to achieve them in real time.
I didn’t mind the occasional credulity straining, such as Maverick ultimately being tapped to lead the mission after basically STEALING AN AIRPLANE for the second time in the movie, or Rooster and Maverick both meeting up after ejecting and (you guessed it) stealing an ENEMY plane that they’re able to nab without anyone seeing them.
I also didn’t mind that, like the original Top Gun, the bad guys here are non-specific and simply referred to as “the enemy.” And I didn’t mind that the real Top Gun hasn’t been at Miramar since the 90s. I didn’t even mind that Rooster’s character seemed to be all over the map at times, personality-wise. Finally, I didn’t mind that, like the first film, Tom Cruise’s Maverick would have been imprisoned on any number of charges. That brings me to my overall point about this movie.
Don’t overthink it.
This is a crowd-pleasing, action-heavy, and, crucially, patriotic summer blockbuster. It is fun. It is entertaining. It is refreshing. It is not authentic, but it is authentic enough. And some of the authenticity is does possess comes in the form of jaw-dropping aviation action sequences. All of that is more than sufficient to create a very entertaining movie.
Top Gun: Maverick makes clear that the Tom Cruise-Christopher McQuarrie pairing that turned Mission: Impossible from a decent, largely disposable series of films into one of the greatest action franchises of all time works here, too. Don’t overthink it!
There is a time for nit-picking, and there is a time to relax and enjoy, and this is the latter.
To be clear, this is not a DUMB movie. You don’t have to completely turn your brain off or anything like that. But there is some suspension of disbelief necessary to go along for the ride—and, again, that is fine. The filmmakers achieved everything they set out to achieve when they made this film.
But, if you’re the type to turn your nose up at the best hot dog in the world because it’s a hot dog, then don’t go to this movie.
Instead, I don’t know, go back to Russia, commie.
Because we Real Americans have a movie that we’ll be enjoying for a long time.