Top Gun: Maverick | movie review
Not the mash-up of an 80s action movie with a 90s comedy Western that the title suggests.
Movie summary: After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy's top aviators, Pete Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. (IMDb)
I haven't seen the original Top Gun in decades, but it's been referenced and homaged so much in other works over the years that I didn't feel I had to watch it again. Happily, I picked up on pretty much all the extensive call-backs and references to the first film, which was very lucky for me because Top Gun: Maverick does come close to feeling like part two of a single story at times, rather than a second story in the same setting.
That's not a criticism either, but it is curious to see plenty of critics praise all the in-jokes and references to a previous movie that usually gets dismissed, if not outright derided, in a superhero movie. My stance is more consistent: obviously movies taking place in the same continuity should be able to refer back to previous stories because what kind of sense would it be to not bring up past events and how they affected the characters concerned?
I will say that Top Gun: Maverick does skirt the edges of getting a little too similar to what we've seen before - as an example, it's bordering on ludicrous how Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose from the original, turned out almost exactly like his father in terms of facial hair and dress sense - but has enough restraint to stop from tipping over into directly repeating what we've already seen (if you've seen the original, that is!).
One thing that really struck me was how well-written and performed Maverick actually was, which is credit to the writers and to Tom Cruise. There are times when he doesn't feel like quite the same character, but then you think about it for a second and realise just how much time has passed and it makes complete sense - why the hell would he act the same way decades later?
There are moments when the old Maverick shine through, but it's really impressive to see how this fictional person has changed and grown over the years while still feeling realistically hung up on a certain event from the first movie (nope, not going to spoil the original - go watch it) and how that impacted on his life and those around him - Rooster in particular - in the time that passed in-between.
As far as the action goes, the last time I had this particular feeling about a movie was for Gravity, with Sandra Bullock. Seeing that movie in IMAX 3D was mind-blowing for how much that cinema-only experience enhanced what I was watching. There was no 3D for Top Gun: Maverick, but this is definitely another movie that absolutely has to be experienced on the largest screen possible - trust me, it's worth the extra cost.
I know that as much footage as possible was actually captured in the air in real fighters, and that sense of authenticity shines so brightly that it made me want to re-evaluate every action movie I'd ever seen before. The aerial scenes are unmatched in cinema history and the sound design (if they didn't just use the actual noises of the fighters, which it sounds like they did) is equally impeccable.
Honestly, if Top Gun: Maverick doesn't sweep at least the technical awards when it's time to hand out statuettes and trinkets again, then there's something seriously wrong with those giving out the prizes. It's not just how good everything looks and sounds either, but how seamlessly it all fits together to create some of the most thrillingly-immersive sequences ever captured on film - I was obviously sitting to watch this, but found myself leaning from side to side, matching the action, because I was so caught up in what I was seeing.
Ignore that the mission they spend the movie training for and then carrying out is effectively replicating the trench run and hitting a small target objective from Star Wars, and that the action sequence after that steers a little closer than I expected to a more generic action finale, because none of it will matter when watching. Top Gun: Maverick is just brilliant from start to finish and would've easily been my number one movie of the year if Everything Everywhere All at Once didn't exist. Ignore the doomsayers, movies are doing just fine, thanks.
Top Gun: Maverick is an incredible experience that demands being seen on the biggest screen you can find - the fact that it matches the audio-visual thrills with a very human story about growing older and learning to live with mistakes made in the past is the very tasty icing and cherry on top of the already-amazing cake. It does steer a little too much in the direction of a regular action movie at the very end, but even that is pulled off brilliantly.