Review | ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ — once more into the danger zone

By Jacob Mraz, Staff Writer

“Top Gun: Maverick” oozes with nostalgia and drips with old-school cool.

That’s what makes this over-the-top love letter to ‘80s action flicks — helmed by one of Hollywood’s last stars Tom Cruise — so watchable.

Before the title screen, screaming exhausts and the famous “Danger Zone” theme music comes none other than Cruise — smiling, seemingly, from the comfort of his home office. The film, he says after a thank you to viewers, is special. And he’s right.

“Top Gun: Maverick,” the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 box-office hit “Top Gun,” picks up decades after the original. Over 30 years after the accidental death of his copilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw during a training competition, Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Cruise) is now a test pilot for the U.S. Navy and is employed on an experimental project named ‘Darkstar’ — an SR-71-like aircraft designed to reach Mach 10 (7,673 mph).

But Maverick soon discovers the project is in jeopardy, and Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain (Ed Harris) is on his way to shut it down. Boldly, Maverick ignores orders and rushes off to fly Darkstar one last time to keep the project alive. 

The sequence that follows is visually captivating and properly intense, but carries with it the weight of the past. “Talk to me, Goose,” Maverick says, as he climbs higher into the clouds — racing to the brink of possibility. The famous line from the first film serves as a callback and a reminder of Maverick’s haunted conscience. 

Following the stunt, Maverick is removed as a test pilot and brought before Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Joe Hamm) and Rear Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (Charles Parnell), who inform him that he will be teaching an elite group of pilots for a near-impossible bombing mission over the next 3 weeks. The group includes the late Goose’s son, Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), whose face mirrors his father’s — another ghost for Maverick to contend with, one filled with his own animosity and bitterness.

But for all its reminders about the past, “Top Gun: Maverick” does an excellent job of setting up the world for the younger generation — at least initially. Though the familiar face of Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) returns, he is notably secondary to the overall plot. 

Newcomers like Rooster and Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) are pushed into the spotlight in a rivalry mimicking Iceman and Maverick’s from “Top Gun.” The film, it seems, is set up for a passing of the torch — a message Iceman himself tells Maverick in a face-to-face and intimate meeting during the film. But it’s a message the film can’t seem to stick to. 

Though the tension between Hangman and Rooster is great and the chemistry of Cruise and Teller is there, the younger actors are never fully fleshed out. Many suffer from too little screen time or undeveloped character. Rooster, for his part, often plays copilot to Maverick’s lead and is more comic relief in what seems the opposite of the film’s message. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect Cruise to take a back seat, but it might have served the overall story better.

Despite this, “Top Gun: Maverick” does an excellent job with its sound and cinematography to make for an excellent visual spectacle. This is, in part, because almost everything is genuine. In a world where it’s so much easier to use CGI, Cruise, as he is famous for, insisted on the real thing.

The F-18s, the main aircraft used throughout the movie, are real. The G-force is crushing and nauseating — requiring the actors to go through 3 months of flight training to learn how to act and prevent vomiting in the cockpit. They also had to go through underwater training, mimicking real-life pilot training, furthering Cruise’s desire for realism in the film.

The results are abundantly clear, and viewers are treated with an unforgettable and up-close experience, a treat for anyone who loves aircraft or flying and a spectacle for those who love good old-fashioned action flicks.

Perhaps “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t the most thought-provoking movie, but it doesn’t set out to be. It never makes bold promises that it wants to move you to tears or bend the fabric of your reality. Sure, the glimmers are there. But from the blasting of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” to the logic-defying air maneuvers of Maverick and company, this is a film that wants you to have fun. 

“Top Gun: Maverick,” simply put, feels good. I cheered, gasped and clapped all the way to the closing credits — and I don’t regret a minute of it. Sometimes it feels good to turn off the noise and experience those roller coaster movies. Never let them tell you otherwise.

See you in the danger zone.