I saw the trailer for them top gun Sequel more often than the original film.* The teaser for Top Gun Maverick has been introduced every time cinemas have reopened for the past two years. And then its release was repeatedly postponed. Three and a half decades after the original hit the big screen and served up a feast of Cold War dogfights, romantic bike rides and tragic deaths, it turns out the movie was worth the wait.
Top Gun Maverick catches up with Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, now a US Navy test pilot who’s still willing to push boundaries. A complex mission to neutralize a target in a “rogue nation” requires him to return to the elite naval academy and train a younger generation of pilots to fly low, fly fast, and get home alive.
What follows is a lot better than you might expect. Less cheesy and potentially quite an improvement over the original film. Yes, there’s footage of the risk-taking Maverick (no helmet when on his bike, no life jacket when on a yacht) continuing to defy orders and promotions. Yes, there are trademark shots of Tom Cruise running. And yes, he still looks great topless. Yes, he turns heads at a bar when, for some unknown reason, he walks in in his starched white uniform. And expect some rules of engagement violations and a flight tower buzz for good measure.
But there’s also a modern military story that’s mostly believable – but couldn’t the same missiles that destroyed a runway have targeted the pesky surface-to-air missiles that everyone worried could jeopardize the mission’s safe return? – and countless flight shots from the cockpits of real jets. At a preview at IMAX’s Cineworld Belfast, chiseled faces and stubbly cheeks filled the giant screen and subwoofers shook the cinema while F-18 jet afterburners roared.
That top gun world is still fairly pale and mostly male. There are two pilots in the classroom: one gets a few lines (Phoenix/Monica Barbaro), the other (an unnamed pilot/Kara Wang) gets to play American football on the beach. While there’s a new love interest – Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who was clearly burned by Maverick before – there are also some familiar characters and their relatives from the original. Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller) provides the film’s chance for redemption. Nerdy gun operator Bob (Lewis Pullman) in the back seat deserves a #belikebob hashtag.
Enough music from the original sneaks into the sequel to evoke memories, but don’t expect every 1980s hit to be included. I don’t think Berlin gets more royalties, Lady Gaga does Hold my hand will rotate up playlists but is unlikely to become such a cultural classic.
Top Gun Maverick may not have publicly stated his ambition to “save cinema”. But I’ll eat my hat if it hasn’t waited long enough to convince people to flock back to their local multiplexes to see it. And for the most part, they’ll be amazed by the on-screen action, which makes 131 minutes fly by.
*Late 1980s, on TV on Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve, crammed into the small room at “Auntie” Mona’s in Jordanstown, away from the chattering adults in the living room. Also the setting for my first foretaste Fat and all sorts of other films.
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