It’s rare these days to find a movie worth the price of admission. It’s even rarer to find a movie that exceeds expectations, especially as a sequel to a classic from decades earlier. And it’s nearly unthinkable that such a movie could prove to be just the kind of fun, morale-boosting thrill ride that many a weary American is desperately seeking at a time when national confidence is at an all-time low.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is all of these things, and so much more.
A Respectful Sequel
A fair and fitting critique of today’s Hollywood can’t help but take note of the seemingly endless release of distant sequels, reboots, remakes, spin-offs, adaptations, or otherwise derivative takes on previous works, which are a sign of Hollywood’s depleted reservoirs of creativity in the industry. Some of the most egregious examples include the recent “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, the “Jurassic World” trilogy, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and “Terminator: Dark Fate” among many others.
What they all have in common is that they demonstrate absolutely no respect for the original films. At best, they utterly pervert the name of the franchises that they bear; at worst, they outright destroy the legacies of their predecessors—often for the purpose of making a “bold” showing of their disregard for the past and usually with some obligatory “diversity” castings to score extra political points.
The sequel to “Top Gun,” a staggering 36 years later, does none of those things. The movie dives right in with Kenny Loggins’ iconic song “Danger Zone” during the opening credits, letting the audience know right away that they are going to get everything they came for with this movie. There are many other callbacks to the original that are both fun and tasteful, from a new take on the “flyby” scene to a beach football game as an homage to the original film’s volleyball scene.
One aspect of the film that best demonstrates this admiration for the past is the treatment of its protagonist, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. As Will Jordan, better known as the YouTuber “Critical Drinker,” said in his review, the movie does not attempt to utterly demolish its protagonist the way the new “Star Wars” movies did to the original trilogy’s iconic leads.
While many filmmakers today would be tempted to portray Maverick as a washed-up old man wallowing in the past, destined eventually to be surpassed by a diverse young successor impatient to take the baton for a new generation. While some of the characters in the movie try to treat him that way, the film does not. In one especially powerful scene near the end, Maverick proves that he is still very much the highly-skilled fighter pilot that he was in 1986, earning the respect that he rightfully deserves. It serves as an allegory for the film itself in relation to the original.
Maverick is understandably still haunted by the death of his partner Nick “Goose” Bradshaw in the original film. But his guilt does not serve as a fatal weakness crippling the character beyond recognition; rather, it instead proves to be a relatable flaw that makes him a much more believable character, and at the same time presents an obstacle that, like the mission at the core of the movie’s plot, can ultimately be overcome despite the odds.
Filmmaking as an Art Form
Another reason the film is nothing short of a masterpiece is its reliance on realism. In a society currently dominated by CGI-fests masquerading as superhero movies, where green screens and digital enhancements have all but overtaken practical effects and real stunts, “Top Gun: Maverick” recalls the good old days with very real stunts involving real F-18 fighter jets.
For this triumph of classic filmmaking to do so well in 2022, credit must be given where it is due: Tom Cruise, as the star and a producer of the film, understands exactly what the audience wants, and he gives it to them. It may be easy enough to lump Cruise in with the rest of the out-of-touch Hollywood elite, but he has something that many of his contemporaries lack: Respect for the audience and their wishes.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is a film that flawlessly delivers real action-packed stunts, heartfelt respect for its subject matter, and an acute understanding of its audience. This should come as no surprise when one considers it is produced by the same man who performed his own very real stunts in his blockbuster “Mission: Impossible” series, and insists on doing them himself despite pushing 60.
Just as each new “Mission” installment seems to surpass the last and set a new bar for modern action movies, so too has “Top Gun: Maverick” proven that Cruise knows how to produce sequels to other classics that are still just as good as the original, if not even better. For this reason, above all else, Breitbart’s John Nolte got it right when he described Cruise as one of the last great movie stars today.
American Exceptionalism and True Unity
At the heart of both the movie’s story and message are the numerous complex relationships established between the various characters, as the film’s central mission draws nearer and tensions inevitably rise. Under Maverick’s teaching, a collection of already highly-qualified candidates is training for a mission to destroy a soon-to-be-operational nuclear weapons facility in an unnamed enemy nation.
The film’s primary conflict stems from the fact that one of the candidates for the mission is none other than the son of Maverick’s late partner Goose, Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, played brilliantly by Miles Teller. Rooster resents Maverick for the role he played in his father’s death, while Maverick fears that he may soon be responsible for the son meeting the same fate as the father.
Maverick faces additional resistance from a vice admiral, played by Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” fame, who does not support his more unorthodox teaching methods and tries to remove him from the mission. The protagonist also finds himself attempting to rekindle an old flame in the soft-spoken and gorgeous Jennifer Connelly. And in one scene, Maverick is reunited with his old rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, reprised by Val Kilmer; the scene perfectly handles Kilmer’s real-life illness by incorporating it into his character, creating a tender moment between the two that also serves as an emotional turning point in Maverick’s personal journey.
But the most enthralling human aspect of the story is the development of the group of candidates themselves, as Maverick’s teachings help them learn more about each other and themselves. The group is indeed diverse, including white, black, and Hispanic candidates, as well as a woman. And yet, while this would be a recipe for a woke disaster in just about any other movie, “Top Gun” avoids the minefield of identity politics and instead keeps the focus where it should be: The evolution of the team dynamic.
The deliberate refusal to focus on racial politics works especially well considering that they are in the Navy; after all, if there is one institution in America where racial differences should matter the least, it should be the United States military. To quote from the late, great R. Lee Ermey from “Full Metal Jacket”: “There is no racial bigotry here . . . here you are all equally worthless.”
Although rivalries emerge as they compete for the chance to be part of the mission and prove their worth as pilots and tensions continue to rise between Maverick and his superior officers, the intense climax of the film brings all of the characters together striving to achieve a common goal. With a shared desire to beat the odds and accomplish the mission, the victory at the end of the film reminds us not only that we are all supposed to be on the same team, but that, in the true American spirit, even the impossible can be achieved if we just put aside our differences and work together.
An All-American Experience
Movies, above all other things, should serve as a form of escapism. A good film is capable of helping the audience to forget all about the real world for just a couple of hours as they become fully invested in the story, the characters, and the world they occupy in the film’s runtime. A truly great film will have the audiences so invested that they are cheering alongside the characters, almost feeling as if they are part of the story.
Filmmakers who insist on crowbarring in political messages just to score points with their Hollywood colleagues inevitably lead to the audience being taken out of the experience, harshly reminded of real-world conflicts right here at home. The illusion is ruined. But by keeping politics out and keeping good filmmaking in, “Top Gun: Maverick” is a return to form for the series, for Cruise, and for movie making in general. The kind of contagious enthusiasm generated by this film is only possible in a movie that is as uniquely American as “Top Gun.” We could not have asked for a more perfect movie to be released on Memorial Day weekend, and it is no wonder that the film is already breaking box office records.
If you haven’t yet seen “Maverick,” you’d be doing yourself a favor by seeing it in theaters as soon as you can. It is one of the most feel-good, most patriotic, and most unapologetically American movies in a very long time.