It's been a very long road for the sequel to the 1986 box office hit "Top Gun." Paramount and Tom Cruise announced a follow-up back in 2010 that would reunite Cruise, Val Kilmer and director Tony Scott. That was delayed and, after Scott's 2012 suicide, seemed to be put on the shelf.
Filmmaker Joseph Kosinski ("Oblivion" and "Only the Brave") came aboard in 2017 and started shooting a script shaped by five different writers whose combined credits include "The Batman," "Dumbo," "The Jungle Book," "American Hustle" and assorted "Mission: Impossible" movies.
The film missed its July 2019 release date because of delays with the highly complex action scenes and was postponed again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, nearly three years after the planned release and 36 years after the premiere of the original movie, "Top Gun: Maverick" is finally hitting theaters – and boy was the wait worth it.
The film begins with a video message from Tom Cruise, welcoming audiences back into the theater to see this long-awaited sequel. That's followed by an opening montage sequence highly-reminiscent of the original film – and which will provide more song royalties for Kenny Loggins ("Danger Zone"). Then things start to move forward. We find out Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is still in the Navy but career-wise has only advanced to the rank of captain. He's test-flying a new type of aircraft but is still bucking orders and annoying his commanding officers.
A series of events leads to him returning to the Navy's "Top Gun" fighter pilot school to help train a young team of the top pilots for an exceptionally difficult bombing run into a hostile country.
A visit to a local bar reunites him with an old girlfriend (the wonderful Jennifer Connelly), who clearly still cares about him but is strong enough to give him the tough advice he needs. (There's no explanation of what happened to the other ex-girlfriend played by Kelly McGillis in the first film.)
At the bar he also meets the highly confident pilots he's tasked with training for their dangerous mission. The strong cast includes Glen Powell as a cocky pilot with the call sign "Hangman." (We know he's cocky as he walks around with a toothpick in his mouth.) There's also Monica Barbaro (call sign "Phoenix"), Danny Ramirez ("Fanboy") and the very interesting casting of Lewis Pullman (from the TV series "Catch-22") as a slightly nerdy radar intercept officer whose name and call-sign are both "Bob." (By the way, he's the son of actor Bill Pullman.)
But there's one team member who makes Maverick nervous – and that's "Rooster," played by Miles Teller (seen previously in "Only the Brave"). He's the son of "Goose," Maverick's close friend (played by Anthony Edwards) who was killed in the first film trying to eject from their disabled aircraft. The young pilot not only has a striking resemblance to Edwards but also harbors a deep grudge against Maverick that they both know won't be easy to overcome.
Looking over the instructor's shoulder every step of the way is Jon Hamm, giving a very solid performance as an admiral resentful of the junior officer's role in the upcoming mission.
The movie features a lot of callbacks to the original film, but they don't feel at all gratuitous.
Val Kilmer makes a short but very meaningful appearance as the "Iceman" – now a high-ranking admiral. The movie incorporates Kilmer's real-life health issues into the story, but it's done very tastefully and fits into the story.
As for another callback, well, maybe the scene featuring toned-bodies-on-the-beach playing touch football (as opposed to volleyball in the first film) might be considered gratuitous but it is part of big plot point.
I enjoyed the first "Top Gun" film and loved the aerial sequences. I did feel there were parts of the movie where there was just a lot of posturing and not the strongest of storylines.
"Top Gun: Maverick," on the other hand, is a far stronger film on all levels. It's much more emotional than the original film with characters that are more nuanced. Kudos to Cruise for making Maverick a bit more complex. The movie has a wonderful message about teamwork. As for the action sequences, they are stupendous, especially the climatic attack. At two hours and 12 minutes, this film never drags at all.
The reported $152 million budget is up there on the screen, and it makes "Top Gun: Maverick" a really great summer action movie.
5 out of 5 stars
In theaters Friday