Movie Review: “Top Gun: Maverick” (IMAX edition)
by Omar Moore
June 1, 2022
“Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t just a sequel; it’s a supersonic coming out party for Tom Cruise, who despite his alter ego Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s furrowed brow and death defying derring-do, appears to be having the most fun he’s ever had in a movie. It has been a minute (36 years to be precise) since we last saw Maverick “feel the need, the need for speed” in Tony Scott’s original film, but Mr. Cruise’s own invincibility and relentlessness to push himself (and moviegoers) to beyond the limit has never left. Mr. Cruise, a licensed pilot since 1994, hasn’t stopped either. He actually flies the planes you see in “Maverick”, as do, perhaps even more impressively, every member of the applicable cast.
Nothing has changed in nearly 40 years at the U.S. Naval Academy where a stern jawed Ed Harris is being taunted by Maverick, who just wants to play with his toys. Can Maverick get to Mach-9, Mach-10, Mach-11 or Mach-infinity in his unauthorized skyride? (Guess.) “Top Gun: Maverick” showcases its action star’s trademark intensity in early moments, and the film’s booming soundtrack and bass vibrations, felt especially acutely if you watch in an IMAX theater, feels as if you are in the plane with him. What an exhilarating, nerve-jangling experience “Maverick” is. I was cringing, holding my breath and praying at the same time (I’ve not done all three at once in many a year) as Maverick and his junior charges were skydancing and embracing genuine peril.
The film’s killjoy admiral (Jon Hamm), like Mr. Harris before him, has to stand back in awe as Maverick, who has demons about a tragic air accident for he was responsible, keeps being the irrepressible boy who wants to show off what he can do with his flashy new machinery. There’s more comedy than drama in these episodes of arrest in authority figures, and Mr. Hamm is so serious that at any point he might break out into laughter. The admonishment is bathed in admiration, notably in one line delivered by Mr. Hamm and supplemented by another admiral (Charles Parnell).
“Maverick” glories in its accoutrements with confidence — the Ray-Ban aviators, the patches on jackets and unforms, the helmets, internal dashboards and instruments and its slick stealth jets. That the film’s script, fashioned by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie wobbles, wavers, frolics and detours in many places, particularly around an adversarial nation’s uranium threat, is immaterial: in “Maverick” it is the cool, pulse-pounding roller coaster ride that counts. Even so, discordant moments pepper the film, including the pop-up arrival of Jennifer Connelly, whose existence as Penny in “Maverick” looks engineered to be the film’s female diversion who flirts and offers a suggestive entrance for Mr. Cruise’s character to pursue.
The re-emergence of Ice Man (Val Kilmer, who here looks somewhat like either the late and brilliant film critic Roger Ebert or the notorious Jon Voight as Howard Cosell in “Ali”), is awkward and doesn’t sustain any lingering connective threads to the comparatively bubble-gum, kiddie castle 1986 film well. Yet by the end of “Maverick” an emotional wallop grabbed me, oddly to the point of barely-suppressed tears. I don’t know if that’s because it had been a pandemic-enforced two and a half years away from a movie theatre and I was rediscovering that thrill and movie magic again, or because “Maverick”, which delivers full throttle as an experience, snuck up on me so smoothly.
Joseph Kosinski is the director of this testosterone, chest-beating aviation exhibition but the pilot of this enterprise is undoubtedly the don’t-stop-me-now Mr. Cruise, who resembles the song Queen architected. Maverick instructs and trains the next class of budding would-be Mavericks. Taskmaster, teacher and tough-lovemeister, Maverick tutors his nation’s best disciples to be like him. Among them are Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) who looks every bit a leader, Goose (Miles Teller), Coyote (Greg Tarzan Davis) and Hangman (Glen Powell), the latter cut from Central Casting with angular, symmetrical features and imbued arrogance. This group of world-beating young ‘uns have their way of doing things but they will soon see Mr. Cruise’s way, come hell or high altitude.
Filmed about three years ago, “Maverick”, an ode to undiluted, unrestrained freedom, plays like a feature-length infomercial for Lockheed Martin, Boeing or Northrup Grumman, what with the F-15s and F-18 fighter jets emblazoning the landscape and attacking the air and your ears as if there’s no tomorrow. The militaristic, hyper-pumped salute to machinery is a little much at times, as is the uber-sized American flag jingoism that feels like product placement and a reference in one instance to “Patton”.
Much of “Maverick” is a retrospective of Mr. Cruise’s illustrious 45-year film career. Often it was difficult to tell if I was watching Mr. Cruise, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell or Ethan Hunt — or all three at the same time. When Mr. Cruise appears in dress whites as an impeccably handsome “you had me at hello” heartthrob, one may flashback to “A Few Good Men” or “Jerry Maguire” (the latter’s lighting during the famous Renee Zellweger line is awfully similar to the aforementioned moment in “Maverick”.) When a character tells Maverick’s class of high-fliers that Maverick is the only one who can complete an impossible mission, the reflexive wink to the “Mission: Impossible” films arrives. One can only think that four-time “Mission” director and “Maverick” co-writer Mr. McQuarrie supplied the line. And when Maverick is seen smiling and grinning in a raucous bar: think “Cocktail”.
All of these subtle and not-so subtle reverential movie nods and orchestrations are carefully calculated. The laughs that abound from some of these and others allow for an implicit celebration of Mr. Cruise himself, who affords himself through his character more feelings and emotional self-access than he possessed in 1986. The flashes of mortality are felt but Maverick’s self-awareness is limited only to delivering on one objective: beat the skies at every jackknife, undulating, somersaulting turn.
Also with: Bashir Salahuddin, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, Lyliana Wray, Danny Ramirez, Chelsea Harris.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for sequences of intense action and some strong language. The film’s running time is two hours and nine minutes. Seat belts optional!