Top Gun: Maverick is a triumphant, propulsive action blockbuster

Against all expectations, the 36-years-later sequel to Tom Cruise’s iconic 80s blockbuster really is that good.

If you think the 36-years-later sequel to Tom Cruise extravaganza Top Gun is going to dial up the cheese and fetishise the American military, you would be correct.

Top Gun: Maverick does both of those things and with a heavy dose of earnestness. But you know what? It doesn’t even matter because it – miraculously – earns that reverence and sincerity. Top Gun: Maverick isn’t a marvellous movie despite that, it’s marvellous because it makes no apology for leaning into that.

Against all expectations, Top Gun: Maverick is a thrilling, catch-your-breath action blockbuster that dazzles with its weighty, daredevil aerial sequences, actual emotional stakes and a billion-dollar, charm-laden performance from Cruise that reminds everyone exactly why he is one of the remaining bona fide movie stars.

Cruise may have reputational problems in real life, but when he flashes that megawatt, still-boyish smile on the big screen, there is no denying the power of his charisma. And there are few actors who are as committed to delivering a spectacular cinema experience as he.

Cruise returns as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, still a hot-shot navy fighter pilot with an insatiable need for speed, his head literally in the clouds and a perpetual thorn in the side of anyone with stars on their epaulets (Ed Harris, Jon Hamm).

After an unsanctioned stunt, Maverick is ordered back to Top Gun, but not to fly. He is to teach an elite squadron of younger pilots who will embark on a near-impossible mission.

An unnamed enemy state (clearly Russia) is about to bring online a forbidden nuclear facility and the only way to stop it is a dangerous assignment where survival is far from guaranteed.

Among the new generation is Rooster (Miles Teller), Goose’s son. Maverick and Rooster have a complicated relationship due to the older man’s guilt over Goose’s death, still haunting him decades later while Rooster resents Maverick for roadblocks he’s put in his career.

That overhang from Top Gun is all over this film but it’s woven through in a way that doesn’t alienate or confuse those who either haven’t seen the original or weren’t that enamoured with it.

All you need is a passing familiarity with ’80s action blockbusters to pick up on the beats.

Maverick is beautifully balanced between nostalgia and modernity. Contemporary sensibilities don’t feel forced, and the throwback vibe doesn’t feel anachronistic to 2022.

A fledgling romance between Maverick and Penny (Jennifer Connelly) has the hallmarks of the Top Gun era but her character has agency and is clearly his match. While the new class of talent (Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis and Lewis Pullman) is a fresh injection into a world that used to be hypermasculine and not very diverse.

The story even has a subplot about the continued relevance of human pilots when drone technologies threaten to replace them.

But the real highlight of Maverick, where it truly excels is its extraordinary action sequences – really paying off the promise of Berlin’s iconic Top Gun theme “Take My Breath Away”.

Director Joe Kosinski and, it has to be said, Cruise, have crafted high-octane, genuinely gripping set pieces in the air which have gravity and stakes. The planes zoom about in hair-raising displays while the performances in the cockpit puts you right there.

The scenes were shot not in front of a green screen inside a plane on hydraulics but actually up in the air where cameras were mounted inside the cockpit and the actors were feeling the full weight of the G-Force in every frame. It makes all the difference.

Those sequences are tight, with editor Eddie Hamilton crosscutting between cockpit close-ups of several pilots, wide shots of the action and back into the control room. It’s a masterclass in how action and stunts should be edited – it’s not just that the tempo and rhythm of those scenes are mind-blowing but that you can actually follow the action, so you always know exactly what’s going on.

And it’s all underpinned by a booming, reverberating score which draws on Harold Faltermeyer’s original soundtrack, which places you in the propulsive action, in the world of Top Gun and in a truly riveting, lean-forward cinematic experience. It’s a triumph.

Rating: 4.5/5

Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas from May 26

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