In the very first scene in the original Top Gun (1986), a high-ranking official, upon learning that the jets circling above are manned by Maverick and Goose, goes, “Great, Maverick and Goose!” In that film, initial exasperation turns into admiration as we learn about their friendship amid the chaos that is the TOPGUN programme. Three decades later, the film’s sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, mirrors pretty much the same emotion but this time, we watch the trials and tribulations of Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose, while the former discovers and trains new talent.
Still a captain, you might assume that the cocky ways of Maverick are long gone. Even if he’s not exactly showing enemies the middle finger, he’s still feisty and spirited enough to destroy an expensive prototype by easily crossing the sound barrier. His rival-turned-friend Iceman (Val Kilmer), now an admiral, puts him in charge of an elite group of Top Gun graduates for a specialised mission. This sequel stays loyal to the conscience of the original while also looking ahead to a new mission.
Director Joseph Kosinski, who earlier collaborated with Cruise for the post-apocalyptic film Oblivion, retains the best of Top Gun in this sequel. He remembers to trigger nostalgia, right from the beginning when Giorgio Moroder’s score that dominated the pop charts of the late 80s, ‘Danger Zone’, welcomes us and the opening credits, made with the font from the original, begin rolling. And of course, the first shot of Cruise is of him with his patched-up bomber jacket and aviators as he swings his leg over a Kawasaki GPZ900R and rides past an aircraft lifting off an airstrip. Five minutes into the sequel, you can see it cares.
Apart from evident callbacks to the original, Top Gun: Maverick also packs a number of storylines that are similar to the 1986 film. In the first film, Maverick and co approach a woman in a pub only to later know that she is a civilian top gun instructor. Here, Maverick gets thrown out of a pub by a bunch of top gun graduates who learn the very next day that he will be their trainer. There’s even a sequence showing the team playing American football at a beach just like the beach volleyball games in the first film.
Similar to how Maverick and Iceman used to be at loggerheads, there’s visible tension between Rooster and Hangman (Glen Powell) here. Interestingly, Hangman comes off as the over-confident and arrogant one which feels more like a jab at Maverick’s yesteryear characteristics. It reminded me of an iconic line from Top Gun where an officer looks at Maverick and goes, “Your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.” One of the most heartwarming scenes has Cruise looking at Rooster perform ‘Great Balls of Fire’, a song that Rooster’s father Goose taught him 36 years ago.
Much like in the original, there are terrific fighter jet sequences and Kosinski, who has proved to be a visual storyteller with films like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, puts us in the cockpit and makes us feel the impact of being hit by gravitational forces. The high-flying stunts are a treat, particularly when the jets create sonic booms when they break the sound barrier. The question is, when the cameras aren’t trained at the sky, is this film able to hold our attention and create emotion? This sequel goes one better than the original, credit must go to Cruise’s characterisation which sees him as a mentor and a father figure to Rooster, who has to prove to himself and others that he can not just be a good trainer but a great pilot too.
The scenes involving Cruise winning back the trust of the team by showcasing his airmanship and those that have him rebelling against bureaucracy are whistle-worthy moments. Even the ‘slow’ portions, like of him ‘reuniting’ with Penny, a character we didn’t see in the first film, work, thanks to the performances of Cruise and Jennifer Connelly. This is really Cruise at his best, who’s at home both within the confines of the cockpit and outside of it.
The mission in this film is about destroying a uranium enrichment facility located within a steep depression at the end of a mountainous canyon. As if that weren’t enough, there are also surface-to-air missiles and an enemy airbase with Su-57 fifth-generation fighters to contend with. The pilots are expected to fly low to avoid radar detection and drop a missile into an exhaust opening that leads to the facility. While it reminded me of the climax of Star Wars: A New Hope, the actual scenes do try to take away the looming predictability. The film sticks to stereotypes we associate with this genre, but the treatment makes it feel like a homage, not boring repetition.
Unlike the first film which stuck predominantly to stories within the academy, save for the opening sequence and climax, the mission in this film brings in originality. Another smart move the makers seem to have learned from the first film is the representation of those behind enemy lines. We never come to know about the identities of those who pilot the enemy aircrafts, just like in that first film. Given the dynamics of today’s world, where it’s increasingly difficult to identify the good from the bad, this anonymity makes the violence easier to consume.Top Gun: Maverick is a brilliant sequel that has the best of what made its predecessor such a cult hit, while also bringing in the freshness to win over a new generation. It’s one of the few times that a sequel can be said to have eclipsed the greatness of the original.
Top Gun: Maverick
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Glen Powell
Director: Joseph Kosinski