Review – He Still Feels The Need For Speed! (“Top Gun: Maverick”)

One of the last long Covid-delayed movies is finally here, having been held back since 2019. Tom Cruise once again reprises his iconic role as Maverick, the hot-shot pilot from the 1986 movie. And yes, Cruise did his own stunts, flying real jets!

After a brief hiccup in test-flying an SR-71 Blackbird, Cpt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is called back after 36 years of duty to Top Gun to train other hot-shot pilots. Why? It seems that some bad guys in some unnamed country have a uranium-rich facility that needs taking out. Problem is, it involves flying a nearly impossible trench run through a canyon and then hitting a 3-meter wide target. Um. . . does the Death Star ring any bells? Anyway, while Pete is back at Miramar, he reconnects with an old girlfriend, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), who owns the local bar. He also discovers one of the “best-of-the-best” pilots he’ll be training is Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his late BFF, Goose. Awkward!

But Pete can’t duck out, thanks to an emotional meeting with his old buddy, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazinky (Val Kilmer). As Pete tries to train these pilots, personalities emerge and are tested, like the bookish Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd (Lewis Pullman), the affable Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), and the ego-maniacal Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) who is SO unlikable, you actually root for someone to shoot him out of the sky. There’s also Pete’s C.O., Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm), and Pete’s old Top Gun friend, “Warlock” (Charles Parnell), who’s now a Rear Admiral. Through all the stress of training these kids and the clock ticking, Pete has another problem that he saw coming: Rooster holds a long-time family grudge against Maverick that ain’t going away soon.

Just like the 1986 movie, the movie is divided into three chapters. The set-up, the training, and then the mission. But unlike the last film, this one really displays its technology and aerial visuals that will leave your jaw planted on the floor. Not to mention Cruise gets a chance to show off not only his real flying skills, but some damn fine acting chops. His reunion with Kilmer had me misty-eyed. Chalk this up to a terrific script by Ehren Kruger (several Transformers films), Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle), and long-time Cruise collaborator, Christopher McQuarrie (many Mission: Impossible movies). Yes, it follows a tried & true pattern that repeats the first movie and there are a few eye-rolling moments, but that’s eclipsed by all the massive amount of flying and jet porn thrown at you. And brother, it’s all good!

Jennifer Connely is scintillating as Pete’s new squeeze and is just wonderful as his new partner. Hamm is excellent and the curt and hard-edged C.O., while I wanted to see more of Ed Harris (Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain) who appears in a small scene. And Miles Teller is outstanding. The pilots are all great, with the exception of Powell, who was so over-the-top he bordered on being an SNL character. The real star here is the direction of Joseph Kosinki (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion). Kosinski, aside from cranking out some impressive aerial footage, really tells a story with the camera. He knows where to place a camera and how long to hold on someone for maximum effect. At a lengthy 131 minutes, the action zips by with ease and I was loving it all. This is one sequel worth waiting for!

**Note: try to see this on a large-format screen. Trust me on this!

*Now showing only in theaters                                      

Top Gun (1986)

Oh yeah. The quintessential testosterone-fueled movie that cranked out many a rip-off movie afterward (Iron Eagle, Stealth, Hot Shots, Flyboys) and launched the career of both Meg Ryan and Val Kilmer, while cementing Tom Cruise as an action hero. It also broke box office records and VHS purchases.

Told through the eyes of Naval Aviator, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (1000-watt smile Cruise), this hot-shot pilot knows no bounds and flies by his own rules, much to the chagrin of his BFF, co-pilot Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards). After risking his life to save a buddy at sea, the pair are sent to Miramar, San Diego for Top Gun training and up against “the best of the best”. This is where Maverick clashes almost immediately with braggart Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Kilmer) and his wingman, Ron “Slider” Kerner, (Rick Rossovich). Apparently, there’s room for only one alpha male in this classroom of super-pilots.

Teaching them is no-nonsense Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerrit) who knew Maverick’s dad in the war, and always scowling Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside), who trains them in the air. But a surprise comes when Top Gun instructor, Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) shows up and takes an interest in Maverick, as he personally encountered a Soviet MiG-28 jet up close. But sparks fly as these two hit it off BIG time, despite the obvious pupil/teacher fraternization rule. In the meantime, we see various “hops” where Maverick and the others train in the sky, Goose’s wife (Ryan) comes to visit, and a beefcake volleyball game on the beach.

But just as everything is going apples and oranges, Maverick is dealt a heavy blow: Goose is accidentally killed during a routine training exercise and Maverick develops a severe case of survivor’s guilt. Turning his back on Charlie, his flying, and Top Gun, he comes this close to quitting, but is talked into accepting his graduation wings and an important emergency assignment overseas by Viper. He flies again with another partner, but almost loses his courage at the most critical moment in the heat of battle. Without a doubt, this movie has it all, drama, comedy, suspense, action, pathos, and heartbreak. And all with a kick-ass soundtrack too boot!

Based on the California Magazine article by Ehud Yonay, screenwriters Jim Cash & Jack Epps, jr (Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch, Secret of My Success), turned a simple magazine article into a global phenomenon that dominated the box office for months. And just how effective was this movie, you may ask? After the film’s release, the U.S. Navy stated that the number of young men who wanted to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent! Pretty amazing, huh? Even though the actual jets used in the movie were a combination of real and remote control fake ones.

The late, great Tony Scott (Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2) directed this effortlessly and with such a winning hand, that a sequel was instantly requested by the studios. But what with Cruise’s hectic schedule, a decent script, the untimely death of Scott, and other factors, the sequel didn’t get officially off the ground until 2014.   

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