The Movie Guru: “Top Gun: Maverick” outflies the original
Grade: Three and a half stars
The Movie Guru
The original “Top Gun” is a brash, sun-drenched movie about fast planes, cool sunglasses and rugged masculine individualism. Somehow, it’s also a movie about how grief can shatter you so deeply you’re fundamentally changed as a person.
The amazing thing about “Top Gun: Maverick,” opening this weekend, is that it navigates this strange dichotomy even better than the original. It dials back the brashness, takes a more thorough look at the grief and makes the planes go even faster. Together, it makes for a thrill ride with a surprising amount of heart.
The sequel catches up with Maverick (Tom Cruise) decades after the first movie, where he’s working as a test pilot and continuing to get himself in trouble. When he’s sent back to Top Gun to teach a group of younger pilots how to survive an upcoming mission, he’s forced to confront his past and figure out the flight path to the future he wants.
Though it’s less brash, in a lot of ways this movie is actually more fun than the original. Cruise is still cocky, but he’s mellowed out just enough to be more likeable. They give more time to the rest of the cast, who are also largely likeable, and the central romance has some real chemistry. There’s real plot mixed in with the action to make things more interesting, and the cliches are more nuanced. There are even a few genuinely laugh-out-loud moments to top it all off.
If you’re here for the flying, you’re also not going to be disappointed. Like in the first movie, all the aerial scenes feature real planes flown by real pilots. This time they’re flying considerably faster, pulling off tricks I hadn’t known were actually possible. The mission at the end feels incredibly dangerous even to those of us who have no idea what all the technical lingo means, becoming only more so to those who do.
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There’s also some real depth here. Though the ending of the original “Top Gun” seemed to wrap up his grief in a neat little bow, the sequel makes it clear that didn’t last. He’s still caught up in the echoes of that grief to this day, deeply enough that it’s impacted his relationship with Goose’s son Rooster (Miles Teller). Cruise isn’t the most nuanced actor these days, but here his performance gives full weight to all the shades of grief, fear and longing his character experiences.
Cruise and Teller have a particularly good, emotional dynamic between them. Though the roots of the conflict don’t get a great deal of discussion in the script, the actors make you feel everything that isn’t said. Almost the entire impact of the ending rest on their shoulders, and together they carry it off beautifully.
If you loved the first “Top Gun,” or even liked it, you need to see this movie. Even if you didn’t like the original, however, you might want to give “Top Gun: Maverick” a try. It soars a lot higher.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.