Tom Cruise proves star-power still exists with this technically flawless miracle.
With great patience comes great reward – a statement single-handedly proved right by Top Gun: Maverick. Filmed in 2018, this long gestating sequel to the 1986 dad classic was delayed numerous times due to the complexity of the stunts and the pandemic. Masterminded by Tom Cruise, Maverick has more than earned its place among the greatest sequels of all time and one of the finest action pictures of the 21st century.
Cruise is back as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the role that launched him as a box office mega star. The same rule-breaking cheek and disregard for his own safety are still here, but it is matched with a weighty performance that acknowledges Maverick’s age and limitations. The film’s set-up is brisk and succinct: Maverick is passed around the Navy as nobody knows how to use this confident aviator, so he is sent back to Top Gun, the training school for the best pilots in the world, to train a batch of new recruits for a top-secret flight mission. One of these recruits is Miles Teller’s “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s deceased partner “Goose.” Maverick and Rooster’s fractured history and their strained relationship give the film its emotional crux, while Jennifer Connolly supplies the love interest role.
The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, a suitable choice given how his filmography has all fused into Maverick: he made a belated sequel to an 80s film with Tron: Legacy, a Tom Cruise blockbuster with Oblivion, and a melodramatic American film with Only the Brave. And whilst Kosinski is definitely lending some kudos to the film, it is undeniable that Cruise, along with regular collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is the real mastermind of this film. The stunts are the main draw here, ones that simply must be seen on the big screen. Cruise’s commitment to in-camera action reaches new heights (literally) here, with the cast of actors all having learned to fly the fighter jets and to be able to operate the six IMAX cameras inside each cockpit. The result is staggering. The aerial photography is visceral and unforgettable. Paired with the sonic booms and engine roars, the effect of seeing G-force dragging Cruise and company’s eyes down is exhilarating and a true testament to the passion of the filmmakers in setting a new bar for practical action. The dogfighting finale will leave viewes gobsmacked.
Yet the film earns its stripes outside of the spectacle too. As a feel-good blockbuster, it is filled with multiple, emotionally engaging scenes. Besides the ending, the most noteworthy involves a returning Val Kilmer, whose real-life throat cancer has not prevented him from getting involved. His scene with Maverick is poignant but manages to pull itself out from digging too deep a melodramatic hole. The emotional triumph, rip-roaring vehicle sequences and undeniable star power align Maverick with Le Mans 66, another crowd-favourite that detailed the relationship between man, machine, and the rules. It feels then that filmmakers are aware of what audiences want, and the box office success of Maverick should catalyse audience interest in things outside of Disney-owned properties and CGI overload.
In an unrivalled career that contains masterpieces (Magnolia, The Last Samurai), endlessly entertaining blockbusters (Edge of Tomorrow, A Few Good Men) and a few films in between these (Collateral, Mission Impossible: Fallout), Tom Cruise has fashioned an old-school experience that ranks instantly among his best works. It is wonderfully apolitical, services the original film well without relying on it, thrills, and moves. It is also unfathomable that, were it not for the pandemic, Maverick would have been released in 2020, the same year as Tenet, Dune and No Time to Die were originally scheduled for. All four of these films sought to push action and special effects into more original ways, proving that Hollywood really can still make good films.
Top Gun: Maverick is in cinemas now, with a 12A certificate. Watch the epic trailer below: