Visceral visuals, soaring soundtrack, flashy edits save flighty 'Maverick'

  • Tom Cruise reprises his 1986 starring role as Maverick, now a Navy test pilot in the long-awaited sequel "Top Gun: Maverick."

    Tom Cruise reprises his 1986 starring role as Maverick, now a Navy test pilot in the long-awaited sequel "Top Gun: Maverick." Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 
 
Updated 5/31/2022 8:41 AM

"Top Gun: Maverick" - ★ ★

A testosterone tribute to arrested adolescence, the impending blockbuster "Top Gun: Maverick" presents a fantasy world of flashy video game thrills accompanied by an adrenalized retro rock 'n' roll soundtrack, along with a cast of Hollywood stock characters.

 

It presents a world in which death is sad, but without a sense of true loss; a guarded world in which romance flourishes without real intimacy or commitment; a contradictory world in which military subordinates receive praise and rewards for disobeying orders; and a male-dominant world in which the Bechdel test becomes toast in the afterburners of a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet.

"Top Gun: Maverick" is the kind of movie where a macho pilot gently caresses the metal nose of his fighter jet with the tenderness of a cowboy stroking the muzzle of his faithful horse.

This could be a vintage John Wayne movie.

Romance blossoms for Maverick (Tom Cruise) and bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly), a character referenced in the first "Top Gun" movie.
Romance blossoms for Maverick (Tom Cruise) and bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly), a character referenced in the first "Top Gun" movie. - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

But it belongs to Hollywood icon Tom Cruise, reprising his role as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell and enjoying himself even more than jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.

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We last saw Maverick in 1986's "Top Gun," a slick and engaging Reagan-era commercial for the military, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson with full cooperation from the U.S. Navy. (It worked. The number of recruits wanting to be naval aviators shot up by 500%, according to Navy stats. Maverick also popularized Ray-Ban Aviators long before Joe Biden became president.)

Thirty-six years later, long after becoming a pilot instructor for a whole two months, Maverick now lives alone in a Mojave Desert hangar. (Wait -- didn't Kelly McGillis' astrophysicist/Top Gun instructor turn down a cushy Washington job to stay with Maverick and help cash those checks his ego was writing? Just like this film's internal logic, her character simply ceases to exist.)

In "Top Gun: Maverick," Miles Teller plays Rooster, the son of Maverick's best pal and original wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), killed in the first "Top Gun."
In "Top Gun: Maverick," Miles Teller plays Rooster, the son of Maverick's best pal and original wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), killed in the first "Top Gun." - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Maverick's former rival and eventual wingman, Iceman (Val Kilmer), now an admiral and commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, needs someone who can train Navy pilots for an extremely dangerous secret mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant being built between mountains in an unspecified enemy country for a nefarious purpose.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It will go active in two weeks, barely enough time to train pilots to sneak in under the radar, drop bombs and get out fast without crashing into impossibly steep mountain slopes or being hit by enemy missiles.

Iceman wants his old pal Maverick to head the ops.

Rooster (Miles Teller) plays a piano rendition of "Great Balls of Fire" at the Hard Deck bar in "Top Gun: Maverick."
Rooster (Miles Teller) plays a piano rendition of "Great Balls of Fire" at the Hard Deck bar in "Top Gun: Maverick." - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

But crusty Admiral Cain (Ed Harris) and Top Gun senior officer Cyclone (Jon Hamm) object. They are a minority of two.

Once anointed, Maverick assembles his team of pilots, including super egomaniac Hangman (Glen Powell), comic relief "Bob" (Lewis Pullman), token female Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) and troubled Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick's best pal and original wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), killed in the first movie.

"Everyone here is the best of the best!" Phoenix squeals, hammering the movie's main slogan.

Bad blood brews between Rooster and Maverick, who delayed Rooster's career for years by removing him from the Naval Academy list for Top Gun training. Maverick drives him hard.

"Don't think! Just do!" he snaps, sounding like a propagandizing Yoda. "Think -- you die!"

Jay Ellis, left, plays "Payback," Monica Barbaro plays "Phoenix" and Chicago native Danny Ramirez plays "Fanboy" in "Top Gun: Maverick."
Jay Ellis, left, plays "Payback," Monica Barbaro plays "Phoenix" and Chicago native Danny Ramirez plays "Fanboy" in "Top Gun: Maverick." - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

As Maverick preps the pilots, he takes an interest in a single mom named Penny (Jennifer Connelly), a character referenced in the original "Top Gun." Here, she plays the Hard Deck bar's new owner. But her real job is to be an adviser and sounding board for the emotional well-being of Maverick.

"Top Gun: Maverick" soars visually and viscerally, with Eddie Hamilton's edge-of-your-ejector-seat editing and thunderous jet-engine sound effects placing audiences in the cockpit. Even so, the sheer number of experiential flight sequences approaches the danger zone of tedious repetition.

It's hard to imagine how celebrated screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar winner for the mystery thriller "The Usual Suspects") would be part of a team responsible for producing perfunctory, explaining-the-action dialogue such as "I'm taking the shot!" "We can do this!" "Hang on!" "He's on us!" and "I'm after him!"

Only one big question remains: Will Quentin Tarantino deliver another hilarious monologue on the homoerotic subtext of the "Top Gun: Maverick" beefy beach football game as he did for the well-oiled beach volleyball game in the original "Top Gun"? (Check out the 1994 romance/comedy "Sleep With Me" if you missed it.)

To paraphrase Maverick: Don't think!

Just watch.

Note: Chicago natives Danny Ramirez, Bashir Sallahuddin and Charles Parnell are supporting cast members.

• • •

Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Other: A Paramount Pictures release in theaters. Rated PG-13 for language and action. 131 minutes

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