‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Flies Higher Than The Original

Tom cruise as Maverick Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick

Rating: 10/10

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writer: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie

Style: Drama

Time: 137 minutes

Rated: PG-13

By Mike Szymanski

Sequels are usually never better than the first. In fact, most of them pale in comparison to the original film.Some notable exceptions may be the second “Alien” movie (“Aliens”), or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and many saythey loved “Empire Strikes Back” more than the original “Star Wars” (now known as “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”) Add to this list “Top Gun: Maverick” as a sequel that far outshines its fantastic first film, “Top Gun” that debuted in 1986. Yes, that’s 36 years ago. Can you believe it?

Yes, it was that long ago, and if you remember the film as an important part of your life, and an ultra-romantic super-action film, take a look at it again, and you may be a little bit disappointed about your nostalgic memory of it. Especially after this one, which is far more romantic, far more exciting, far more action-packed, and frankly, far more mature.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is going to please anyone of all ages — those of us who remember seeing the original in the theaters nearly four decades ago, and the young generations who can’t remember Tom Cruise as a blockbuster movie star who turns everything into an instant hit.

First of all, that nearly-60-year-old Tom Cruise doesn’t age at all. He is Dorian Gray, and he still has that winning smile, and cute face that they tease him about in the first film. He is irrepressibly likable, both as an ambitious boy pilot, and as a retiree now.

Some people think maybe he should retire some of these franchises like the many “Mission Impossibles” where he still claims to do many of his own stunts. It’s too bad, in retrospect, that Cruise didn’t turn “Top Gun” movies into his own franchise — I mean, Sylvester Stallone and Keanu Reeves have more than one that they’re doing pretty well with and still pump out.

Again, you don’t need to know much about what happened in the first one. You don’t have to watch “Top Gun” on Netflix (available until the end of May), but it may help if you do. The old story is pretty well summed up.

A bratty, cocksure pilot Maverick joins the elite U.S. Naval flying squad called Top Gun, and his major rival is Ice Man played by an equally cocksure Val Kilmer. Maverick’s co-pilot is played by Anthony Edwards (yeah, the “E.R.” doc) who is killed in an accident that Maverick blames himself for (this is not a spoiler alert, it’s part of movie history).

What you can forget about, and isn’t even brought up, is that he had a fling with his sexy flight instructor, played by Kelly McGillis. There’s no mention of her, or their relationship, at all. You can also forget about the great Tom Skerritt who played the Top Gun commander, who flew with Maverick’s dad. Unfortunately, that character isn’t brought into the mix even though at the end of the first film, Skerritt’s character offers to fly with him someday.

Sometimes your nostalgic feelings for an old film doesn’t hold up, and it didn’t for me when re-watching it again before this sequel. Some of the lines seem over-the-top cheesy, and the boy-girl relationship truly wasn’t as strong as the undercurrent of the potential boy-boy relationships growing among the Top Gunners. For a completely hysterical re-cap of the original film just watch Quentin Tarantino ad-libbing a riff about “Top Gun” in the movie “Sleep With Me” (https://www.y outube.com/watch?v=ZF1LXL6OOsM)

I’ve interviewed Tarantino about this and they asked him to just ad-lib a Hollywood party and his cameo just spilled out (although he got the last line wrong, it’s not “You can ride my tail anytime” it’s Ice Man conceding to Maverick: “You can be my wingman anytime” to which Maverick replies, “No, you can be MY wingman anytime.) Anyway, the who’s-on-top message comes through between Ice Man and Maverick.

Anyway, although the machismo tension is palpable in “Top Gun,” I was underwhelmed by the boy-girl romance. I didn’t particularly feel much of a strong sexual tension between Kelly McGillis and Cruise in the original. I’m not sure I understood her falling for the young student at the Top Gun class, and she seemed to walk away from him too easily when he was frustrated and was about to give up.

Anyway, this time the sexual tension jumps right off the screen with this older couple that combines a cool, but uncomfortable Cruise with Jennifer Connelly as the new love interest in Maverick’s life. Actually, they have some sort of history, long after the McGillis character is history, and when Maverick returns, he picks up with Connelly’s character Penny, who is the local bar owner with a daughter from another man.

Connelly also never ages, and she’s the most perfect Cougar MILF ever put to screen. There’s a history between them that isn’t explained or detailed in the first movie, and obviously happened in between the films, but it’s very realistic and we catch up with their storyline pretty quickly. You’ll remember Connelly playing Russell Crowe’s wife in “A Beautiful Mind” which she won a Best Supporting Oscar for in the 2001 Best Picture.

The movie has its incredible patriotic message again, as it takes place in Fightertown, USA near San Diego. It begins with Maverick being the same smart ass no-rules guy he’s known for, and getting in trouble with a commander played by Ed Harris who is out to get him. But ultimately, Maverick has to prove he can survive a Mach 10 in the plane he’s flying, which he later describes as having 2,000 pounds pressed up against you,

The flight that Maverick is training a new team for seems amazingly like the approach Luke Skywalker has to take to destroy the Death Star, and I can’t be the only film geek to notice this similarity. They have to fly in a squadron through a canyon with guns shooting from either side, and then they have to shoot a tiny target to set off an explosion, and fly straight up into oncoming fire to get away. Just too familiar for a lot of us.

Not only is this a surefire blockbuster, look for a lot of awards to come for the actors this time, in “Mavericks.” (Previously, “Top Gun” won an Academy Award for best song, but was only nominated for two sound and an editing award, nothing else.)

This time, not only does Val Kilmer deserve a supporting actor nomination, but so does Miles Teller, who plays “Rooster” who is the son of “Goose” played by Anthony Edwards. Goose is the best friend of Maverick who dies in the first movie, and Teller plays a spitting image of his late father, but Rooster is bitter and angry toward Maverick.There’s a great moment when Rooster recreates playing the piano and singing “Great Balls of Fire” that his father did with Maverick (and him as a child) in the original film. Maverick watches the scene from outside the bar, and yes, there are flashbacks.

The biggest shame is that Meg Ryan, who played a young and bubbly wife to Goose in “Top Gun” isn’t around to reprise her role as Rooster’s mom, but they explain it rather realistically in the sequel.

Thankfully, the music that was so important in the first movie, is equally exceptional, if not more, in this one. “Top Gun” won best song for “Take My Breath Away” (the only Oscar it won) performed by Berlin, and became a hit. They also peppered the score with other classics.

And in “Maverick,” Lady Gaga performs “Hold My Hand,” and the music and score is done by Harold Faltermeyer from the first movie, along with Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Gaga. Another great soundtrack.

Handsome “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm plays the nemesis to Maverick in the sequel, and the Top Gun class has more people of color, and even a few good women. The supporting cast includes a competent crew of young actors such as Glen Powell (Hangman), Danny Ramirez (Fanboy), Greg Tarzan Davis (Coyote), Jay Ellis (Payback), Monica Barbaro (Phoenix) and the usual geeky guy Bob, played by Lewis Pullman.

You’ll get a lot of chills in the flying scenes (but not feel like a rollercoaster ride like some movies). And, you’ll be cheering in the theater again, like you did the first time around.

It wasn’t clear at first, if Val Kilmer was going to be in this sequel. As an admiral, Ice Man is always looming in the background, and in photos around Maverick’s life, and they text each other, but it wasn’t sure if he was going to actually show up. He does, and it’s wonderful.

Kilmer has been suffering from throat cancer in real life, and lost his voice, but through the help of artificial intelligence was able to recreate some of it, and he has a significant scene in the movie.

This may actually be Kilmer’s final big movie appearance, which is sad, but never count this guy down, if you’ve seen the documentary about him called “Val” on Amazon Prime.

Another sad note is a tribute at the end of the movie to Tony Scott (brother of Ridley) who directed the original “Top Gun.” Scott killed himself by jumping off a San Pedro bridge in 2012.

“Don’t give me that look” is repeated from the first movie, as is some of those amazing shots where Cruise sits on a motorcycle watching the jets shoot overhead (they look like they were taken at the same age!) There’s a scene in the desert with Connelly that may as well be a luxury Porsche commercial, it’s so hot. Top Gun has not lost that loving feeling.

“Top Gun: Maverick” by all accounts, is the summer blockbuster feel-good, action-packed, funny, romantic, exciting, non-superhero theater draw that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s perfect for the whole family, and couples of all ages.

See it in I-MAX if possible.

Welcome back to the movies.

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