Top Gun: Maverick is a highway to a danger zone of exhilarating fun

How on earth can a relic of a premise work in today's movies? This is how.

by Justin Choo

Top Gun: Maverick is a full-throttle homage to the 80s, with extra emphasis on full-throttle. Right off the bat, the movie hits you with the ol’ one-two with the opening graphic explaining the origin and nature of Top Gun and follows up with the rousing theme song by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens, as well as Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone. Not five minutes in and we’re deep-diving hard into the nostalgia zone.

We’re given a quick look at Captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell’s (Tom Cruise) current state of mind – he’s still clinging on to the memory of Goose, refusing to throw away physical memories of his best friend and wingman, despite symbolically discarding his dog tags at the end of the first movie.

It’s classic 80s Tom Cruise, complete with that shit-eatin’ grin and signature cockiness. Mitchell still wears the same jacket, rides the same bike, and he buzzes the control tower even when you say no. No, wait, unless you count the fact that he does the millennium-era running posture rather than the 80s’ one. Apart from that – yes, in a nutshell, everyone in the movie knows exactly what he’s going to do long before he actually does it.

And without missing a beat, he proceeds to piss off Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain (Ed Harris) who is in the business of banishing all semblance of relics to bring in the new generation of warfare – drones – and to him, Mitchell represents all that is wrong with the old.

Mitchell’s latest indiscretion gives Cain the perfect opportunity to ground the maverick for good, but for the timely intervention of Admiral Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), who apart from looking semi-embalmed, plays the MacGuffin that sends Mitchell back to TOPGUN to repeat another cycle of character development. This time, he has the pleasure of making life hell for Admiral Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson (Jon Hamm), who clearly can’t wait to see the back of Mitchell.

Throwbacks aplenty

If you thought that Spider-Man: No Way Home was chock-full of callbacks, Maverick slams on the afterburners for this one. Classic lines, the signature Pugachev’s Cobra manoeuvres and tributes to iconic scenes and songs – they’re all here.

Even Penny Benjamin, who was only referenced in the original as an ex-fling who happened to be the daughter of a very upset Admiral, is made flesh in the form of Jennifer Connolly, an appropriate bit of casting given that she’s also another icon of the 80s. Benjamin checks the boxes as the love interest in Maverick and much like Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) in the original, Benjamin is a strong-headed individual that loves to wind Mitchell up. Seems like his tastes in partners haven’t changed as well.

But I guess the one callback that trumps everything else is the classic 80s Tom Cruise plot, as the real-life embodiment of Moe Szyslak and comedian Rich Hall once pointed out: Cruise plays a character who’s really confident and good at what he does, suffers a crisis of confidence, before someone, usually a love interest helps him back on his feet and he goes back to being awesome, plus a little more. It’s as schlocky as that grin of his, but hey, it works.

2020s movie with 80s heart

Mitchell and Lieutenant Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw’s (Miles Teller) relationship is essentially the heart of the movie, in more ways than one. While Tom Cruise hasn’t aged a day, the same can’t be said for Anthony Edwards, who played Goose in the original. No matter, because, Teller’s resemblance to Edwards is uncanny, and it really feels like a reunion when the pair are on-screen together.

Unfortunately, Bradshaw blames Mitchell for his father’s death, and like Mitchell, Bradshaw is unable to let go of the past. Mitchell played the father figure up to the point of their estrangement, and now has a second chance to make it right. However, like before, he is torn between trying to ensure Bradshaw’s safety and giving him a chance to grow. As it turns out, Mitchell’s assignment is to train a group of TOPGUN alumni for what is practically a suicide mission to take out a uranium processing plant. It’s ‘a damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ conundrum that Mitchell clearly has no idea how to resolve.

As heartwarming as their relationship is, unfortunately, it develops at the expense of most of the cast. Mitchell trains a diverse team of 12 pilots, though only six get some semblance of a speaking part. As much as I would have liked to have seen more, the movie is as tight as it should be, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up.

One standout is Lt. Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin (Glen Powell), though that’s only by virtue of the fact that he reprises the Iceman role in this movie as the pseudo-antagonist. However, unlike Iceman who was basically a good guy with a cardboard personality and a very punchable face, Seresin invites you to punch his face every time he moves his lips. No reason needed (Good job there).

The cockamine excuse of a plot can only be a product of the 80s, right down to the typical rogue-state-doing-potentially-dastardly-things and the United States doing-bombing-the-crap-out-of-them stuff. It’s so ridiculous (is it rude to say dumb?) that it works. Granted, it’s only possible because Maverick is the direct sequel of an 80s classic, and it captures the essence of what made that movie good – most notably, portraying seemingly serious stuff in a not so serious manner. Who knew that getting the balance right would be so difficult these days?

And in another ’this is how it’s done, kids’ show of defiance to filmmakers today, the action sequences are mostly, if not all, real. They’re worth the price of admission alone, as it’s a rare glimpse of an archaic movie-making world that no longer exists.

As the absurdity of the action sequences come to a close and the Top Gun theme is reprised to a glorious return of our heroes (not a spoiler man, were you really expecting a twist from an 80s flick?) you’ll get a full dose of the sensory overload that made these movies great.

Maverick is the essence of classic Tom Cruise – now with an improved formula – encapsulated in movie form. Few sequels come close to surpassing the original, especially one made decades apart when all relevancy is seemingly lost. But if I dare say it, I think Maverick might just be one of them. It’s fascinating what you can get away with a movie made with lots of heart.

P.S. I know that the movie is dumb, just turn off your brain and enjoy it. This is epic stuff.


Top Gun: Maverick

There’s no way this movie would have been made today without the Top Gun name and without Tom Cruise’s resolve, and I’m glad that they did. This is what real fun is, kids.