Top Gun: Maverick – Takes your breath away in all the right places

The sequel is in agitated conversation with its 36-year-old predecessor

Top Gun: Maverick
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Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer
Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins

By the time you read this, you will almost certainly be aware that, following premieres in Las Vegas and Cannes, Top Gun: Maverick is being hailed as “better than the original”. This claim, though not preposterous, presumes we are talking about discrete entities. In truth, the new film is in such agitated conversation with its predecessor, released a full 36 years ago, that the chatter risks drowning out the explosions and firing afterburners (if that is still the word). Let’s Dance is on the jukebox. Ed Harris is one of several senior figures tasked with relearning the art of acting while lit through Venetian blinds. Defying all the laws of physics, biology and economics, Tom Cruise is still Tom Cruise and Pete Mitchell is still “Maverick”.

Again and again, the film hammers home how the character and the actor have remained in the same place while the rest of the world has evolved, devolved or plain died. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, again played by Val Kilmer, who has had his own health issues, is now (the notes confirm) commander of the US Pacific Fleet. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw was killed in action and his son (Miles Teller), a pilot himself, blames Maverick for his death. A brief flashback to Meg Ryan in the original reminds us she is one of several Top Gun stars now nursing low profiles.

Meanwhile, Cruise is being hailed as “the last movie star” in features, and Maverick, still a relatively lowly captain, is flying the fastest jets about the ionosphere rather than pushing the dullest papers around the Pentagon. In the opening scenes, Joseph Kosinski’s film, co-written by Cruise’s Mission: Impossible buddy Christopher McQuarrie, makes a case that he has become a version of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. He races a plane to its limits. It disintegrates. He parachutes to earth and is greeted as an alien. But Sam Shepard, though nearly 20 years younger (!) than Cruse is now when he played Yeager in the 1983 film, gave us a character who was already gritted up by time and knocked about by youthful challengers. That’s not Tom Cruise’s game. After the opening fiasco, he is bawled out and appointed head of an operation aimed at destroying an enemy nuclear facility. The fresh-faced team – Teller’s Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw among them – may take the occasional dig at their boss, but Maverick is never positioned as a codger. Nobody who has seen a film before will doubt he will be leading the eventual attack.

So, Top Gun: Maverick, rather than admitting any conversation on ageing, is mainly concerned with selling Cruise/Maverick as the same man he was in the 1980s and repositioning the world around him to defy the decades – the deaths, promotions, failed careers – and allow in bursts of High Reagan aesthetics. Jennifer Connelly doesn’t do much, but she does ride on a motorbike with the hero. Lady Gaga, tasked with echoing Berlin’s moves on Take My Breath Away, meets the remit brilliantly with Hold My Hand. It’s not exactly a tune for the ages, but it surges at just the moment you need the audience to stand up and cheer.


In short, Kosinski and his team have accomplished their odd, hybrid mission more impressively than should have been possible. Most importantly, they have, in an age of cartoon computer graphics, delivered action sequences that appear to be taking place in the real world. The landscapes surging past Maverick’s shoulder have a substantiveness that even the average street scene can’t manage in a green-screened superhero film.

Will it be a hit? The ghosts of the well-reviewed but financially underwhelming Blade Runner 2049 are hovering over Paramount’s shoulder. They are taking as few chances as possible. Not only are insignia on the enemy planes meaningless splats, but the pilots also wear black visors to obscure their ethnicity. The US could be at war with Belgium for all the film lets us know.

No overseas markets were harmed in the making of Top Gun: Maverick.

Opens on May 27th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist