The Pitch: It may have taken 36 years, but even pandemic delays couldn’t keep Tom Cruise away from the danger zone. When viewers are reunited with Captain Pete Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick, one of the military’s best-ever fighter pilots is still a Navy man, working on experimental aircraft after decades of avoiding promotions that would pull him out of the cockpit.
But the brass, personified here by a very cranky Jon Hamm, has a new assignment for the ace: Train up a team of hotshot youths for an incredibly difficult (dare we say… impossible) mission into enemy territory.
While a dozen officers are selected as candidates for the task, the most prominent are a very Maverick-esque pilot known as Hangman (Glen Powell) and Rooster (Miles Teller), the grown-up son of Maverick’s tragically deceased bestie Goose. Between the high-stakes assignment and Rooster’s resentment towards Maverick, things are intense, and that’s even before the mission gets underway…
A Need for Speed: In a lot of ways, Top Gun: Maverick is the platonic ideal of a film sequel, constantly in dialogue with the original project, and committed to growing and expanding upon that source material. Structurally, it’s a clean and straightforward story, with an especially strong third act that delivers nicely on all the set-up that comes before… all alongside some truly thrilling action set pieces.
Teller recently told Men’s Journal that all of the stuntwork was real: “There is no green screen in a Top Gun movie… Every shot, every stunt, was the result of the work, the real sweat, that we all put into it.” Watching the film, you believe this. While there have been, um, a few advances in special effects since 1986, every stunt in Maverick feels real on the same level of the original film — a rare treat these days, to be honest, one which makes the aerial acrobatics on display even more gripping and exciting.
Playing With the Boys (and Girls): While spiritually very in line with the original film, Maverick puts some effort into acknowledging that things have changed a bit since the 1980s. For one thing, an honest-to-God female pilot, call sign Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), holds her own both in pick-up games of beach football and in the skies, and Maverick’s low-key romance with local bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly) is refreshingly age-appropriate and well-handled, story-wise.