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Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – Review: A Perfect Example of How To Craft a Successful Sequel to a Film That Didn’t Need a Sequel

June 9, 2022

Quick thoughts – Grade – B+ – Top Gun: Maverick is a perfect example of how to craft a successful sequel to a film that didn’t need a sequel. 

In 1986, the Tony Scott directed Top Gun collected $357 million worldwide, increased Navy enlistment, and skyrocketed the sales of Ray Ban sunglasses by 40%. A year later, when it was released on home video, the affordable VHS tape (thank you Pepsi ad) kicked off a home video revolution that continues to this day as the tapes became more affordable due to commercial tie-ins (in the 1980s VHS tapes cost in the $80 range..long story). The Tom Cruise vehicle was the ultimate blockbuster, and it ended on a definitive note that featured hot-shot pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) earning the respect of Tom “Iceman” Kazanky” (Val Kilmer) and coming to terms with himself after the tragic death of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards). It’s a great ending, and even considering a sequel could lead to a danger zone that diminished the legacy of the highest grossing film of 1986. 

The good news is that Top Gun: Maverick is an expertly crafted piece of filmmaking by director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Only the Brave and the Tom Cruise film Oblivion). What’s great about the film is that it sticks to a simple plot line that focuses on Maverick coming back to TOPGUN to instruct a group of hotshot F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilots who are tasked with a near-suicide mission that involves them blowing up an underground facility that is enriching uranium. In a shrewd business move by the film’s producers, the facility is in an unknown country, that is occupied by an unknown group who have surrounded the underground facility with an almost comical amount of security that includes surface-to-air missiles and 5th-generation fighters. On a good day the mission would be impossible, but since it’s a Tom Cruise movie, the impossible is possible and he even finds time to rekindle a love affair with Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connely) a cool bar owner, and make peace with Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Goose, who is angry at Maverick because he pulled his Navy papers when he tried to enlist (Maverick doesn’t want Bradley dying too).

What’s great about Top Gun: Maverick is that it knows it is a summer blockbuster, and is totally fine with that. By keeping the narrative simple, Cruise and Kosinski were able to focus their attention on the thrilling training sequences and a finale that will leave audiences breathless. After filming some fun aerial battles in Oblivion, Cruise and Kosinski have built a familiarity with each other’s styles (Cruise will do anything for a movie and Kosinski loves making things look good) and their quest for beauty has paid off. Once again, Cruise and producer Jerry Bruckheimer received the support of the United States Navy and their cooperation helped a lot as Cruise was able put his co-stars through a three month boot-camp that got them used to G-forces and taught them how to film their scenes when they were inside the jets (over 800 hours of footage was recorded – which is wild). Top Gun: Maverick drips with authenticity which makes the aerial dogfights and performances feel real and alive. 

The biggest issue with the film is that Miles Teller’s character Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw doesn’t get the needed screentime to come across as a three-dimensional human being. Teller does his best, and he does have his moments, but since the movie is more focused on Cruise and his relationship with old-flame Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), Teller is forced to play a guy who is just really angry at Maverick because he pulled his Navy enlistment papers. Don’t expect a Maverick/Goose/Iceman bromance in Top Gun: Maverick because this is the Cruise show, and at this point of his career he’s earned the right to headline this movie in every way imaginable. 

After watching every Tom Cruise movie three times since 2018, it’s nice seeing the film embracing Cruise’s love of running, flying, fast motorcycles and shirtless scenes. It’s also nice watching him being tossed out of bar by the younger pilots after he can’t pay a huge bar tab, and seeing him struggle while on a sailboat with Penny. Like in Edge of Tomorrow (Rita Vrataski trains him) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Ilsa Faust saves him), Cruise is often out of his league and it adds a nice element to his character because it makes them somewhat relatable and grounded. 

The supporting cast doesn’t pop like the actors in Top Gun, but they are still likable and obviously committed. The best new characters are Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell – watch him in Everybody Wants Some!! and Set it Up), who is the Iceman of Maverick,  and Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm), a vice admiral who really doesn’t like Maverick but is ordered by Iceman (who is now the commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet) to bring him on as an instructor. Other notable new characters are pilots Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman carrying on the family tradition of plane heroics), and Reuben “Payback” Fitch (Jay Ellis). 

Final thoughts: Top Gun: Maverick is an excellent summer blockbuster that should be watched on the biggest screen possible (they shot the aerial sequences with IMAX cameras) because it actually took the time to create a grand spectacle.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2022 9:30 am

    You stated it perfectly when you said this is how to craft a sequel for a movie that didn’t need a sequel. I didn’t have any interest in it and thought it would be over the top cheesy but after reading so many positive reviews and my wife being a huge Tom Cruise fan we decided to see it on the big screen for date night. The movie didn’t disappoint and was a lot of fun. Not to get mushy but I also liked the way they brought together Tom and Jennifer and seeing Val Kilmer, even in his limited role, was awesome. It wouldn’t be Top Gun without him. Which leads in to my final thought- Michael Ironside, or the lack thereof. My only disappointment with this movie!

    • June 12, 2022 9:59 am

      It’s so good! It doesn’t feel like a cash grab and it has a heart to it.

      Happy you got to see it in the theaters. I love how Val was included. Smart move.

  2. John Leavengood permalink
    June 13, 2022 6:25 pm

    So many feels, so many wows, so much nostalgia without actually relying on it… just great!

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