Directed By Joseph Kosinski
Starring – Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller
The Plot – After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller), and while facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong adult language
36 years after the USS Enterprise took to the skies and elicited one of the most distinct portraits of 80’s cinema in “Top Gun”, the surprisingly superior sequel reinvents itself with a supercharged installment of palpable adrenaline burning at the cusp of every single shot directed feverishly from Kosinski at the helm. As to where that previous film feels dated in many aspects, the technical merits harvested here masterfully help to construct a presentation with no shortage of jaw-dropping style, placed especially on the shoulders of authentic cockpit stunts that seamlessly immerse audiences in the urgency and claustrophobic vulnerability of the engagements they adorn. What’s pivotal here is that the photography nor the editing gets away from the capabilities of depiction, instead grooving rhythmically with the movements of the aircraft they spawn from to illustrate a conflict that is easy to distinguish despite the transferrable velocity constantly sneaking and shaking up the spontaneity of the gameplan. Equally rhythmic is Lorne Balfe’s invigorating score, which underlines scenes and sequences of dramatic heft with epic emphasis that makes these condensed conflicts feel universal. It’s a big level of faith that the production has in Balfe’s score to dominate over a soundtrack, especially with the latter feeling so vital to the original film, but here Lorne commands attention with compositions so versatile that they simultaneously construct ethos to the environment they’re adorning, all the while making this sequel feel enormous from the audible consciousness it continuously calls upon without taking away from the merit in performances. More on that in a second. Speaking of audible enhancements, the sound mixing and editing are also superbly rich with immersive qualities, especially in the roaring intensity of engines that echo across the skies with trepidations in thunder of the most echoing persistence, and the film’s tonal plausibility’s in maturity cementing a reflective personality from that of its titular protagonist makes this not only feel like a vast dissection of a thorough character study, but also an experience with no shortage of dramatic range to better flesh out some of the internal conflicts that grow with time. This is obviously the case with Maverick and Rooster, with no shortage of emotional baggage between them persisting to love, loss, and longing, but also in the depths of the primary conflict itself, which in the first film felt like a tacked-on afterthought, but here materializes relatively quick in the opening act, and leads to a climax that resonates anxiousness and uncertainty accordingly, even if we still don’t put a face to these enemies that lurk in the clouds. It’s not a total brooding time, as there are more than a few faithful callbacks to the original film, as well as colorful personalities among the fresh faces that make up this eclectic ensemble, and give us no shortage of scene-stealing instances that help to endear them to the cause despite not even being born when the last film hit theaters. Among the rookie returns, Teller and a personal favorite, Glen Powell, lead the charge as rival pilots, with Teller’s emotional range and Powell’s pungent charisma offering an endearing dynamic between them, while fleshing through three-dimensional characterization that keeps them from ever even toeing the line of types. However, this is still Tom Cruise’s world, and everyone else is just living in it. Cruise’s turn here constructs much more than the cocky upstart he was in the previous film, instead living through a lifetime of regret and experience that have afforded him a surprising amount of emotional maturity, but simultaneously one that never clouds the familiarity of the character we’ve come to appreciate, saving his signature smile and adventurous spirit for the moments that define the character to legendary status among the recruits, while working through a compelling narrative that sees him conquering his own internal demons at the place they originally began.
Though the film does fix many of the problems ensuing from an inconsistent predecessor, there’s still one glaring problem that keeps this film from fully progressing to 21st century ideals of filmmaking. This is the unfortunate aspect of the female characters once again serving as nothing more than window dressing to their male cohorts. To be fair, there is a female pilot in the group, but the lack of exposition or time devoted to her cause has her feeling just as ambiguous as any of the other unexplored extras persisting in the background, albeit with a few more lines of dialogue to fool you into thinking the film will actually do something with her. The bigger problem is definitely Connelly, whom the film takes ample time bringing into the fold of Maverick’s life, with her name bringing flashbacks to the original film, but never one that makes her feel like a meaningful piece to what’s persisting. She’s essentially just eye candy for Cruise, which is unfortunate considering Connelly herself is an accomplished and accredited actor, but here sleeps through a role that does her no favors in challenging her to the extent of her capabilities, especially in one of the more dull and predictable romances of the year, which is never challenged despite their rocky pasts alluding otherwise. Problems equally translate to the deliveries of the exposition in the script, which feel as unnatural as obvious can get. Character introductions are constructed in ways that are painfully shaped for the audience, and never for the characters in context, made all the worse by the occasional story beat of the previous film that this one uses to flashback to hammer home a memory. It’s rough enough that the screenwriters have no faith in their audience, but it’s even worse when they’re for instances that even inexperienced audiences can easily pick up on, wiping away nuance with the kind of subtlety of a Northrop F-5E fighter jet flying by a golf course.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is a high-flying, adrenaline fueled summer blockbuster with all of the fixings for those seeking big budget thrills and nourishing nostalgia to the delight of their engagement. Cruise’s best emotional turn in years is complimented further by a youthful ensemble with an insatiable need for speed, but also as an absorbing helming from Kosinski, who channels as much of 80’s aesthetics and mile high enthusiasm that would make Tony Scott proud.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-