Top Gun Maverick is a far superior film to the 1986 original. Tom Cruise is back as Maverick and has not advanced through the Naval ranks as you would expect. Instead, he is the ultimate cowboy, a test pilot for Lockheed Martin Skunkworks projects. Fortunately, he is forced back to the Top Gun school to prepare a new class for a dangerous mission.
The first film involved F-14 jets, which the US also sold to Iran. They have since been retired by the US Navy and replaced with the F/A-18, proudly built in St. Louis. Like the F-14 though, they are powered by the wrong engines. The F/A-18 comes in one seat and two seat configurations, freeing up the film to spend less time with the back seat airman.
Tom Cruise insists on doing his stunts and relying on practical effects. This film was shot using IMAX cameras inside the cockpit on low altitude high-speed runs. This film makes mention of specific maneuvers that are beyond the capability of the airframe. From an engine perspective, I cringe at these low altitude, high speed, cold day maneuvers, that is when the air is most dense and makes my job more challenging. There is a bird ingestion event with a realistic outcome. The film brings many of the challenges fighter pilots face to the big screen. The original film highlights that the attrition rate for using ejection seats is higher than most people expect. Pulling the ejection handle is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, it still possesses many risks.
Val Kilmer, Iceman, had throat cancer and lost his ability to talk. While Maverick was not advancing through the naval ranks, Iceman became the head of the Pacific Airmen. Throughout his career, he saved Maverick from multiple discharges. It hints at a paternalistic relationship, which is disappointing to not have gone further. The first film’s best love story was surrounding the sexual tension between Iceman and Maverick. Any homoeroticism in the sequel is hidden deeper; disappointing.
Top Gun Maverick has a plot with real stakes, something the original lacked. Do those stakes feel world endingly high, no, it feels like the sports-ball film that this is. Maverick tries to impart the years of wisdom he gained from always doing the wrong thing onto his pilots as a coach would. The film transitions to leave no man behind injury after the winning touchdown is scored. The last portion of the film is where it shines brightest relative to the original. By this point in the film, you should care for the characters and be invested in what happens to them, making the final challenge higher stakes.
This is the kind of film to go to theaters for. It is the most beautiful shot you will ever see from a fighter jet cockpit. Surround sound is needed to feel the power of the jet engine with a full augmenter in your chest. Tom Cruise insisted on this being released in theaters and he was right to do it. This is why movie theaters exist, do yourself a favor, grab some popcorn and enjoy Top Gun Maverick on the biggest screen you can.