Tom Cruise is having the time of his life, the thrills are off the charts and—hot damn!—you won’t find more blazing action anywhere.
Kicking off the summer movie season in high style, “Top Gun: Maverick” is just the full-throttle blast of hotshot flyboy fun we need right now. Has it really been 36 years since the blockbusting “Top Gun” made Cruise a star? You wouldn’t know to look at him. Pushing 60, Cruise is still pushing the limits of stamina, doing risky stunts with his star shine intact.
Cruise returns in top form as Pete Mitchell, call sign Maverick, a Navy captain and test pilot who could have made admiral if only he stowed his rebel attitude. And yet the brass have called him home to the elite Top Gun school in San Diego, where the best recruits are trained. No longer a student, Maverick is the teacher, sharing life-or-death lessons with the green kids.
Their mission impossible—a nod to Cruise’s biggest action franchise— is to tackle the enemy, unnamed as before (pick Putin if you want). The team will take your breath away by flying into the danger zone of a uranium plant that needs destroying before it’s Armageddon time.
Cruise won a standing ovation when he recently debuted his movie at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in the royal company of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton. Even the critics cheered, a dramatic reversal to the first film’s dismissal as a jingoistic naval recruitment poster.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is still unapologetically rah-rah about American imperialism, but even the film’s detractors seem to have developed an affection over the years for the can-do spirit personified by Maverick and, most importantly, by Cruise himself.
High fives to the supporting cast, but there’s no doubt who’s the real top gun. Navy bigwigs, played by Ed Harris and Jon Hamm, want to send the rebellious, insubordinate Maverick to the scrap heap. Ha! That’s not going to happen to Maverick or to Cruise. Even shirtless, playing beach football with hardbody bros, Cruise has a cool that won’t quit.
Though Monica Barbaro shows up as a woman pilot, her presence feels peripheral as does that of Jennifer Connelly as a bar manager who serves as a love interest since Kelly McGillis, once Maverick’s amorous astrophysics instructor, is MIA. The closest this sequel gets to passion is Lady Gaga belting her feels full out in an Oscar-ready new theme song, “Hold My Hand.”
But, hey, you don’t come to Top Gun for a good cry. For heart and soul, there’s Val Kilmer, who has lost most of his voice to cancer but carries on movingly as Iceman, formerly Maverick’s chief rival and now an admiral willing to help his old nemesis.
For conflict, there’s Hangman (a terrific Glen Powell), who takes on Maverick in the swagger sweepstakes. Mostly, there’s Rooster (Miles Teller playing it cocksure and insolent), the son of Maverick’s former wingman Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in his arms. Resentment comes off Rooster in waves when he learns that Maverick wants to keep him out of harm’s way.
As if. Director Joseph Kosinski knows this superior sequel needs to soar in the skies. That it does. Owing to Navy assistance, the aerial photography has a thrilling immediacy that computer effects can’t match. Back in 1986, “Top Gun” was two hours of pure pow. It still is, but this time Cruise makes sure real feelings cut through the fireworks. That makes all the difference.