Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: "TOP GUN: Maverick" Surpasses the Original and is Hugely Entertaining

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 34 of 2022 (No. 1846) by Leroy Douresseaux

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Running time:  131 minutes (2 hours, 11 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language
DIRECTOR:  Joseph Kosinski
WRITERS:  Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie; from a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks (based on characters created by Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.)
PRODUCERS:  Tom Cruise, Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, and Christopher McQuarrie
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Claudio Miranda (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Eddie Hamilton
COMPOSERS:  Lorne Balfe, Lady Gaga, and Harold Faltermeyer


Starring:  Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Bashir Salahuddin, Jon Hamm, Charles Parnell, Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Glen Powell, Jack Schumacher, Manny Jacinto, Kara Wang, Greg Tarzan Davis, Jake Picking, Raymond Lee, Jean Louisa Kelly, Lyliana Wray, Ed Harris, Chelsea Harris, and Val Kilmer

Top Gun: Maverick is a 2022 action and military drama film directed by Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise.  The film is a direct sequel to the 1986 film, Top Gun.  Maverick focuses on a veteran U.S. Navy flight instructor ordered to transform a group of the Navy's top young aviators into a fighter squadron that can take on an impossible mission.

Top Gun: Maverick opens over three decades after the events of the first film.  Former “Top Gun” candidate, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) currently serves as a U.S. Navy test pilot.  Over his 33 years of service, he has purposely dodged promotion in order to continue flying for the Navy.  A stunt with the “Darkstar scramjet” program looks as if it is going to be the thing that finally gets Maverick grounded.  However, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is Maverick's former rival and his friend.  Iceman saves Maverick from being grounded by giving him orders to return to where they first met, the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program in San Diego, CA.

There, Maverick must train an elite group of 16 Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission – a dangerous and practically impossible mission.  However, there are plenty of ghosts from his past waiting for him there, including Penelope "Penny" Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), Maverick's former lover, who is a single mother, a bar owner, and the daughter of a former admiral.

The most troubling ghost from Maverick's past, however, may be one of the young aviators he must train, Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller).  He is the son of Maverick's late best friend and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), Nick “Goose” Bradshaw.  Maverick still blames himself for Goose's death during a training flight (as seen in Top Gun), and, in a way, so does Rooster, who also blames Maverick for hurting his career as an aviator.  As he pushes this elite group of aviators to test their limits and beyond, Maverick wonders if he may finally be grounded and fears that he may also end up causing the son's death as he believes he caused the father's death.

I don't like Top Gun.  I think that it is not a very well made film.  I love Top Gun: Maverick, which is a direct sequel to the original film and is intimately tied to it.  In a way, Maverick takes some of the best story elements of the first film and gives them dramatic heft, depth, weight, and a gravitas that they really did not have in the original.

Top Gun: Maverick is just all-around well made.  Joseph Kosinski does a much better job at directing the sequel than the late Tony Scott did with the original.  Maverick's screenplay, which like the original, is the result of several writers, nonetheless comes across like a seamless work produced by a single talented story mind.  The film editing is superb, so Maverick's editor, Eddie Hamilton, should also get an Oscar nomination next year, because the editors of the first film were Oscar-nominated for their … problematic work.  Even Maverick's musical score is better, although quite a bit of Harold Faltermeyer's music from the first film does make it into the sequel.

Top Gun: Maverick may also be Tom Cruise's best dramatic performance in over two decades.  Not only do his emotions seem genuine, but his emotional range is shocking.  Cruise has award-worthy moments in this film, especially a pivotal scene between Maverick and Iceman.  Cruise and Miles Teller also seem to work very well together, and Teller once again proves that he has some serious dramatic chops.  Jennifer Connelly, an Oscar-winner, as Penny, makes the most of what comes across as an extraneous token female character.  Actually, quite a few actors make the most of their roles and screen time in this surprisingly heartfelt and genuinely emotional film.

Top Gun: Maverick is, of course, an intense action-thriller with some amazing flight and combat scenes and sequences.  It kept me on the edge of my seat, worrying that one of the young pilots or Maverick would be killed in a crash or in combat.  And no, the filmmakers apparently did not use computer-generated effects for the flight scenes.  This is all advanced cameras, fighter planes, and human pilots, making the film a masterpiece of practical filmmaking and U.S. Navy flying.  Top Gun: Maverick surpasses Top Gun as a military-action film, and is something the first film was not, an emotionally resonate and real military drama.

Yes, it does seem to work a little too hard at pushing our buttons with dramatic conflict and melodrama.  But I honestly enjoyed the heck out of this film in a way that I did not expect – even after hearing so many good things before I saw it.  Top Gun: Maverick is … well, awesome, and this time, I really feel the need for speed and for more Top Gun.  And Tom Cruise still looks good on a motorcycle.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Friday, May 27, 2022

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