When a sequel to a beloved movie is made, it's typically within a few years. Some take a bit longer, sure, but Top Gun: Maverick is a true anomaly. The original film was released 36 years ago, before many of Maverick's young cast members were even born. Now, the franchise is blazing a trail back into theaters, and, as surprising as it may sound, the return of Top Gun was more than worth the wait.
Top Gun: Maverick picks up 36 years after the first film and finds Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) still ruffling the feathers of superior officers, which has led to him essentially being stuck at the same rank for the last three decades. While others, like his friend Iceman (Val Kilmer) rose to the rank of Admiral, Maverick remains a captain when he's brought in to prepare a new class of Top Gun pilots for a seemingly impossible mission. (Insert Mission: Impossible joke here.)
The group of young and incredibly talented pilots has little familiarity with Maverick, save for one person. Miles Teller plays Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, son of Maverick's late co-pilot, Nick "Goose Bradshaw," played in the first film by Anthony Edwards. Relations between the two are chilly due to Rooster holding Maverick responsible for his father's death.
And that's the first and best place to start talking about this film, as so much of it is centered around the dynamic between these two, and Cruise and Teller play off of each other perfectly. The tension between them is palpable, with Rooster being very open and honest with his feelings, while Maverick tries his best to keep the young pilot safe.
Character-wise, this is when Top Gun: Maverick is at its best. It shows that, while on the surface Maverick is still the same sarcastic and risk-taking pilot he always was, the years have also not been kind to him. He carries the weight of losing Goose and has the stalled career to show for it.
It's great to see Cruise in a role like this, where he gets to be equal parts wise-cracking pilot, a father figure of sorts to his new students, and a man haunted by his past. While it's easy to love the Mission: Impossible movies, Cruise typically has little range to show while Ethan Hunt is saving the world from whatever the latest horrible calamity to crop up is. This movie serves as a reminder that Cruise isn't just a performer that loves doing his own stunts, but he is also a tremendous actor.
And he's surrounded by performers who are ready to match him. Teller turns in a great performance as Rooster, who wants nothing more than to be as good a pilot--or better--than his dad was. To those around him, he's cocky and loves to stand out in a room. He's a tortured soul, though, aching to prove himself to himself. Rounding out the rest of the class are Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), Bob (Lewis Pullman), Payback (Jay Ellis), Hangman (Glenn Powell), Fanboy (Danny Ramirez), and Coyote (Greg Tarzan Davis). Much like those who surrounded Maverick and Goose in the original Top Gun, they all pull their weight. The movie never delves too deeply into their backgrounds, but they are interesting enough that a third film primarily focused around their characters--with Rooster at the helm--would be an intriguing addition to the franchise.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. The higher-level officers played by Jon Hamm, Charles Parnell, and Bashir Salahuddin do their jobs well but ultimately feel largely cast aside due to the focus on the pilots and the in-air action. Of course, that's what you expect from a Top Gun film, but that doesn't leave much for that trio to do.
Jennifer Connelly, on the other hand, is excellent as Maverick's love interest Penny Benjamin. The daughter of a former admiral was briefly mentioned in the original Top Gun, and here, Connelly brings a sarcastic brightness to the film as the owner of the bar the pilots hang out at. It feels worth noting, as well, that Connelly is a much more age-appropriate love interest for Tom Cruise than we've seen in recent years. Whereas Mission: Impossible standout Rebecca Fergusson is 20 years younger than the actor, Connelly and Cruise are merely separated by 8 years.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there's a piece of casting the internet has been abuzz about. Val Kilmer reprises his role as Iceman in the film in the movie's most emotional moment. There's a long history between these two characters and seeing them paired on-screen again this many years later, especially after years of health complications for Kilmer, simply feels right. Their interactions in this film are a heartwarming joy, even if Kilmer has largely lost his voice following a bout with throat cancer.
But how can you review a Top Gun movie without talking about the planes? As expected, the in-air work on the film is simply incredible. The aerial stunts are second-to-none, and it's obvious throughout that so many of the flight scenes were done practically, often with the cast themselves in the cockpit. Much of the cast went through extensive flight training to prepare for the film, and their actual presence in the planes comes through on-screen.
The way these jets are used seemingly defy the laws of gravity, with a seemingly unending list of impressive aerial maneuvers that will keep you glued to your seat throughout. And, of course, there's plenty of showboating among the pilots (especially from Maverick) that brings a bit of levity to the flights, keeping things incredibly enjoyable throughout.
As with the first film, there are large swaths of Maverick that paint service in the Navy as an action-packed thrill ride. The Top Gun franchise may be the very best recruiting advertisement for that branch of the armed services. Thankfully, it doesn't detract from the movie.
Ultimately, what Top Gun: Maverick has been able to pull off seemed impossible. Following up on a beloved movie over three decades later is a difficult task. Delivering a sequel that should be able to stand the test of time just as much as the original is a true feat.
Maverick accomplishes that by expertly balancing the weights between nostalgia and moving the story forward. While there is plenty in the film calling back to the original Top Gun--from familiar music and settings to a plot with pacing very similar to that of the first movie--it also pushes the story forward. This isn't the same Maverick we knew from 1986, and the crew he's surrounded by is helping him to evolve even further. Meanwhile, Rooster and the new class of Top Gun pilots more than hold their own as characters worthy of this franchise.
Pair that with even bigger stakes than the original film and more adrenaline-packed flight scenes, and what you have is a masterclass on how to make a sequel to a movie everyone loved. It may have taken a long time to get here, but Top Gun: Maverick is a worthy revival of the franchise.