The Media Man Reviews: Top Gun Maverick


Title card to my Top Gun: Maverick review

This was a sequel that was a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG time coming.


Development for a Top Gun sequel was announced as far back as 2010 by Paramount Pictures but by mid-2012, the film had to be put on hold due to Tony Scott, the original director of the first movie, killing himself despite a draft of the screenplay being made. Then during 2017, Joseph Kosinski was hired to write a new draft of the script as well as to be the new director and despite being scheduled for July the 12th 2019, it was delayed by efforts to shoot several complex action sequences and then if THAT wasn't enough, the COVID-19 pandemic happened to further delay the movie for two more years! It's like the world was actively conspiring to prevent this movie from taking off! Still, the movie FINALLY got released on May the 27th 2022 and has been released to positive reviews and financial success. Goes to show that a long wait can be worthwhile in the end.


For those who don't know, Top Gun: Maverick is the sequel to the 1986 pop-culture hit, Top Gun. Top Gun is a movie that is very popular amongst movie-goers everywhere for its 80's cheese factor, charismatic performances of Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, highly quotable lines and a fantastic soundtrack with Take My Breath Away regularly appearing on lists of the best movie songs. I didn't like it the first time I watched it but watching it a second time, I came to enjoy it and see why everyone loves it so much, especially my parents. They LOVE Top Gun and it was them that got me to watch it in the end.


So of course, we had to watch the sequel when it came out and we slipped that into our holiday in Wales I just recently had. So is Top Gun: Maverick a sequel that flies as high as its predecessor? Or will this movie end up suffering the same unfortunate fate that Goose did in the first movie? I'm gonna take you right into the Danger Zone readers, for we're flying high into Top Gun: Maverick...


The Story


Set 36 years after the first movie, Top Gun: Maverick sees our titular hero, Capt. Pete Mitchell (aka Maverick) still in the position of Captain in spite of his reputation as a high-flying ace who can be unorthodox when it comes to following orders. Times are changing and now Maverick's given a task that could well be the biggest task of his career: train a new squadron of fliers to carry out a tough mission to destroy a uranium enrichment plant. With only so long to train the new blood at Top Gun for the mission, Maverick may have his work cut out for him, especially as one of the pilots he has to train happens to be the son of his late friend Goose...


The sequel already does a good job on showing how different things are between the first and second movie. This is NOT the Top Gun of the 80's as we've come to know and love over the years. We have modern aircraft, there's lots of new faces working at Top Gun with only Maverick and Iceman returning from the first movie while everybody else is new, we see modern technology like phones and Maverick even gets the opportunity to fly a hypersonic plane. Given this movie came out in 2022 and the first movie came out in 1986, of course the time-skip will give us a different looking movie to what we've seen beforehand. Yet despite the modern setting, it still feels like a Top Gun movie. Thankfully, the writers and director didn't change everything to the point it feels like a Top Gun sequel in name only as the film still has the original film's style of humour and tone (although probably a little more light-hearted as nobody dies in this one) and even has a mostly retro soundtrack to boot (Lady Gaga notwithstanding). Hell, the movie opens up with Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins blasting in your ears just like in the original! If that doesn't tell you it's a Top Gun sequel, I don't know what does! XD


While we're on that subject, here's what I imagine many viewers and critics will agree with me on: this film is one of the best examples of fan-service done RIGHT. No joke, the sequel has A LOT of call-backs and homages to the original movie from opening up with Danger Zone to Rooster playing Great Balls of Fire on the piano like his father before him to a scene of Maverick racing a jet on his motorbike and so much more. We even get this movie's own volleyball game on the beach moment just like before! While yes, it can feel like the movie is poking you and constantly saying "HEY! Remember this from the original movie? Have we appealed to your sense of nostalgia yet?!", it doesn't feel forced in any way and makes the whole sequel feel like a love letter to what came before. It really feels like this is a movie made for Top Gun fans by Top Gun fans and given we're in an age of rehashed mediocre sequels and reboots and remakes that exist purely to cash in on people's nostalgia, this movie feels like a real breath of fresh air as a result. FINALLY we have a modern sequel that actively respects the original and doesn't use fan-service as a cheap way to tickle people's nostalgia bone. One of the best examples I can give is how they use Iceman in this movie. Without spoiling anything, I'm just gonna say that his scene with Maverick is one of the most touching and moving scenes in the whole film and as someone who liked Iceman in the original movie, I was really satisfied with how they handled him here. And the movie's even dedicated to Tony Scott, the director of the original movie. I honestly think he would've loved it if he could've seen it...


As for the story itself, I'm with that crowd of people that says the sequel has a better story than the original movie. I'm not saying the original movie's story was bad, just that it wasn't much in the end. This movie on the other-hand has far more stakes to it with a firmly established conflict, a training session to prime themselves in time to carry out a dangerous mission and some unresolved tension between Maverick and Rooster. Because of all this, I had a much easier time caring about what went on in this film as I feel they did a better job of establishing the conflict here and giving us something to care about. In the original, the only real conflict was Goose's death and that battle at the end whereas here, we have a uranium plant that needs to be destroyed lest it cause trouble for the world at large and as mentioned earlier, Maverick has some unresolved tension with his late friend's son that he needs to resolve or else it could cause problems for him in the long run.


The story also gets really exciting to watch with all the high-flying action we see in this movie, another thing I feel the sequel improved on as we get A LOT of it here and it all looks so good! I'll talk more about it in The Cinematography section below but I'll say here that the climax of this film really does have you at the edge of your seat and your attention will be fixed to what happens from beginning to end as the mission goes ahead. I know I was captivated by all the awesome action and hoping our heroes would make it out alive. It's made even better with the film's tight pacing that never once feels like its dragging or rushing anything. The film goes at the right pace and builds up well to the final act when Top Gun's mission finally goes ahead and has plenty of quiet moments along with the action scenes to allow the audience to catch its breath and just have a moment to see the characters talking during the quieter scenes. A good movie shouldn't be constant noise throughout and thankfully, this film understands that very well.


If there's anything I have to criticize at all, I really don't have a lot honestly. I would've at least liked it if Hangman apologized to Rooster for the rather insensitive remark he made about his dad but that's a me thing, not an actual problem with the movie. What I will say is that depending on the viewer, some might find this sequel a bit much of a drastic change to before that they might not feel that welcome. I mean we're thrust 36 years later into this setting and only THREE characters from the original series even come back for this instalment. Everyone else is either dead or absent with not much of an explanation given to why they're not here. Charlie, Maverick's love interest from the original, doesn't even get MENTIONED in this movie! To me, it seems weird they just give Maverick a new love interest (or more accurately, rekindled as Penny was an old fling of Maverick's in the past) and don't even explain what happened to Charlie. At least when Transformers Dark of the Moon replaced Sam's love interest with another, they briefly explained why that's the case. Here, there's not so much as a whisper. But that might also just be a nitpick as it might've felt awkward if they stopped the plot for a second just to explain why this character's not here so for pacing reasons, it might've been for the best.


But I think what is a genuine criticism is that the story kinda suggests one direction it's going in, but then doesn't go through with it. With the way the movie starts with the hypersonic jet project and all this talk about how pilots are "becoming extinct" and all, you'd think the movie would be some kind of commentary on advancing technology and the importance of man vs. machine. Yet...the movie just brings it up and then drops it. The hypersonic plane never appears again after the first act and we don't really get any showings of how "pilots are becoming extinct" and all that. To proper convey this message, we should've had the pilots of Top Gun training against unmanned drones and trying to prove human pilots are better than computers and that they can be more efficient than drones and the whole mission can be better with them than with the drones. Instead, it's a thing we're told about but never shown and it just feels weird that we have this potential arc set-up and then never delivered upon. If you want a man vs. machine plot, then they should've done it as such instead of just mentioning it and then doing nothing with it.


Despite that, Top Gun: Maverick is a fine example of something that most modern sequels, reboots and remakes often lack: a movie that actively respects the original source material while also being a really solid movie in its own right. As a sequel to the original, it more than flies high above the clouds from how it follows on from before and goes beyond even that...


The Characters


Some Top Gun fans might be a little disappointed that only two characters from the original ever make a comeback here, but I think they'll also like the new cast just fine as we get some good ones here.


Let's start with the main man himself, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (played again by Tom Cruise). While still the reckless high-flying ace he was last time, Maverick is clearly a different man than he was before. Still troubled by the passing of his best friend Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, he exhibits more maturity than before and even plays a mentor role to the new pilots of Top Gun. Despite being a veteran in the air and having a lot of experience, Maverick is still fallible and is able to make mistakes that he has to work on, namely holding Rooster back for so long because of Goose's death and his own insecurities about whether he's up for the mentor role and whether he believes the new recruits at Top Gun can live up to the mission they're training for. Maverick's character arc is so good here and as usual, Tom Cruise delivers in spades with his performance. It really does feel like this is the Maverick we know and love, only older, a little wiser and with whole new challenges to face.


The only other character who returns from the original is Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (played again by Val Kilmer). I was glad to see him return as I liked Iceman in the original movie and even though he's not in the movie much, the screen time he does have here is really well done and let me just say that they really used him greatly. You need to see it for yourselves so I daren't spoilt it for you.


Now we go onto the new characters. We have Maverick's new love interest, Penny (played by Jennifer Connelly). While I do miss Charlie from the original movie, I enjoyed Penny in this movie. She and Maverick have some cute chemistry together and she plays a lovely supporting role to Maverick in his story. Also major props to the writers for bringing in a character who was pretty much a throwaway line from the original movie and now we see her in the flesh here. I wasn't even aware that she was meant to be that admiral's daughter Maverick had a fling with in the past until I looked it up! XD


And of course, I have to bring up all the new Top Gun pilots we see here. We have a few new pilots all with their own colourful callsigns like Phoenix, Fanboy, Coyote, Hangman, Payback and...Bob. No I'm serious. XD Out of them all, I'd say Phoenix and Bob are my favourites with Phoenix as this tough female pilot who's just as competent as the male pilots (and all without needing to lecture anybody about that fact) and Bob is adorably quirky with his rather simple callsign and how he's more capable than some might think he is.


But the most important new character (well technically returning character as he's all grown up now) in the movie is of course, Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller). He's the son of Goose and in spite of his father's death, he's gone on to become a pilot like his father before him, yet Maverick's been holding him back for so long because of Goose's death still weighing heavily on his conscience. While this puts him and Maverick into conflict with one another and some of the pilots such as Hangman constantly put him down whenever they can, Rooster keeps on going and eventually, he's able to prove himself and he and Maverick earn each other's respect in the end. He also has his own struggles to overcome in how he constantly hesitates and has to learn not to think, just do when in battle. While I wasn't expecting the two to have an estranged relationship, I do think it was a smart move for this movie as it prevents the whole thing from being a rehash of the original with Maverick and Goose's relationship and gives us a contrast to how he gets on with his son compared to him. I personally felt that their conflict was wrapped up rather quickly but I still feel they handled Rooster's arc well enough and that he more than lives up to his father's legacy.


The new cast aren't the most developed bunch there are, but they are memorable at last and the most important ones like Maverick and Rooster are well used and developed for the most part. I think many viewers will welcome these characters to the Top Gun family with open arms...


The Cinematography


Tony Scott left some big shoes to fill when he tragically died before he could direct this film. Luckily, Joseph Kosinski was just the guy to take over from him for he directs one hell of an awesome looking movie here!


When watching a Top Gun movie, you naturally expect to see a lot of high-flying action and gorgeous shots of military planes flying everywhere and the sequel delivers on that and arguably tops even the original's cinematography in that regard. They manage to get A LOT of awesome footage of the planes we see in this movie with all sorts of angles taken from just about anywhere you could film them both inside and out. You get outside shots from multiple angles as they fly through the sky and you get inside shots of the pilots in their cockpit seats as they're training for the mission and you get a lot of up close shots whether it's from the planes or if we're seeing the pilot's faces up close to see their emotions during the flying scenes. They really make the audience themselves feel like they're flying with these pilots during these scenes and it makes for a pretty exhilarating watch as a result. All of this really pays off during the climax when Top Gun's mission gets underway. We see the planes flying close to the ground, flying through gaps in a tall bridge and flying over the mountains as they destroy the uranium plant and of course, we get the dog-fighting up in the sky as Maverick and his team deal with enemy fliers and the cinematography brings it all beautifully to life with how amazingly shot it is from the multiple angles they shoot from. It's made even better when you consider they're flying real planes in this movie, they're not CGI at all and thank goodness for that as it just made the movie look and feel more real as a result. If the actors are actually there flying those planes, then we can believe it's all really happening.


It's even better with the fact everything is shot so clearly. You can easily see everything that's going on in the movie, even during the action scenes. There's very little if any shaky camera at all, no unnecessary edits that give us choppily pasted together footage or lots of cuts and the focus is always squarely on the action at hand and nothing else. They show us planes in action and that's what we get, clear as crystal to see and so awesome to watch as a result.


What also helps the cinematography feel so real is that the planes are not only real, but a lot of the flying they do is true to life with what fighter jets can do. You see them do barrel rolls, sudden stops, evasive manoeuvres to get behind other jets or avoid enemy fire, fly close to the ground and so much more. Unlike the first movie, we even see the jets use their cannons too! We even get a scene where a character passes out from excessive G-Force pressure, a tense moment that I'm sure any military nut will feel uneasy about as that can all too easily happen in real life to a fighter pilot. It certainly gave us a tense moment as it looks as if one of the characters might die as a result. It really feels like this movie paid close attention to how fighter jets work and did so much research to portray them as accurately as possible in the movie, which gives it that air of authenticity that was there for the first movie too, which is another thing that makes this movie feel like a love letter to the original. It knew what people wanted to see in a Top Gun sequel and sure as hell gave us all that with some truly incredible filming of all the planes in action.


Of course, the cinematography isn't just about plane action. We get a lot of cool location filming that adds to the movie's visuals so we have more to look at then just planes. We get Penny's bar, scenes filmed on an aircraft carrier, a beautiful looking beach for the volleyball scene and some civilian areas like where Penny lives for the scenes away from the military. During the climax, we get some daunting looking mountain terrain that adds to that extra sense of danger our heroes are in as one wrong move in a place like that could easily mean disaster and the location they filmed the mission in really gives us a feeling that this is not an easy task. I bet pulling off the mission they did in the place the uranium plant was in in real life would be as daunting a task as it looks in the movie! And then we have Maverick and Rooster having to escape enemy territory, which is a snowy wilderness that definitely doesn't look like the kind of place you'd want to get stuck in for long. The locations are used perfectly for all the scenes they film in and a lot of them look either pretty or cool to the eye and the fact it's filmed with all the modern advances in film-making technology means we get one gorgeous looking movie as a result. This film is definitely a treat for the eyes just as the original Top Gun was and (no pun intended) will take your breath away to with with how visually stunning it is.


With a lot of amazing practical effects, plane footage, location filming and incredible camera work, Top Gun: maverick is easily a fine piece of cinema and Joseph Kosinski and his team deserve awards for their work on this film. It's a film that's truly as amazing to watch as real planes taking off and flying.


Conclusion


Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best sequels ever made and already stands as one of 2022's best movies so far. The story is engaging and a step-up from the original while also paying huge amounts of respect to its predecessor, the characters are memorable and our main leads are well developed, the acting is top-notch and the cinematography is some of the finest work put into a movie I've seen in recent years. It's not a flawless follow-up, but any problems I have with the movie are easy to overlook for this film was just so fun and awesome to watch as a result. If you LOVE the original movie, it's a fact you'll love the sequel! If you're not keen on the first film, then watch the sequel anyway as you may enjoy it a little more. If Maverick is to retire from flying, then at least this flight can end his career on a high note and I think Tony Scott himself would be real proud of the amazing achievements this film has pulled off...


That's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and feel free to share your thoughts down below. Did you like Top Gun: Maverick? Do you not like it? Do you like it more or less than the original? I'd love to hear what you have to say.


Next week, we'll be leaving the skies of Top Gun and returning to the world of the Boiling Isles in the second season of The Owl House. See you all next week for then media fans!

Dedicated to Tony Scott

21st of June 1944 - 19th of August 2012

He can be our wingman anytime.





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