BY JULIAN ROMAN
Tom Cruise revisits his eighties glory in a spectacular sequel that soars. Top Gun: Maverick tells a thrilling new story while capturing the high-flying, jet-fueled spirit of the classic original. The film boldly embraces practical visual effects in an era defined by CGI and motion capture. Hearts will pound as F-18 fighters engage in mind-blowing aerial dogfights. Cue the sweet sounds of Kenny Loggins' hit "Danger Zone". Raise your expectations to the stratosphere. Top Gun: Maverick is that rare cinematic beast. It takes the best tenets of the first film and forges an electrifying new path forward.
We catch up with Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell thirty years later. He's an elite test pilot for a cutting-edge supersonic Navy program. Maverick doesn't take kindly to the orders of Rear Admiral Cole (Ed Harris). His insubordination and willing disregard of the admiral's authority causes big trouble. Maverick is grounded for his actions. Cole criticizes him harshly. Maverick, an unparalleled aviator with an astonishing combat record, should be a three-star admiral by now.
Cole's efforts to boot Maverick gets a friendly reprieve. Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer), commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, a former rival and now Maverick's best friend/guardian angel, has another job for him. Return to the Top Gun fighter training school in San Diego, California. Vice Admiral "Cyclone" (Jon Hamm) has assembled the Navy's best pilots for an urgent classified mission. Iceman needs Maverick to prepare them for a strike with seemingly impossible objectives.
The squadron will be flying the F-18 Hornet, a venerable fighter that's outmatched by the enemy's modern aircraft. Maverick predictably chafes under Cyclone's stern command. He's happy to reconnect with Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), an old flame and bar owner; but devastated to see Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller). The son of Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) blames Maverick for his father's death and trying to stifle his Navy career.
Top Gun: Maverick has a legendary warhorse trying to impart life or death skills to a cocky contingent. They have been praised repeatedly in their young careers. Maverick warns them that nothing they've done previously matches the dangers of this mission. Maverick has to level the egos of the arrogant "Hangman" (Glen Powell) and fiercely competitive "Phoenix" (Monica Barbaro), the only woman selected; while also dealing with friction from Rooster. He's ready and able to compete, but Maverick isn't sure if Rooster has the nerve. Maverick can't let anything happen to Goose's son. The tension between them is the film's core conflict.
Screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie nail every aspect of the narrative. Goose's death has been a crushing weight on Maverick's life. The film cuts back to their joyous and heartbreaking scenes together; but doesn't over-milk the cow. Sentimentality plays second fiddle to the incredible action-adventure themes.
Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), who also directed Tom Cruise in Oblivion, delivers an adrenaline juggernaut. Top Gun: Maverick has the best flying scenes in cinema. I was transfixed by the visual onslaught. You're in the cockpit as Maverick shows the youngsters who's the boss. He shreds them with vertigo-inducing aerial wizardry. Heads will spin as the fighters dive, bank, roll, and climb to dizzying heights. These aren't CGI images in a cold virtual environment. The use of real jets, slick editing, and phenomenal sound mixing will blow audiences out of their chairs.
I would pay to see this film multiple times. It embodies the awe of going to the movies. It has to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound system. Lightning strikes twice for Tom Cruise. He gets a new generation of fans with a return to patriotic fervor. Top Gun: Maverick hits the summer box office with a sonic boom.