Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
As a man of a certain age, the movie “Top Gun” was a vital touchstone for my generation. It’s not necessarily that the movie itself was all that great, but its vibe was undeniably cool, it had all the visual spectacle you could handle and it made Tom Cruise into a Grade-A superstar.
Quite honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken us 35 years to get a sequel. But here we are with “Top Gun: Maverick” and based on the parameters listed above, they didn’t have to try very hard for this movie to be successful.
Put Tom Cruise back in a fighter jet and get anywhere close to the “dramatic” low bar set by the first film and a bunch of middle-aged dudes feeling the need for speed will get you $200 million right there.
But something funny happened with “Top Gun: Maverick,” they gave us a movie that not only matches, but surpasses the original in cinematic quality and delivers a summer blockbuster that can be enjoyed by people who weren’t aware that there even was a Danger Zone.
There’s some initial cause for concern when the first five minutes of the movie is literally identical to the original “Top Gun,” complete with Kenny Loggins. Yet while there are several familiar echoes throughout, “Top Gun: Maverick” is not completely beholden to the past.
Cruise is back as Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchel whose humble rank is reflective of a career military man with a problem with authority. Maverick is called in to lead a special mission by his old buddy Admiral Iceman (Val Kilmer).
His orders are to train a group of hotshot Top Gun graduates to complete a near impossible mission to eliminate the nuclear threat posed by a vague “enemy.” Of course one of those hotshots is “Rooster” (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s old copilot Goose who still holds Maverick responsible for his father’s death.
Sprinkle in a hard-ass admiral who doesn’t like Maverick’s attitude (Jon Hamm) and an age-appropriate love interest (Jennifer Connelly) and you’ve got the ingredients for some high-quality popcorn entertainment.
Credit director Joseph Kosinski for providing things like character development and a cohesive plotline, but we have to pay respect to the real star of the show, the hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat flight sequences.
See this movie on the biggest screen possible, because “Top Gun: Maverick” is as close as most of us will ever get (or most likely ever want to get) to climbing into the cockpit of an F-18.
So while a lazy “Top Gun” sequel coasting on the fumes of nostalgia was ripe for the picking, everyone involved actually put forth the effort to deliver a spectacularly entertaining film.
“Top Gun: Maverick” can be my wingman anytime.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong language.