Top Gun was one of those movies that I grew up watching way too often. I was only three years old when the film came out and it was a favourite of the men in my life, my dad and my uncles who were all in their 20s at the time. It, along with The Breakfast Club, E.T. and The Terminator were a staple of weekend movie nights growing up. Somewhere there is a repressed memory of me, aged three, wearing my uncle’s aviator sunglasses, dancing around to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.”
That memory found it way to the surface, along with that song, in the opening scene of the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, a two-hour surprise thrill that is much deserving of the critical acclaim that it’s getting.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the premise is this: Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who has been testing out supersonic technology for the Navy, is assigned to teach a class of Top Gun fighter pilots how to execute a particularly dangerous and important mission in an unnamed country that the filmmakers didn’t even try to pretend isn’t North Korea. The Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Maverick’s former adversary and later wingman, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, played by Val Kilmer, thinks Maverick is the only crazy son of a bitch who would execute it, but since he hasn’t been in combat in decades, Iceman wants him to teach his skills to a younger, more recently experienced group. As it turns out, one of the Top Gun candidates is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best friend who dies in the first movie.
What ensues is an incredibly well-written and acted story that, for a change, presented the men and women of our armed forces as human beings capable of being sentimental and emotional and not just presented as big dumb killing machines out to blow stuff up for freedom. This is something the first movie did as well, but very few military-themed movies followed suit since. We are treated to a story that tells us what it feels like in those moments when one recognises the passage of time and the progression of life. I was left balling at the first notes of “Great Balls of Fire”
Mixed in with the drama is a really thrilling and interesting war story, an almost documentary-style explanation of the mission itself and how it would be executed. We learned about g-forces and flares and SAMs. The intricacies of the mission fascinated me just as much as the underlying storyline. I felt like I was involved and was a part of the mission. Producers did a pretty amazing job making the air battle scenes feel realistic. We even got to hear Maverick’s grunts as he manoeuvred his jet on the mission.
You can almost feel the sheer joy pouring from Tom Cruise in playing the role of Maverick again. He very clearly was having the time of his life being back in that character and it made watching his story even more enjoyable.
I really have nothing bad to say about the Top Gun sequel. It will probably go down in history as one of the best made sequels ever. It would have been nice to see Kelly McGillis. Considering the movie made of point of being inclusive – the homoerotic shirtless game of volleyball from the first movie is reimagined as a game of football that included women this time – it would be nice to see what became of “Charlie.” Jennifer Connelly gave a good stand in for Maverick’s love interest this time, though her character at times felt underused and misplaced.
Especially if you’re a fan of the first movie, go see Top Gun: Maverick. It will, excuse the pun, take your breath away.
Now you have the song in your head, don’t you?