Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Chases Ghosts

Tom Cruise returns to a role that made him famous. 

Tom Cruise took flight into Hollywood’s firmament of stars in 1986’s Top Gun

Arriving midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term as U.S. President, the film glorified military activity to an obnoxious degree. Under director Tony Scott (The Hunger), the slick visual stylings resembled a feature-length Navy recruitment ad, filled with glistening male abdomens and submissive women who accepted their roles as supporting players in the game of life. Oh, and the jets, and the bombs and the smile. 

Needless to say, it minted a fortune. 

Emulating the original film, Top Gun: Maverick mimics its slick visual stylings, as well as copying its narrative threads and incorporating original footage aplenty, as well as its music cues, themes and characters. Cruise’s character, Pete Mitchell, better known by his military callsign, Maverick, has added a few well-placed wrinkles while otherwise remaining as close to his original appearance as the makeup artists can achieve. 

Evidently, he has learned nothing from his many years in the military. Refusing all offers for promotion, he remains a happy pilot, killing people from a safe distance and obeying only the orders that he likes. His one-time nemesis turned long-time friend, known as Iceman (Val Kilmer), is now commander in chief or some such title, and has consistently saved Maverick from the firing squad. 

Finally, though, Maverick breaks the proverbial last straw and is grounded, ordered to service as an instructor at the so-called Top Gun military training school, where he will teach a dozen top pilots how to do the impossible and blow things up on a mission whose simulation resembles the one in Star Wars (1977). And can you believe it? One of his students is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in Maverick’s arms many years ago. 

For many years, Rooster has held a grudge against Maverick, but it’s not because his father died in Maverick’s arms or that he holds Maverick responsible. Oh, no, nothing that simple. Instead, Rooster holds a grudge because Maverick held Rooster back from enrolling in the Navy academy for four years and delaying the inevitable start of his destined military career. Can you believe it? The nerve of that guy! 

I wondered why, if Rooster wanted to fly, he didn’t just flap his arms up and down. (See? He’s named Rooster, so …) Or become an airline pilot. No, Rooster must fly jets, just like his dad, and then hopefully become qualified to kill Faceless Bad People from the air. 

When he’s not staring daggers at Maverick during class, Rooster jousts with Hangman (Glen Powell), who continually mocks him and says he isn’t good enough to fly this dangerous secret mission that’s been borrowed from Star Wars. (Reportedly, Glen Powell was up for the role of Maverick at the same time as Miles Teller, so I wonder if that helped him define his anger issues in this film?) 

Maverick is busy trying to get busy with former girlfriend Penny (Jennifer Connelly), as in, ‘if I had a penny for every time she mocked me, I’d have a fortune and could retire.’ Penny has learned better, it seems, though she does have a daughter who kinda looks like Maverick when she smiles. Who knows? I wasn’t there; I’m not judging. 

Admiral Cyclone (Jon Hamm), who, truth be told, would rather be in advertising, gets mad at Maverick a lot, while secretly admiring his nerve. By the Admiral’s order, Maverick needs to train the pilots in just three weeks, which gets repeated so often I lost track of exactly how much time had passed, which allows for much footage of actors in planes and many, many whooshing sounds — as in, “whoosh,” that jet is mighty fast — and a lot of pilots upside down and sideways, and Maverick is still better than all of them, because he’s the star of the movie, which I mention because you might have just been born yesterday. 

Five writers received credit for “writing” the film, though I suspect the actual number of people who typed scenes or lines or floated ideas for this sequel is much higher. I just hope they all got paid and that their checks have cleared. 

Joseph Kosinski, who directed TRON: Legacy, Oblivion and Taco Bell: Web of Fries (not kidding; it’s on IMDb), obviously knows how to make people, scenery and visual effects look really, really good on a big, big screen. I’m not sorry I attended the press screening, which was in an IMAX theater and looked very, very impressive, and boomed tremendously loudly. 

In many ways, this is a stupidly entertaining movie. Intellectually, I suspect I really shouldn’t like this movie so much, but we all need a little more whoosh in our lives. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on May 27, 2022, via Paramount Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.