Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2022. Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Story by Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, based on characters created by Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.. Cinematography by Claudio Miranda. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie. Music by Lorne Balfe, Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga, Hans Zimmer. Production Design by Jeremy Hindle. Costume Design by Marlene Stewart. Film Editing by Eddie Hamilton.
The blockbuster hit that dominated the box office in 1986 is resurrected after a daring thirty-six year break, its hero still fierce in a bomber jacket while seated atop a motorcycle thanks to what appears to be the wizardry of visual effects artists putting as much effort into preserving his looks as they do making magic with fighter jets in the sky. Tom Cruise made a career of Cocky Young Men in need of a father-figure role model in the eighties and has matured into, more or less, a still cocky but slightly older man who is now called upon to provide mentorship to a younger generation of still reckless, though not entirely male, ace fighter pilots.
The bid to Make Dickheads Great Again is performed with exciting verve in this top-notch sequel, beginning with a thrilling opening sequence that catches up with “Maverick” Pete Mitchell (Cruise) pushing the limits of speed on an experimental military jet before being grounded for once again breaking expensive government property (but who can resist that grin?) He is sent back to the Top Gun Academy in San Diego to help with an exceptionally dangerous mission that only his expertise in badassery can pull off successfully: an unnamed enemy country (whose location and populace is never seen, in an effort to make sure no film market on the planet will be inspired to boycott) is storing a dangerous payload of uranium and it needs to be destroyed For All Mankind, but it’s stored at the base of a mountain valley that cannot be easily accessed without bomber pilots exposing themselves to certain fatality. Maverick takes the gig and immediately wins the recruits over, telling them that their position as the best in their field means nothing unless they push themselves even harder, to not only hit their target but also come home safely, which he seems to care about a whole lot more than the soulless superior (played by a soulless Jon Hamm) who sees all sacrifice as a regular part of a day’s work.
It can’t just be planes flying through the air and guys looking super cool in sunglasses like it was last time, however, we need complications for it not to feel like a video game, and the screenwriters (which include Cruise’s frequent Mission: Impossible collaborator and Oscar-winning Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie) have compiled just enough of them to make the film feel substantial but never messy. One of the pilots undertaking this training is Rooster (Miles Teller), son of Maverick’s late former colleague Goose (played by Anthony Edwards in the original film), and the new generation of Cocky Young man has a bone to pick with his surrogate father: Maverick, whose name I can never say without imitating Sarah Palin, set the boy’s career back a few years when he “pulled Goose’s papers” for personal, sympathetic reasons that Goose can never know and our seemingly carefree hero will never tell.
There’s also the rekindling of a romance with bartender Penny, played by a wonderfully joyous and (this just doesn’t happen often enough) carefree Jennifer Connelly, who wipes away all memory of the absent Kelly McGillis and refers to an off-and-on relationship between her and Maverick that presumably happened in the sequel that never got made sometime in the last three decades; plotwise, she’s mainly there to help stave off the gay jokes that the first one begged for on its hands and knees (the volleyball scene is shot at sunset this time, to avoid its confusion with Falcon Studios porn) but Connelly brightens the film up with her presence and allows Cruise to show off the boyish, infectious and mostly sexless charisma that he hasn’t enjoyed with a female co-star in a long time.
Then there is the brilliant climax, which truly does take your breath away (no pun intended, and yes the greatest movie song of the eighties was sorely missing here). These flying aces attempt to pull off their mission but, for entertainment purposes, things go wrong enough to ensure that every nightmare scenario that was alluded to or imagined in their training sessions comes true, while conveniently giving Maverick and Goose the opportunity to mend fences.
When the film begins, repeating the same opening credit sequence and making reference to producer Don Simpson, who died in 1996, there is the concern that it will be little more than just a retread of everything that made the original movie popular, yet another reboot that pitifully disguises a cash-cow fan convention as a movie, but Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski double down on delivering not only noisy thrills in the sky but some decent drama down below, and while most of the dialogue could have been taken from patriotic bumper stickers written by grade-schoolers, the cast fill out their lines with characters who have been made appealing enough to earn your concern for their safety. The wait of almost four decades (including a two-year delay of the film’s release thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic) turns out to have been well worth it, this thrill ride delivers on all counts and is a magnificent use of both its technology, which has vastly improved in the time between chapters, and its movie star charisma, the likes of which has become far too tragically rare since Cruise deservedly became the phenomenon that he still is today.