There is a lot to like about the new Top Gun: Maverick. So much so that I would say that it had exceeded my expectations which were admittedly already pretty high based on the unanimously positive reviews it had been getting.
This is the first action movie in a long while that does not rely heavily on computer generated action sequences which is a refreshing change and makes all the action feel so much more authentic. The fighter jets we see zooming and booming across the giant IMAX screen were real planes and not something created on a computer. It is better than its original which was already an iconic classic 36 years ago. The storyline this time is more focused, with more side characters that we would care about thanks to a down to earth script, and fine acting all around. To keep the movie firmly PG-13, it was welcoming to note that the film was devoid of any utterance of fouled languages or the need for any sensational sex or nudity. The film shows maturity and confidence that it did not require these gimmicks to keep the audience glued when its core story and characters are so strong. In a way it reflects how its main character Maverick as played by Tom Cruise had matured over the years. In the first Top Gun, he was overly confident, corky, annoying, reckless and irresponsible. Maverick may still flash his wide grin but the Maverick today has matured into somebody we can look up to as a proper hero. He displays wisdom over the years.
The strong storyline cleverly paid tribute to and made references to the original movie, while giving audiences something new at the same time. Some scenes like its opening sequence, were almost a frame by frame reproduction of the original with Kenny Loggins’ classic Danger Zone booming in sync with the images. When Tom Cruise appeared, it was like we were transported back to the 1980’s all over again. Looking more dashing than he did 36 years ago and wearing the same broad grin on his face, the new Maverick is more matured, responsible, sensitive and an even more skilled pilot with new tricks to show off in the air. One gets the feeling Tom is playing Maverick like he is playing himself. The line between the actor and the fictional character becomes blurred.
Including Val Kilmer in the cast is a stroke of genius. Val Kilmer has been fighting with cancer which had affected his ability to speak properly. The illness had also rendered him looking more frail. Nevertheless the script had Kilmer’s character Iceman still having an influence on what was happening even though he was largely in the background. In the single scene that Kilmer actually appears, he is playing Iceman suffering from a similar condition. The scene was surprisingly poignant, sentimental and the emotions felt genuine.
Finally those aerial scenes!! They were naturally the highlight of the film and came across as outstanding. They were visually stunning in the giant IMAX screen and audibly effective in the booming sound system. The climatic final act was satisfying and delivered more than what we expected with its multiple high points. Just when you thought it was over, in comes another predicament. This is what the good old days of Hollywood blockbusters were like.
For me, Top Gun: Maverick excels over its predecessor in everyway except for perhaps one aspect. Its new love theme sung by Lady Gaga is still no match to the original ballad Take My Breath Away sung by Berlin. Somethings are just too difficult to improve upon.