Release Date: May 27th, 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski | MPAA Rating: PG-13 | LeavittLens Rating: 8/10
In an early scene in Top Gun: Maverick, Joseph Kosinski’s follow up to the 1986 memorable, albeit problematic, classic (see: overt misogyny and American exceptionalism), Admiral Cain (Ed Harris) waxes prophetically to Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) a phrase that leaps not so subtly from the screen. Cain claims that this one-of-a-kind, brash and confident superhero of a man is going extinct. Maverick’s response is enough to summarize not just the ethos of the character, but of Cruise himself: “Not yet.”
It seems impossible to watch the bullets fly and missiles launch without envisioning Cruise in his own dogfight with the movie industry, rapidly approaching 60 and still clinging tightly to his larger than life action star persona. With another Mission: Impossible film on the way (Part 1 of 2), the seemingly ageless wonder is fighting his own impossible mission, with an enemy force that no one has yet overtaken: time. In fact, it is Maverick himself who utters as much in this Top Gun installment, speaking to his team about their mission. “Time is your adversary,” he says sternly.
Indeed it is in this adrenaline pumping thrill ride of a film. Relegated back to teaching graduates of the elite fighter pilot program Top Gun, Maverick is tasked with training this new team for a stealth and speed mission: destroying a uranium plant built by an anonymous country in defiance of a recent NATO agreement. This class is full of, presumably, the best pilots in the world, and even includes the son of Goose, Maverick’s former wingman (Miles Teller, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Anthony Edwards‘ Goose). This is one of a multitude of callbacks to the original film, and such a move reminds us of both the danger and promise of a sequel like this. On the one hand, nods to the first film are necessary, both to create cohesion and serve to rekindle the flame that ignited the original. Yet when sequels rely too heavily on nostalgia, they can collapse in on themselves, lost as a money grab riding the coattails of its predecessor. While Maverick certainly has its fan-service moments throughout, it effectively does what many sequels fail to do: create its own identity. Much of this is due to the lack of obvious endorsement for the military-industrial complex. Between the enemy’s anonymity and some consistently poor decision making from superiors, Maverick is a film that feels more in line with Cruise’s other famous franchise than it does with militaristic propaganda.
Setting aside the subtext, though, Maverick is precisely the reason we go to the movies. Its aerial scenes are stunning and immersive, and the final third of the film ranks amongst the best action sequences of the last few years. While the writing is largely sentimental and bordering on cheesy, that’s not the reason we pay the price of admission: we show up to watch our ageless wonder take on the enemy of time in a blaze of heart-pumping, sweat-inducing action. This one delivers, in every way, and while it’s unlikely to change your life when those closing credits finally role, it could transform your car into a fighter pilot cockpit on the way home, and give you your own small inkling to enter the Danger Zone yourself. Maybe, just maybe, you can become as ageless as Maverick. There’s only one way to find out: you’ve gotta hop in the plane.