“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed. You never, never leave your wing man” – Michael Ironside as Jester in the original Top Gun
The fact that over 35 years went by between the release of 1986’s Top Gun makes it difficult to know just what kind of sequel it will be. Will it be excellent, like Blade Runner 2049 or abysmal like The Godfather, Part III? I am pleased to report that the answer is it is a wonderful sequel.
Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has risen to the rank of Captain and it working as a test pilot on an experimental fighter jet capable of reaching the speed of Mach 10. Ed Harris’ (Snowpiercer) Rear Admiral Cain doesn’t want the project to succeed. Maverick finds himself reassigned back to the Naval Fighter Weapons School, which we all now know as Top Gun.
Admirals “Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson” (Jon Hamm, Baby Driver) and his deputy “Solomon ‘Warlock’ Bates” let Maverick know why he is back at Top Gun. A critical mission with a very short deadline has to be flown. Maverick is quickly made aware that he isn’t there to fly the mission as its leader. Instead, the brass has brought in a number of Top Gun graduates and want Maverick to train them to fly the mission.
One of these pilots is “Rooster” (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now) and that’s a big problem. Rooster is the son of “Goose” who died in the original film while flying as Maverick’s friend and Radar Intercept Officer. They are estranged because of something that happened earlier in Rooster’s career.
As the training begins Maverick teaches his students that they are nowhere near as good as they believe themselves to be. Once that is made clear, he begins to show them the way to accomplish what seems to be a nearly impossible mission.
Cyclone does not like Maverick, does not want him involved in this project and would get rid of him in an instant if he could. But there is an obstacle. His boss is Admiral Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and he is the one whose Maverick to prepare the pilots for this particular mission.
Tom Cruise is a very talented actor as shown by his three Oscar nominations and three Golden Globe awards. He handles drama and comedy with equal ease. Watching his work as Maverick is akin to someone putting on an old sweater that still fits perfectly. He nailed the role in 1986 and does even better the second time around.
As we saw in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Episode VII – The Force Awakens, trying to tie all of the various storylines from a film made decades ago into a sequel successfully is not a simple task. We don’t see the women from the original movie in this one, although we get a treat in the presence of Jennifer Connelly as “Penny Benjamin” whose name is mentioned in the original movie without us ever seeing her. Now she owns a famous bar near the home of the Top Gun school.
Director Joseph Kosinski is a veteran of making a sequel long after the original was released, having helmed Tron: Legacy in 2010, 28 years after the release of the original Tron. He does a solid job of keeping the film’s tension level high while making the most of its visuals. It is easy to see that we are being presented far less CGI and far more fantastic flying by some of the world’s best fighter pilots. At two hours and 11 minutes, it isn’t too long to sag or drag along the way.
Definitely a film requiring a big box of popcorn and the biggest screen possible.