Grade:  B+/A-
Action-Adventure Drama Romance
Rated PG-13

Top Gun: Maverick outgunned all other films at the box office so far in 2022, besting #2 Jurassic World: Dominion by nearly half-a-million dollars. It’s slick Hollywood action blockbuster filmmaking at its finest. 

Critics thought it better than the first Top Gun because of the increased number and authenticity of the aircraft action sequences. With the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, a film crew spent over a year working with six cameras placed inside the cockpits and additional cameras mounted at various spots on the planes’ exteriors. Reportedly more than 800 hours of aerial footage was shot, so the sequences that made it into the film were really something special.

And the planes? The production crew used 20 functioning aircraft and modified them to have the look that they wanted, including the fictional “Darkstar” that was designed with the help of actual engineers from legendary aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The 1986 Top Gun was so popular that composer Giorgio Moroder and performer Kenny Loggins probably expected to see a hastily produced sequel and earn residuals for their “Danger Zone” theme. But it took almost 25 years before Paramount announced a sequel with Cruise signed, Jerry Bruckheimer onboard to produce, and Top Gun director Tony Scott expected to work behind the cameras again. Then, later in 2012, Scott died and production didn’t begin until 2017, with Joseph Kosinski directing. Then came delays related to COVID-19 and the prolonged filming of those complicated action sequences. But the results speak for themselves. If you don’t already have a big TV, this might be a reason to splurge. Top Gun: Maverick was made for the big screen.

Cruise at 60 looks boyish as ever and because of his action roles has maintained his muscle tone and slender frame. In Top Gun he was paired romantically with Kelly McGillis, five years his senior, but McGillis said she wasn’t asked to be in the sequel. Instead, writers gave Cruise another love interest to take his breath away:  Navy hangout bar owner Penny (Jennifer Connelly, age 48), with whom it’s implied he had a previous relationship—the old heartbreaker.

These days Hollywood is all about diversity, but Top Gun: Maverick subtly draws attention to a different kind of diversity:  health and mortality, which was clearly on the filmmakers’ minds. The sequel is dedicated to Scott, and Meg Ryan’s character was written out of the script as having also died. Val Kilmer (“Iceman”), meanwhile, was included, despite having had throat cancer and needing an instrument to help him communicate. That’s pretty much the range of outcomes for people around age 60: some don’t make it that far, some are still vibrant, and others are decimated by illness.

Of course, that’s part of the film’s undertones. The surface is all gleaming bright nostalgia. It begins with the same music and aircraft carrier launch sequence as Top Gun and features a still cocky and youthful Cruise as a pilot who never advanced in rank because of his insubordination and “maverick” actions—unlike Iceman, who is now the Rear Admiral of the whole fleet. Like the original, the bulk of the film revolves around Cruise and the other pilots in training at Top Gun, with a single real mission that only a few can fly dangling like a dangerous carrot. As in Top Gun there’s a romantic interlude, with Cruise hanging out at the same bar and hopping on his motorcycle to go after the “girl.” Only this time he’s the flight instructor. The film also builds to a climactic sequence of flying dogfights, so while Cruise and Kilmer may be the only returnees, structurally Top Gun: Maverick IS Top Gun. At times it feels more like a remake than a sequel.

What makes it different is that instead of Maverick’s sidekick Goose we get Goose’s son, “Rooster” (Miles Teller), who still carries a grudge because he holds Maverick responsible for his father’s death. Instead of the Iceman and Maverick rivalry, viewers get some Rooster-Hangman alpha male friction. So yeah, it’s awfully darned similar, and normally critics would gripe about a cookie-cutter sequel. But the new cast of characters is varied just enough and the actors capable enough that it helps to dispel the notion of sameness.

Capable newcomers include Jon Hamm as Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, Charles Parnell as Adm. Solomon “Warlock” Bates, Bashir Salahuddin as “Hondo,” Monica Barbaro as “Phoenix,” Glen Powell as “Hangman,” Jay Ellis as “Payback,” Lewis Pullman as “Bob,” and Danny Ramirez as “Fanboy.”

But again, this rousing film isn’t about character. It’s about plot and action and, yes, country. Despite familiar rattles we’ve all heard before, it still holds together and comes close to hitting Mach 10.

Entire family:  No (but close to it, if you don’t mind language and peril)
Run time:  130 min. Color
Studio/Distributor:  Paramount
Aspect ratio:  2.39:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Atmos
Bonus features:  B+/A-
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language

Language:  5/10—1 f-bomb, a bunch of “s” words, and other lesser swearwords

Sex:  3/10—Some kissing (not hot and heavy) and a shirtless man with a woman next to him implies they had sex, but this will go over the heads of kids who haven’t had the “talk” yet . . . with their classmates (who always manage to broach the topic before parents)

Violence:  5/10—If your children play video games or watch superhero films they’ve seen a lot more violence than is in this film, which is largely explosions and airplanes shooting at each other; mostly it’s moments of peril, tension, and danger, as the song says

Adult situations:  3/10—For nostalgia’s sake there’s a drunk-in-a-bar sing-along scene, in addition to a few other scenes involving drinking

Takeaway:  Boy, did Tom Cruise inherit some great genes—and as it turns out, he also happens to be a licensed pilot