by Rob DiCristino
One of Top Gun: Maverick’s most striking images comes in its opening sequence, just after the eponymous pilot (Tom Cruise) hits supersonic speeds in an experimental Navy fighter: Director Joseph Kosinski widens to a stratosphere’s-eye-view as Maverick darts through the frame, leaving a long vapor trail in his wake. Despite the violence in the cockpit — Maverick is predictably pushing the test jet well beyond its specs — this image is serene. That vapor trail is barely a shoestring set against the sprawling terrain below and the vast universe above. Maverick seems to feel that peace, too, and we can’t help but wonder if this is why the would-be admiral is still a lowly stick jockey after thirty-plus years of decorated service. It’s not just the thrill of pushing Mach 10 and sticking it to grumpy superiors like Cain (Ed Harris), who considers him a Cold War relic far past his decommission date. No, it’s that Maverick lives to touch the heavens. That is his function. Much like the relentless superstar portraying him, Maverick has a standing dare with oblivion: Catch me if you can.
Whereas 1986’s Top Gun was a jingoistic symphony of American exceptionalism, its sequel spars with that cocksure, Win Now attitude in an entirely new context. Maverick is far too old to be showing up the brass and sneaking out of bedroom windows at night (this one belonging to Jennifer Connelly’s Penny, the infamous “admiral’s daughter” mentioned in the first film), but he — and Cruise it seems — is so fervently committed to life in the Danger Zone that we have no choice but to believe in him. Maybe that’s because Maverick’s flock of screenwriters have presented a scenario tailor-made for our Captain Mitchell’s particular skill set: An attack pattern composed of death-defying climbs and hairpin turns, maneuvers that require a radical belief in, as the film puts it, a series of “consecutive miracles.” Although Cyclone (Jon Hamm) and the rest of the Navy are perfectly prepared to sacrifice a few pilots in exchange for a successful mission, Maverick insists that each and every one of them comes home and plots a series of madcap drills designed to push them to their limits.Creed. Though he’s not nearly as layered as Rocky Balboa in that film, Maverick is also living in his past without truly processing it, confusing a young man’s excuses with a wise man’s virtue. Both films are at their strongest when they’re using innovative action as narrative and giving their audience a fresh perspective on their larger-than-life characters before they ride off into the sunset forever. That’s a hell of a lot more gratifying than easter eggs and cameos — though this film does dip its toes in that particular pool to great effect — as is Tom Cruise’s defiant insistence that the age of the movie star is not yet over. As with so much of his recent work, Top Gun: Maverick reaffirms Cruise’s commitment to big screen spectacle done the old fashioned way. The 60-year-old star knows that the end is near, but as Maverick assures us with a wry smile, it’s not today.
Top Gun: Maverick is in theaters on May 25th. See it on the biggest, loudest screen you can.