Top Gun: Maverick movie review - this charm offensive scores a direct hit
This is not a sequel I was expecting to like. Within five minutes, ace navy pilot and US Navy Fighter Weapons School graduate Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), the noble but cheeky hero of the 1986 original, is praised for having “balls”. I’ve never suffered from balls envy. As Pete is lured back to his elite alma mater, to prepare new recruits for a mission impossible, I folded my arms and prepared for the worst. Two hours later, I was scribbling down words like “Woah!”, “Exciting!” and “Bullseye!!”
The whole film is basically a charm offensive. The bastards. They got me.
The plot is as cheesy as a fondue fountain, which is just what you’d expect from a nostalgia fest co-written by Ehren Kruger, the man who worked on three Transformers movies. But it’s also soapily compelling, and every now and again, springy lines, almost certainly the work of Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects and has long been part of the spry Mission Impossible team, ensure we laugh with TG2, as well as at it. In other words, the film is meant to be funny haha and funny ridiculous, which is probably why naughty Lady Gaga signed up to do the (outrageously effective) theme song.
So Mav arrives in San Diego, California, and is immediately confronted by his tumultuous past. One of the cadets is Rooster (Miles Teller; excellent), son of Goose, Pete’s best friend whose sudden demise dominated the first movie. This young gun has a bone to pick with Maverick, who once made a secret death bed promise that has seriously impacted Rooster’s career. Meanwhile, our hero’s enemy-turned-pal, Iceman (Val Kilmer), is now a powerful admiral, but is about to receive bad news.
The film gets around Kilmer’s recent real-life health issues in a way that’s both sweet and moving, though, it has to be said, a photo of the Iceman slightly wrecks the mood in a sequence which is meant to be profoundly solemn. He looks like he’s about to make an entrance on SNL skit The Californians. Tears may spring to your eyes, but for the wrong reasons.
Anyway, the school is somehow a hop, skip and a jump from where rich bad guys are storing enriched uranium. Rooster and his peers are “the best of the best”. But Maverick’s still the best of the best of the best and for every person who calls him a dinosaur/relic/fossil/pops/old-timer, another one gazes at him with moist eyes and mutters something along the lines of, “We shall not look upon his like again.” Damn straight. Someone has to lead the suicide mission. Guess who that person might be?
Top Gun 2 should really be called Old Guys Do It Better (that, or 50 Shades. This franchise can’t get enough of snazzy sunglasses). Pete, having humiliated his rivals, makes an even better job of earning their respect and love. Top Gun was famously accused of having a homoerotic sub-text by, amongst others, Pauline Kael and Quentin Tarantino. That sub-text is still throbbing away. Pete has a love interest - feisty single mum Penny (poor Jennifer Connelly) - but our hero’s smile is never bigger than when he’s playing volleyball on the beach with the boys.
Speaking of Mav’s smile - will the new film, like the original, trigger a surge in applications to join the Navy? Unlikely. The middle-aged guys at whom the film is squarely aimed are no longer eligible for duty. Will it cause a surge in trips to the dentist? Definitely. The words on everyone’s lips: “Give me Tom’s teeth!” Everything about Cruise seems to defy gravity. And the stunts are pretty good, too.
Director Joseph Kosinski, taking over from the late Tony Scott, knows a thing or two about sky driving. The coverage, and editing, are superb. In fact, the whole technical team go that extra mile in the third act.
By this point, we actually care about the kids in the cockpits, not just Rooster, but also Monica Barbaro’s Phoenix, the one female cadet, and Lewis Pullman’s Bob, the school’s only nerd. Just as importantly, we believe that Maverick cares about the rookies. The teams’ faces are beset by pummelling g-forces; they whoosh beneath bridges; they’re attacked by enemies who look like Darth Vader. And all the while Mav keeps telling the youngsters, “Don’t think!”
During the last forty minutes of TG2, I didn’t do a lot of thinking. But I had a very good time.
137mins, cert 12A