Over the summer I was a stubborn fool. I didn’t go see Top Gun: Maverick in theaters. I know, I know. Alyson, what were you thinking?! Didn’t you hear the rave reviews? Why? I don’t know. Like I said, I’m was stubborn and just plain stupid. Part of me didn’t want to give Tom Cruise anymore money. Before that opening montage on the aircraft carrier at golden hour was over I was regretting everything. My husband looked at me from the other side of the couch, reading the regret and admiration on my face, “I told you to go out and see it.” I wish I had seen it in IMAX. Instead I watched it 3 times in 24 hours on my couch with a free trail of Paramount+, like a chump.
Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has been a captain in the Navy flying various aircraft for over thirty years. It seems he doesn’t rise higher in the ranks because he makes it a habit of pissing off admirals. Just when it seems that Maverick has flown too close to the sun again, this time in a beautiful and daring scene as he pushes a new aircraft past mach 10, his old wingman Iceman (Val Kilmer) calls him up for a special assignment at Top Gun. There Maverick is briefed about a top secret mission to destroy an enemy nuclear thing hidden between mountains. To complete and survive the mission, pilots and their aircraft will be pushed to insane limits and have to hit a target only three meters wide. To Maverick’s surprise, his task is to teach the new generation of pilots how to complete the mission.
Things get complicated because one of the young pilots is Goose’s son, Bradley, aka Rooster (Miles Teller). If you didn’t see the original Top Gun, there are flashbacks showing that Goose was Maverick’s partner and he died in an accident while Maverick was flying. It’s obvious Maverick has some major guilt and PTSD over the accident. But what Rooster holds against Maverick is the fact that he pulled his papers at the flight academy, setting his career back four years. Obviously they’re going to butt heads.
The flight training and mission scenes are a huge part of what makes this film so amazing. Each time we’re in a cockpit is a wild ride. The scenes are thrilling, visually spectacular, expertly choreographed and edited flawlessly. During the big mission I was on the edge of my seat, cheering and yelling at the characters. Not to give anything away, but I did not expect such a grand finale to that mission, it was perfect.
The compelling story and Maverick’s character growth is what I really think landed this film into a best picture nomination. I’ll be the first to say, the first Top Gun is good, not great. 1986 Mav is just a hot shot who screwed up and got his friend killed and scrapes by on talent, luck and guts. Top Gun: Maverick does not let us forget that, but expands from there. Maverick is still self-sabotaging, perhaps as penance, but it seems that the years have made him less arrogant, less of a hot head and more emotionally vulnerable. He’s grappling with his job being replaced by drones, his friend’s failing health and the worry that he’ll lose the only person he really cares about, Rooster. The mission is extremely dangerous. Choosing Rooster for the mission may earn the kid’s trust back, but Rooster may never come back. And no matter what the Navy puts Maverick through, he just keeps living. And then there is Penny (Jenny Connelly) and old flame who owns the local watering hole. In 1986 Mav would’ve pestered her and followed her into the bathroom like a jerk. This Maverick has matured a bit, their relationship is sweeter and maybe there is more to lose.
If you asked me last summer if a sequel to Top Gun would be any good or gain any non-technical Oscar nominations, I would have laughed and said no way. Currently, Top Gun: Maverick is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. I am most impressed with the film’s nomination for adapted screenplay. Other nominations include film editing, visual effects, sound, and original song. And Hold My Hand is so much better than Take My Breath Away.
“It’s not the plane. It’s the pilot.”