Top Gun: Maverick – seat of the pants action

Top Gun: Maverick as a sequel is light years away from the original. This time it's seat of the pants action superbly directed with the viewer in the cockpit.

Top Gun: Maverick as a sequel is light years away from the original. But that did not stop our cinema being filled with middle aged people who say the original movie first time around. This time Top Gun:Maverick is seat of the pants action superbly directed with the viewer in the cockpit.

Before watching this movie I recommend you re-watch the original Top Gun movie. Maverick can be watched as a stand alone movie but I don’t recommend it, the constant reference back to the original means that, however much it explains, it is still a very much a long awaited sequel.

Tom Cruise has aged well. Annoyingly well. When he dons his sun glasses, jumps back on his motorbike (sans helmet) we are taken back decades to the original movie. In fact, the movie has so many references to its predecessor – the title music, the title graphics, and even the settings have an ageless quality to them. In the bar we listen to 80s and 90s songs on the juke box.

The tone is very much a summer or seasonal movie – no sex, no swearing and no violence. But what it lacks in raw grittiness it makes up for in the superior story line and thrill of the plane duels. The sanitised plot of an unnamed aggressor keeps the movie safe to enjoy in a dangerous age.

The opening scene introduces us to a new group of top pilots, a new mission, and the same old Tom Cruise, misbehaving. In the group one of them plays the role that Val Kilmer had as the top pilot, and another is the Rooster’s son. The mission, to take out a planned uranium bunker before it comes into operation, has never before been managed. And Tom Cruise has stayed as Captain – ever the maverick.

The cameo of Val Kilmer feels a little too cute when in fact he is pivotal to the plot. The portrayal of women in the pilot is carefully handled so they are treated respectfully alongside the men.

There are two ways of seeing this movie. Firstly, is the preparation for the mission through a series of flight training exercises. The sheer quality of the camera work brings the flights alive. Tony Scott’s work on that sense of being in the cockpit is fast paced without too much sense of danger. The mission – the finale – is entertaining and, when there is danger it pulls back reminding us this is a movie for children as well.

A recurring motif – “don’t think, just do” is played out through Tom Cruise stating that the battle is won not through the fighter jet or its manual, but through the pilot who flies it. Only “Maverick” can deliver a team to deliver an impossible mission (his next movie in 2023).

The other way of seeing the movie is through the emotions of grief and loss. Maverick is tasked to look after Rooster’s son which causes conflict between them – his sense of family responsibility after Rooster’s death in the first movie. Then there is his return to his old stomping ground and revisiting his old flame. This is where knowing the first movie is important but actually adds little to the overall story.

The plot manages a careful and clean balance between the danger and the humour. The sense of danger in the jet flights is seat of the pants stuff but never more than fearsome than when one pilot suffers a black out; and the difficult human relationships never go beyond shouting. But those moments of laughter and intakes of breath kept me engaged throughout.

This is the best movie I have seen so far this year (June 2022) – Tom Cruise never disappoints as he keeps breaking the rules and delivering the goods. The superlative flight scenes ultimately are what makes this movie re-watchable. A special mention to Jon Hamm who excels as the cold general put in his place by Tom Cruise.

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