Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Feel the need … the need for speed.
As Top Gun: Maverick sits on an impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%, with an average rating of 8.3 out of 10, it behooves us as canny observers of pop culture to ask a few pertinent questions, chief among them this: are you all on fucking crack?
Not that the specifics matter. It could be crack, it could be meth, it could be opioids or paint thinner, or any number of deeply harmful psychoactive substances that have driven the critical community to shit their collective bed and declare this lazy, uninspired re-tread not just one of the finest films of the year, but apparently the best of star and producer Tom Cruise’s career. I’m no stranger to being outside the critical consensus — in fact, everyone in this game should be familiar with that feeling, if only to get a measure of how strong their own artistic convictions really are — but this one has me genuinely baffled. Baffled in a way that makes me seriously wonder if we saw the same film.
Not that the film I saw was terrible — Top Gun: Maverick isn’t even the worst film I’ve seen this week. But it’s the most disappointing, the most lackluster. It hits its obvious story beats with dull, repetitive precision, offering us plenty of action and spectacle (the cinematography by Claudio Miranda, director Joseph Kosinski’s go-to guy, is incredible) but little in the way of drama, pathos, or catharsis. It does try to mimic those qualities, though, but then again, Maverick tries to mimic many things. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Decades after the events of Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986), Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is enjoying life as a test pilot in the high deserts of California when old mate Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now an admiral and Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, taps him for a special assignment: return to Top Gun, the Navy’s legendary air combat school, and train a new generation of pilots for a secret mission. Among them is Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell), Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), and, most importantly, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), who died on Maverick’s watch back in the first film. Rooster apparently holds no grudge against his father for naming him Bradley Bradshaw and seems to have inherited his mustache. While Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm) bristles at Maverick’s unconventional methods, and the young hotshots doubt if the old dog can teach them any new tricks, Maverick proves that he’s still got the right stuff, leading them to victory and romancing Jennifer Connelly’s MILF-y bar owner, Penny Benjamin, along the way.
That’s it. That’s your lot. If you want to watch Tom Cruise as Maverick prove that he’s still cool as fuck as he approaches sixty years of age while the universe of the film wraps itself around that aim in order to accommodate it, you’re in luck. If you want anything more, pick another movie.
It’s impossible to overstate how dramatically inert Top Gun: Maverick is. This isn’t advanced narrative theory — the fundamentals of drama are easy. Pick a character, give them some kind of goal, put obstacles between them and that goal, and follow them as they overcome (or fail to overcome) those obstacles, eventually realizing (or failing to realize) that goal. For extra credit, demonstrate how the journey has changed them or what they’ve learned along the way.
Now, that’s Storytelling 101, and I’d normally never design to drop such a basic set of concepts on you. Still, it seems important to remind ourselves of these tenets because I can’t tell you what Pete “Maverick” Mitchell wants in the conventional dramatic sense. With that in mind, any obstacles in his path are meaningless.
For sure, there’s threat to life and limb in the big action climax, but it never feels palpable enough to matter. There’s tension between him and Rooster, but the film decides to locate it in Maverick blocking Rooster’s admission to flight school at some point between the two films, instead of, say, Rooster resenting Maverick for possibly killing his father. Rooster doesn’t even get to ask Maverick where the fuck he’s been for most of his life. You could argue that Rooster’s stated beef over Maverick messing with his career is meant to stand in for a lot of unspoken conflict, but given the film is never so subtle elsewhere, I’d say it’s a stretch here. For all that, Maverick the film never shies away from milking nostalgia; it’s a bit telling that Meg Ryan’s Carole, Goose’s wife and Rooster’s mother, is conveniently dead and not on hand to take our hero to task for the price his “last real cowboy” posturing has wrought on the people he ostensibly cares for. At least she rates a mention; Kelly McGillis’ Charlie, the love interest in the first film, has been scrubbed from the record.
New love interest Connolly is also a callback, being the Admiral’s daughter briefly mentioned in ’86. Here she owns a bar where the pilots all hang out and sing karaoke, and she has a kid. Is the kid Maverick’s? No, and it’s not even mentioned as a possibility. Does she harbor any resentment over their prior relationship? No, they pick up right where they left off. Does she serve any story function whatsoever? No, she’s just there to give Cruise someone to flirt with. That’s it.
This is the pattern of the film. It’s a work solely dedicated to making Cruise-as-Maverick look cool, to the point where even the possibility of failure, of being wrong, of even harboring regrets about his choices in life, is either entirely absent or downplayed so much as to be nigh-invisible. This is not a movie about Maverick dealing with the process of aging, but rather it feels like this is Cruise (who is sixty on July 3rd) denying that it’s happening to him. There’s never a suggestion that Maverick might have missed a trick, that he might be slowing down, that the changing battlespace has no room for someone of his vintage and caliber.
The closest it comes is an early scene before the plot proper has even kicked off, where Ed Harris’ Rear Admiral (and we’ll circle back around to him presently) declares he wants to mothball the experimental aircraft program Maverick is driving planes for in favor of focusing on drone warfare, setting up a man vs. machine thematic conflict that is never, ever mentioned again, much less dramatized.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a Top Gun flick, but hell, the original itself at least gave its protagonist some father-related hang-ups to overcome; this iteration can’t even be bothered with that level of effective connect-the-dots characterization. Our man Mav is simply The Best, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either a square (Hamm’s stuffy officer), a n00b (Lieutenant Nerd, Captain Chick, Flight Officer Arrogant Jerk, and the rest of Squadron Stereotype, and if you think I’m being mean, I’m being a fucksight kinder to them than the script is), or an enemy pilot about to see the face of God.
And all that might be forgivable if the film wasn’t stultifying derivative, constantly referencing both its predecessor and other, better films. The nadir for me was when they set up Mav thinking about the time Goose played Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” on the bar piano by having his kid do exactly the same thing in a costume that, if it’s not identical, is close enough to make no difference, but your mileage may vary; after all, the beach football scene, which references the iconic volleyball scene, sucks too. The opening scenes ape Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983) willfully and poorly, while the big secret mission, which involves bombing a uranium enrichment facility high in the mountains, is just the Death Star trench run from Star Wars (1977), and little else besides. In between, the film has the gall to introduce Connolly’s Penny while David Bowie croons on the jukebox, which has the surely unintended effect of reminding the viewer that yes, Labyrinth (1986) is a pretty good flick and you could actually be watching it now instead of … well, this.
I personally don’t think it’s possible to spoil a movie about as complex as a two-piece Duplo set, but I’m delving into some third-act material now, so feel free to hit the ejector seat if that’s important to you.
Top Gun: Maverick hits its lowest point in the climax when, having led the mission (because of course he had to lead the fucking mission), the Cruiser is shot down in enemy territory, and so is Rooster (I will never not think of him as Gosling). Scouting around for a way back home, the two come across an airfield. On that airfield is a hangar. And in that hangar?
A reconditioned F-14 Tomcat.
Just like in the original Top Gun.
Never mind that the movie has gone to great lengths to tell us that the bad guys are fielding advanced fifth-generation fighter crafts. Never mind that the odds of these two assholes finding this particular plane in this particular location are absolutely astronomical. Never mind that this contrivance — Maverick and Goose Jr. flying together in the plane from the first movie! — is so on the nose that whoever first scribbled it down deserves a public flogging, and whoever signed off on it deserves two. Apparently, it was so important to put Maverick behind the stick of a Tomcat that it doesn’t matter if it’s in no way justified by anything in the goddamn film. Maverick brings it on home, everybody cheers, music swells, credits roll, I vomit.
But what bugs me the most is that pulling together a decent Top Gun sequel is not rocket surgery, and even with the basic narrative framework in place, even with all the expensive set pieces locked in, the difference between a good sequel and this self-indulgent fart is maybe three days of writing. Just a polish here, a dialogue tweak, some actual meaningful conflict between characters, and some actual characterization for Maverick so he feels like a person and not an action figure. My hand to God, it’s so nearly watchable that steering away from anything of dramatic or thematic impact feels willful and perverse, as though Cruise not only wanted to prove age has not wearied him, he wanted to prove that he has the sheer movie star charisma to carry a movie where nothing interesting or important actually happens. And judging by the reviews, he’s right. He’s The Last Movie Star for a reason.
But that doesn’t make Top Gun: Maverick a good film. I’m reminded of the initial flurry of five-star reviews for Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999), when everyone was just so darn excited to be returning to that galaxy far, far away that they didn’t notice that the method of travel was a great honking turd of a film until they’d already filed their copy. I suspect — and I could be wrong, but I doubt it — that a lot of gushing Maverick takes will be quietly walked back when the recency bias fades, and we can judge the film by what it actually is and not by what it reminds us of.
Still, it was nice to see Val Kilmer again.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Travis Johnson
Top Gun: Maverick is released through Paramount Pictures Australia
I really appreciate your thoughtful review of the movie and looking for good plot and story lines. I too, am disappointed how Hollywood & Cruise still don’t seem to appreciate actresses & just throws away Kelly McGillis, Meg Ryan & Connolly. I thought it might be fun to relive the thrill and let my son see what all the excitement was about. We have friends who are military pilots & test pilots from the high desert (where this film is based) & would be fun, though very fictional to watch. I do regret reading so much profanity as it really detracts from your well thought out message.
I think you just saved me spending $15.00 on an Imax only opener of anamusement park ride/Michael Bay movie.
Thanks so much
One begs to question, if you’re always against everyone else enjoying movies, maybe you’re the one on crack? I haven’t seen the new Top Gun, so I can’t judge, but if you admittedly have a different opinion most times, maybe you’re the issue. Not everyone else.
You have to admit Jonathan if what he said happens at the end of the movie they just happen to stumble Across a recondition F-14 tomcat and a hanger like it was just waiting for them is utterly ridiculous and would ruin a movie for me
They “knew” about the airfield and they knew about the reconditioned F-14s, because the mission briefings mentioned them along side with the 5th Gen fighters. The only thing what they didn’t know, if any of the aircrafts (including the F-14s) were still in good enough condition after the NAVY bombed the hell out of the airfield/military base.
Realisticly speaking the scene was non-sense and less believable, but in a movie it was fun enough, that I didn’t mind.
Reading your article particularly the part about Maverick and rooster just Happening to run across an airfield housing a recondition F 14 tomcat the exact same plane Tom flew in the first movie. The odds of that would be like me hitting the Powerball two weeks. I think with all the movies that we’ve had over the past 15 years bombarded with a lot of mediocre comic book movies it has dumb down critics and audiences there’s been a half a dozen movies that came out this year that I’ve seen trailers for and people have lost their friggin mind over a trailer and are already convinced before they walk into the theater this is going to be the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. The world of cinema the world of great movies is gone and great movies are going to be few and far between but thanks for your honest opinion of a movie that people are already calling a masterpiece and one of the greatest movies ever
It’s literally part of the plot. They didn’t stumble upon them. They knew they were flying out of date jets alongside the 5th gen fighters. Seems as though whoever wrote this article didn’t pay much attention to the film he was supposed to write a review for.
This is why you listen to your mission briefing.
I think you look at Tom Cruise 59 being a “cool” character in the movies and then you go home. You are then so disappointed when you see the fat slob looking back at you (PS: you are standing in front of a mirror) that you slump over a desk and write an ultra-negative review about a movie 99% of other critics loved.
I don’t blame you. Self-pity and depression is serious.
Let me guess you think this is a masterpiece one of the greatest movies ever? And you have a problem with somebody that doesn’t follow the norm And write a gushing review that’s what pisses you off
Lol how butt-hurt you are in defense of an average-at-best looking action thriller. Try to take it more personally, next time pal. It’s a million dollar movie in which the creators don’t really give a fuck about you at all. lol
Critics loved? If you are referring to Rotten Tomatoes, please look at the scores under those “fresh” reviews. 2/5 stars, 2.5/5 stars. Hardly love…just not rotten enough to be rotten.
I’m laughing so hard I’m crying here. Fantastic review Sir! I saw Top Gun Maverick yesterday and my initial thought was it’s a sneaky remake of John Wayne’s “Flying Leathernecks” (1951), even down to the low level attack runs. Haven’t seen any reviewers spot that yet!
Do you even smile in life? 97% positive critic review. 99% fan review. Obviously you are missing something. Live a little. You are so angry 😡
Not everybody has to agree with the consensus. Your comment has the stink of the very kinds of things I hate about mainstream movies. I found this review refreshingly different, even if I might not agree with all of it. You are basically saying we must all be brainwashed into thinking the same thing. You, sir, aren’t a True Critic. You’re a true moron.
Did we watch the same movie? It’s apparent you enjoy hearing yourself try to explain to everyone that up is down and left is right. Sadly I think you actually believe it. It’s a popcorn summer blockbuster. Nothing more, nothing less. And it’s fantastic.
Disagree with this review whole heartedly. Lazy? Have you read about the filming of the aerial sequences? N CGI and months f recording actual flights. This movie was great! This reviewer is on crack and clearly revels in being a contrarian!
Watched the original tonite after seeing the new one. I’m shocked that critics are going hoop-la over the new action sequences – the flying sequences in the original are far superior.
Also a completely shit phoned in score from Hans Zimmer by comparison with the atmospheric synthwave from Harold Faltermeyer back in 1986.
Although I believe I enjoyed the movie more than you, you definitely hit on some of the weaknesses that I saw also. I enjoyed the first one and, having recently rewatched it, I found the original superior to TG: Maverick. The cinematography was great in the new one, but there just wasn’t enough to make it a classic or make me think it was as good as the original.
That said, you and I may need a 5th generation fighter to dodge the darts coming our way by not falling in love with TG: Maverick!
Extremely perceptive and funny review that perfectly describes how I felt about this film. Well done!
Spot on review! The whole thing felt like some paint by numbers, plastic, Duplo! Like you said! And did anyone notice that Tom Cruise, whenever he’s having a “think” moment of perhaps pathos, simply moves his tongue around the inside of his mouth while he stares forward?
And after he and Rooster have both ejected into the snow of this mystery country (North Korea??) after an intense flying mission, they both look absolutely perfect without a bead of sweat or helmet hair or a scrape or even red cheeks from running??
This movie was so childlike and 80s like, I was almost expecting all the characters cheering in the crowd at the end to grab each other and start smooching like they did back in the day, whether it made sense or not (like Schwarzenegger at the end of Commando).
Is everyone on crack?!
I feel truly sorry for your inability to simply enjoy what is arguably finest blockbuster movie ever made. Even more so since the crucial hint is right there in the material when Maverick tells Rooster: Don’t think!
Thinking always gets in the way of joy. Your compulsive mind will try to scrutinize everything that happens and tell you, for instance, that ejecting from a disintegrating plane at Mach 10 would instantly kill you. Or that fighter pilots by the time they made it into Top Gun might not need a lecture on the effects of g-forces on their bodies. Or that the US military has a dozen better options at their disposal for precision bombing a ground target other than having a flock of relatively inexperienced pilots maneuver jets through a narrow valley in broad daylight.
You might miss the best parts while wondering whether an F-14 can actually be prepped for sortie without a ground crew simply by flipping a few switches and pulling some plugs. You’ll be haunted to figure out which rogue nation is yet to acquire nukes but operates 5th-gen fighter jets that not only lack a desingation but carry 3nd-gen missiles which fall for primitive countermeasures every single time.
Eventually you’ll become cynical and mistake straighforward no-nonsense patriotic demeanor for stereotype. Your liberal feminist bias will make you question sensible casting choices, but honestly, who wants to see Granny McGillis next to Tom Cruise in his prime? It’s got nothing to do with age but how you take care of yourself.
I saw a few people just like you trodding out of the theater with sour faces while everyone else cheered and just had a great time. But I guess they all were on crack, right? Well, I for one had some regular coke and half a bottle of bourbon beforehand and I suggest you try that too next time and just enjoy the ride. But by all means: Don’t think!
Finally – someone agrees with me! I have been searching and searching for a critic who agrees that this movie is a piece of crap, and I have found you! Why is this a 99% positive reviewed film ? I almost walked out but I had food being delivered to my seat and it took forever so I waited. Still when the third “talk to me goose” reference hit I was compelled to leave but my wife wouldn’t let me. And I love TOm Cruise!! It’s like being in another dimension of taste. Whatever, I give up.
Good grief, it’s not the best thing ever made, it’s not the worst thing this year, let alone century. It’s a fun, enjoyable, feel-good movie with what I found to be only a *modest* dose of Gen-X ’80s nostalgia.
The original Back to the Future, despite all of its 80s cheese, remains well-regarded, and it looked back to the 1950s; Top Gun: Maverick is set in an ambiguous ‘present,’ but looks back to the 1980s. Down to the occasional 80s style one-liners. Same kind of deal, just for a different generation, and delivered a little differently.
Nothing in the film is any more ridiculous than anything else that’s out there these days. It’s a little thin, but it has enough to be enjoyable. I liked it fine, and I (very unusually for me age) didn’t ever even watch the original Top Gun in its entirety, just read a Wikipedia recap 30 minutes before watching.
At least it doesn’t have any of the weird if-Ayn-Rand-were-left-wing dialogue that plagues so much of entertainment these days, where characters just blatantly spout political propaganda verbatim.
We’re not putting the new Top Gun up there with the greatest movies of all time; we’re just actually HAVING a good time while watching it, because seemingly everything else these days is in a rut that puts us off, so, yeah, a little dose of nostalgia works for us just fine.
As a US Navy veteran who served during the mid 80s, I can tell you that nobody has a career of 36 years, let alone flying. Physical standards (such as 20/20 vision) change over time. The original film wasn’t all bad even if not realistic. The problem is that too many people took it to be gospel. The world of 1986 (Libya war) and Ronald Reagan is not what it is today. Everything has radically changed since those days. I guess all those armchair generals pissed about the aimless Afghan War will get their jingoistic rocks off on this. But the real Navy, the real ‘Top Gun’ academy (it’s ONLY for those who qualify) and America itself and yes the whole world is not like the first one. This one? I wouldn’t go see it if you paid me. My experiences as a veteran tell me better and I don’t like anything that insults them. Let’s face it, Cruise really shit his pants a decade ago when he jumped on the couch during the Oprah Winfrey show and popped off the chops about how mothers should battle post-natal depression. You see, L Ron Hubbard told him this. Of course, he believes like all such devotees that we humans originate from the planet Venus too. That speaks VOLUMES. I’m glad to see that some critics are insulted by this unnecessary piece of garbage. If a sequel was to have been made, it should’ve been around 1988 or 1989. Not now. Oh well, this is what you do when you shit your pants and have a young child by that starfucker Katie Holmes to feed.