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"TOP GUN: MAVERICK"
(2022) (Tom Cruise, Miles Teller) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action: A veteran pilot is tasked with selecting a small team of younger fliers to carry out a dangerous, preemptive strike military mission.
PLOT:

Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (TOM CRUISE) is a test pilot for the U.S. Navy's top-secret Mach 10 jet program, but when that's shut down, he's ordered to return to the branch's legendary "Top Gun" program to serve as a trainer. That's at the request of his former rival turned wingman turned eventual admiral, Tom Kazansky (VAL KILMER), although Vice Admiral Beau Simpson (JON HAMM) is less than pleased to have Maverick around.

It turns out a foreign country is going to begin enriching uranium and the U.S. government wants to do a preemptive strike. The only problem is that it's in a remote but highly weaponized mountainous area that will require expert flying skills in older jets that will have the best chance of navigating the hazardous terrain. Maverick's job -- when he's not seeing his former flame and current bar owner Penny Benjamin (JENNIFER CONNELLY) -- is to figure out who among the school's best graduates is best suited for the mission.

Among those are rivals Lt. Jake "Hangman" Seresin (GLEN POWELL) and Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (MILES TELLER), with the latter having a bone to pick with his new instructor -- who flew with his father who was killed in the line of duty when Rooster was just a boy -- due to Maverick having previously tried to keep him from following in his father's footsteps. With little time to spare, Maverick must not only contend with that but also getting a small team ready to carry out the low probability of success mission.

OUR TAKE: 9 out of 10

I'm the sort of person who doesn't care what public figures do in their private time. That is, as long as they're not hurting anyone in any shape or form and aren't publicly pushing whatever their agenda might be -- political, religious, sociological, dietic, etc. -- on others. That said, sometimes if they're really good at whatever they do -- and I mean being excellent at it -- I can often overlook some of their behavior and messaging.

All of which brings us to Tom Cruise. While some people twist themselves into knots regarding his involvement with Scientology, his various high-profile relationships, or that he apparently has the fountain of youth in his backyard, I only ask -- as I do for all other performers -- that he delivers something exciting and engaging up on the screen.

In that regard, he rarely disappoints, as it's easy to see that he gives it his all, be that in regular acting, doing most of his stunts, or producing his films with the sole intent of entertaining those who plunk down money to see him do his thing. Case in point is "Top Gun: Maverick," the long-awaited and long-gestating sequel to the original film that flew into theaters -- gasp -- thirty-six years ago.

It's been a long -- and I mean long -- time since I saw the flick that turned the then 24-year-old rising actor into a superstar. While I remember enjoying it enough and certainly understand the elements that made it so iconic for its era, I didn't think it was anything consistently great from start to finish.

Thus, I wasn't exactly frothing at the mouth upon hearing the sequel was greenlit a few years back. That changed, however, upon seeing the initial trailer and the film soon became one of my most anticipated flicks to see in 2022. I'm happy to report that not only does it deliver in being a terrific, summer thrill ride sort of popcorn experience, but it's a pretty damn great flick overall.

Filled with just the right number of callbacks to elements of the original, satisfying emotional connections to that, and undeniably the best aviation sequences ever captured on film, it's the movie to see this summer -- heck, this year.

Scaling back the original's definite and much-discussed, testosterone-laced homoerotic material quite a bit -- there's just one sweaty, shirtless on the beach scene and the sneering-leering of rival pilots is barely there this time around -- director Joseph Kosinski and screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie have focused more on building up to and then delivering the pivotal, high-octane, afterburners ablaze action sequence that makes up most of the third act.

The story is straightforward. After his role as a test pilot for an experimental, Mach 10 jet program is shut down (by Ed Harris who I miss seeing on the screen and wish was in this pic more than his brief appearance), Cruise's Maverick is assigned back to the "Top Gun" aviator training program he went through all those years ago. It seems a never-identified foreign country is going to start enriching uranium and Uncle Sam wants to do a preemptive strike to put a halt to that.

The only problem is the topography of the location that pretty much means only one type of jet and a certain type of specifically trained pilot might be able to traverse that, remain undetected as long as possible, avoid surface to air missiles and enemy jets once both are alerted to the menace, deliver the payload, and then get out of Dodge, so to speak, unscathed.

While Maverick initially believes he's going to be one of the pilots performing the mission, his superior officer who's not remotely happy to see him (Jon Hamm) informs him that he'll be training only. And thus the "old man" must contend with a bunch of young whippersnappers who initially view him as just that as all frequent the local bar run by Maverick's former flame (Jennifer Connelly).

The wrinkle to all of this is that one of those young pilots is "Rooster" (Miles Teller) who just so happens to be the son of Maverick's former wingman (who died in the original flick) and isn't happy that the old man somehow didn't protect his dad and subsequently tried to thwart the son's entry into the same sort of military service. Of course, there are other pilots -- including Hangman (Glen Powell in a potential, star-making role) who sort of stands in for Val Kilmer's Iceman character from the previous flick -- and they're all put through the paces and put in their places by the veteran ace.

The beauty of the movie -- behind the performances, the callbacks and connections to the first film, and so on -- is that the mission is detailed and described so much that we ultimately feel like we've been through the training and know what to expect, including the unexpected. And thus, when the mission finally kicks off, we're fully vested, and all involved deliver what's arguably one of the greatest action sequences -- and it goes on for an exhilaratingly decent amount of time -- ever seen up on the screen.

Having sat through thousands of movies, I've seen lots of action, but I don't recall anything so gripping as what's delivered here. Coupled with everything else, it's a thrill ride like no other and zooms past the original with ease. I loved everything about this film and think you will too. "Top Gun: Maverick" rates as a 9 out of 10.




Reviewed May 10, 2022 / Posted May 27, 2022


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