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All photo credits IMDb

Top Gun: Maverick (2002)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Screenplay:  Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie


Tom Cruise:  Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Val Kilmer: Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky

Miles Teller: Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw

Jennifer Connelly: Penny Benjamin

I’ve included only these four cast members because they are by far, the most important to telling the story.  Anyone wishing to see the rest of the cast can take this link.  I don’t mean to slight anyone, but this is a brief review.

Our story begins with Maverick who, now with some 30 years in the Navy in the cockpit, is a test pilot flying an SR-71 successor.  Mav, you see, should be at least a two star admiral by now, but he has done everything he could to remain on flight status, and so he’s only a Captain—Colonel in other services–and in the process has earned enough medals to melt down to produce a battleship.  This new plane is supposed to hit at least Mach 10, but has fallen a bit short, so the project, and with it, his last chance to fly, is being cancelled.

In standard Maverick style, because he is, after all, the epitome of the term “Maverick,” he takes the plane up without authorization and finally attains Mach 10.  Just as in much of the film, one has to willingly suspend disbelief as he makes a quick banking turn at Mach 8ish.  As SR-71 pilots have attested, turning at far lesser speed took states.  But the movie is so visually arresting and so much fun, the audience is more than willing to suspend disbelief.  After all, it’s in the script. Being Maverick, he exceeds Mach 10, the plane disintegrates, but of course, because it’s in the script, he survives unscathed.

Normally anyone wrecking a multi million dollar research aircraft would be bounced out, if not prosecuted, but thanks to his four star Admiral friend Iceman, Mav is instead sent back to Top Gun, where he is to train the best of the best for an impossible mission.  Sound familiar?  The commander of Top Gun doesn’t think he’s appropriate for the job, But Iceman has the juice, so he’s in, but it’s made clear after this gig, he’s off flying status for good, and it’s implied he’s out of the Navy too.  The cocky young pilots doubt Maverick’s abilities until in mock combat, he shoots down every one.

Rooster and Mac

The major conflict is between Maverick and Rooster, the son of Goose, who readers will recall was his F-14 Tomcat weapons officer who died while ejecting from their Tomcat in an unrecoverable flat spin in the original Top Gun (1986).  Mav has never forgiven himself, and Rooster has never forgiven Mav, not only for his dad’s death, but because Mav kept him from the Naval Academy, retarding his progress for four years.  We later learn Mav did that at the request of Rooster’s mother—Meg Ryan—who is not in this movie.  She didn’t want her son to die as his father did.

Mav’s romantic interest is the lovely Jennifer Connelly, an old flame from the past, who now owns the iconic pilot’s bar near Top Gun.  Stars in movie romances don’t always have “chemistry,” but Cruise and Connelly do, and in her, Mav sees his post Navy future.  She’s a wise woman, steady and insightful, which is just what the mercurial Maverick needs. Reminding us this is Hollywood, Mav and Penny, after what is obviously a steamy sex scene, aren’t sweating and not a hair is out of place and their makeup is perfect.  They’re stars, after all, and they look good.  Sorry, but the sex scene isn’t depicted. Cruise obviously wants everyone to see this movie.

The mission is to take out an underground nuclear centrifuge facility, which is essentially in the middle–Bond-like—of a dead volcano at the end of a winding valley ringed with menacing SAM launchers.  Oddly, there are no targeting radars accompanying the launchers, but it’s a movie.  This set up provides the excuse for FA-18 Super Hornets to fly three feet off the ground through the valley—to avoid enemy radar–pop up over one side of the volcano, dive into the pit and fly pretty much straight up the other side right into the line of fire of the SAMs.  They have to do it in two flights of two planes, the first marking the target by dropping two bombs into a 3-meter square ventilation duct, and the second, dropping two bombs into the hole to destroy the complex, which is going to, very soon, produce enough fissile material for atomic bombs.

The evil enemy is never specifically identified, but it’s sort of Iranish, except instead of desert, the country is heavily forested, and when the attack happens, it’s snowing, because it’s in the script.  They have only three weeks to train, and they’re going to be facing what are obviously Russian SU-57s, which they speak of only as “5th generation” fighters.  Why, facing those kinds of odds, they don’t just fly stealthy F-35s, one of which is seen on a carrier early in the film, is inexplicable, but it’s in the script, probably because FA-18s look cooler–or something.

In short order, they get a week torn off their already impossible training schedule, they crash multiple planes, Iceman, who is suffering a terminal, unspecified, disease dies, and the egotistical Top Gun Admiral grounds Mav and removes him from training the team, taking over training himself.  Oh yes, there is one “training” scene of the team playing football on a beach, which provides the obligatory opportunity to show off many chiseled abs.

Mav doesn’t know what to do.  He’s given up, until Penny reminds him he’s Mav, so without authorization—does Mav do things any other way?—he flies the training course himself, faster than anyone but Mav thought possible, nails the bomb run, and the Admiral has to admit only Mav can lead the mission and succeed, because he’s Maverick and you’re not.

The Navy provided aircraft at something like $12,000 per hour, and also provided facilities, apparently including an aircraft carrier.  Cruise insisted every actor in a flying role actually experience g-forces, and fly.  While they didn’t actually pilot fighter aircraft, they flew back seat for many of the flying sequences, and they know how to wear the gear, and how to deal with Gs.  Unlike so many flying movies, they look the part.

The mission flying sequences are perhaps the most realistic, best done in movie history.  I won’t reveal any major secrets, but suffice it to say there are many last second reprieves from certain death, and Cruise ultimately saves the day with the help of an ancient F-14.  Again, one has to suspend disbelief.  Modern air combat takes place beyond visual range, but for the purposes of this film, the pilots dogfight at WWII distances, ultimately using cannon. Russia has so few flyable SU-57s it’s inconceivable they’d give any to anyone else, but hey, it’s in the script, which needs a fighter threat sufficiently daunting for even Maverick.

Of course, Mav and Rooster emotionally reconcile, Mav and Penny fly off into the proverbial sunset in a P-51 Mustang Mav apparently owns on a Captain’s salary(?!), and the good guys win again.

Top Gun: Maverick is an old-fashioned movie.  That there is no attempt at woke is not only refreshing, it’s necessary.  That sort of idiocy would have made the movie cartoonish, beyond the willing suspension of disbelief.  America needs the best of the best, they rise to the challenge, accomplish not one but two miracles, vanquish the bad guys, and save the world for God, country and apple pie.  There is no America hating, no self-loathing, and no apology for acting in the best interests of America and Western Civilization.

We need that these days.  This is not a movie for those who appreciate meaningful, literary dialogue, but Tom Cruise, who worked for many years to make this movie, delivers dazzling entertainment.  I haven’t seen a movie in a theater for a very long time, but this is worth seeing on the wide screen, and it’s certainly worth owning on DVD and seeing more than once.