‘Top Gun: Maverick’ soars with exhilarating action, heartfelt references to 1986 classic

Sage Dunlap, Life & Arts Reporter

Tom Cruise flies back into the danger zone as the Navy’s most gutsy, loveable captain in “Top Gun: Maverick,” released May 24. Reaching audiences 36 years after Cruise debuted as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in 1986, the sequel chronicles the aviator’s return to the Navy’s TOPGUN training base — this time as a naval pilot instructor. 

The long-awaited sequel revives many characters from the original 1986 “Top Gun,” including Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. New actors join the film’s roster as well, including Miles Teller, Jon Hamm and Jennifer Connelly. 

The 137-minute action-drama kicks off with Maverick plummeting through the air. The seasoned captain, recognized for his bold flying as a Naval test pilot, finds himself recruited to instruct the newest class of TOPGUN aviators by a reluctant Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Hamm). Guiding the young team of pilots through a seemingly impossible task, Maverick teaches the value of instinct while confronting lingering regrets and romantic endeavors from his past. Between exhilarating action scenes to nostalgic callbacks to the original film, “Top Gun: Maverick” offers a sentimental sequel for fans old and new.

The film sprinkled delightful nods to its predecessor throughout the runtime, including a sunset motorcycle ride on the naval runway from Cruise and a beach football scene mirroring the original’s famous volleyball scene. New characters worked to continue the 1986 film’s story, with Connelly portraying Penny Benjamin — Maverick’s old flame as mentioned in the original film — and Teller portraying “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late wingman. Among the new additions, Teller’s performance stood out significantly, presenting a stoic yet defensive young pilot determined to continue his father’s legacy. Throughout the film, Maverick and Rooster transform their relationship from cold adversaries to bonded wingmen, both in air and on land. The arc played out beautifully between Cruise and Teller, making for some of the film’s most tender moments. 

Director Joseph Kosinski’s commitment to displaying realistic mission scenes shone through in the sequel, giving viewers a passenger seat in the film’s naval jets. Prior to filming, Kosinski required all cast members playing aviators — including Cruise and Teller — to attend flight school and learn to fly F-18 jets. Though the actors were not required to perform all stunts, this impressive detail raises the stakes of the already nerve-racking action scenes. Combined with chaotic sound design and breathtaking aerial views of rugged landscapes, the long mission sequence built up by the entire movie will keep eyes glued to the screen.

While “Top Gun: Maverick” thrills as a sequel, the film offers a less satisfying stand-alone viewing experience. Many supporting characters act only to drive Cruise’s storyline, resulting in many empty, stagnant characters. However, because the film portrays a naval academy that requires fortitude from its students, a lack of characterization did not detract from the scene’s more emotional moments. 

The film navigated romantic subplots and character relationships while remaining grounded by one primary story arc: Maverick preparing a team to accomplish a daunting, almost impossible mission. Cruise revives the beloved “Maverick” with ease, making this sequel a must-watch for fans of the 1986 “Top Gun.”

4 aviator sunglasses out of 5