Maverick made choices back in his 20s, choices that still have reverberations to this day, that haunt him, that inform his decisions almost forty years later. With Top Gun, we saw Maverick as a selfish character who put himself before everyone else, and while he still lives up to his name, now, he’s more interested in what’s best for the group as opposed to what’s best for him. In Top Gun: Maverick, the staggeringly great sequel from director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, TRON: Legacy), Maverick has been living in the shadow of the choices that younger Maverick made, and now, 36 years later, this character is back, ready to confront the danger zone of a past that has haunted him since the first film.
The changes in Maverick are apparent from the very first action sequence. The former hotshot pilot is trying to prove that he can take a plane to Mach 10 in order to prove that a plane with a living, breathing person behind it is more effective than an unmanned drone. The Maverick we last saw in Top Gun would’ve attempted this feat simply to boost his own ego, an attempt to prove that he’s the greatest pilot in the world. Yet in this sequence, Kosinski shows us that this isn’t his focus anymore, but rather, if he succeeds, it’ll be better for his team, who will likely lose their jobs if he fails. This selflessness is a completely different Maverick than the character we’ve seen before.
But that doesn’t mean Maverick doesn’t still have the same daring and desire to push his boundaries. It’s this type of attitude that has left him at his current captain’s rank. As Vice Admiral “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm) tells Maverick, he can’t get promoted, he won’t retire, and he refuses to die. At the end of Top Gun, Maverick wanted to be a teacher, but after two months in the classroom thirty years ago, Maverick also couldn’t maintain that position. But Admiral Cyclone gives Maverick a choice: either he trains a group of Top Gun graduates for a highly-specialized mission, or Maverick will never fly again for the Navy. Maverick agrees, and heads back to Top Gun, where he trains an elite team of pilots, including the cocky Hangman (Glen Powell) and Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late best friend, Goose.
As Maverick trains Hangman, Rooster, and the rest of these Top Gun graduates, Top Gun: Maverick finds a way to pay homage to the iconic moments of Top Gun, but in a way that doesn’t feel frivolous and serves a purpose in this new, more urgent story. For example, the sun-drenched beachside game this time around is used as a team-building tool, whereas this new gang getting together and singing at a bar leads to one of the film’s surprisingly emotional moments—of which there are several. Maverick finds a way to pay tribute to the past, but in a way that builds upon the film we know and adds weight to these moments.
Similarly, with Cruise returning as Maverick, Top Gun: Maverick feels like a character and an actor reliving their glory days in the most joyous way possible. Through Maverick, Cruise gets to explore one of his most infamous characters, but in a way that now has a significant amount of emotional heft. As Maverick, we get a reminder of just how many things Cruise does extremely well as an actor, and in some of these aspects, we’re seeing parts of Cruise in this role that we haven’t seen in years. Of course, Top Gun: Maverick allows Cruise to show that he remains one of the greatest living action stars, who—like Maverick—is willing to push his limitations to their breaking point. But Maverick also shows Cruise’s gifts at playing a compelling leading man, an effective romantic lead—alongside an equally wonderful Jennifer Connelly—a comedian with excellent timing, and an actor who can really make a film’s emotional moments sing.
Maverick, with its screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, knows how to tap into that nostalgia for the original and find the emotional moments that would hit Maverick’s character hard, and Cruise plays these scenes with grace and power. There’s a clear love that Cruise, Kosinski, and this team of writers have for these characters and this story, and thanks in large part to Cruise’s performance, this love really shines through, especially in scenes where Maverick has to explore his past and the decisions that led him to where he is today.
The growth that this film shows over the original is arguably at its clearest with the new squad of pilots. Of course, there’s still the arrogant pilot who thinks he’s the best in Powell’s Hangman, but especially with Teller’s Rooster, we’re seeing a character like Maverick, who is haunted by the legacy of this father and with something to prove, but without the smugness and pride. Through Teller’s performance, we can see the weight of Maverick’s past in human form, the pain he’s caused, and the wrongs he wishes he could right, and some of Maverick‘s best scenes involve Rooster and Maverick having to reckon with this difficult past. It’s also exciting to see a new crew with more diversity and more character than we’re genuinely excited to spend time with.
Kosinski does all this in what also is likely to be the best action film of 2022, a tense and continuously exciting epic that knows exactly how to escalate the tension of every impressive action sequence. Top Gun: Maverick might contain some of the best plane scenes in the history of film, and soars over the stunts of the original. This is the type of white-knuckle, awe-inducing action film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with an audience stuck at the edge of their seats. Yet again, Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t include action for action’s sake, each remarkable action sequence serves a narrative purpose, and expands what we know about these characters when they are in their element in the skies.
When talking about Top Gun: Maverick, it’s hard not to sound hyperbolic, but this is the rare case where it absolutely deserves all the massive praise. Top Gun: Maverick improves upon the original in every conceivable way (well, the soundtrack doesn’t have Berlin, so that’s one strike against it), and does so in a way that might make this one of the greatest sequels ever made. It’s also hard not to say this might have some of the most exciting action scenes to ever hit the skies, and gives Cruise one of his best performances by returning to the role that made him a star. Top Gun: Maverick is a marvel of a film, one that will truly take your breath away.
Top Gun: Maverick opens in theaters on May 27.