Top Gun: Maverick – a spoiler-free review

Top Gun: Maverick was not on my list of most anticipated movies for 2022. Until recently, I wasn’t even sure if I’d see it in theaters (I hadn’t yet seen the original movie, either).

However, I was intrigued by the aerial cinematography in the IMAX trailers I saw, and when this movie started getting some really good buzz (like 97% on Rotten Tomatoes good), I decided I didn’t want to miss out. I reserved my ticket, and then hopped on to Netflix to watch the original 1986 film.

And you know what? Despite my initial skepticism and reluctance to watch Top Gun: Maverick, I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. It’s a great film, one that I don’t really have any complaints about. It works even for someone like me who doesn’t have any particular nostalgia for the original. It ties together spectacular visuals with a heartfelt story that reflects on legacy and loss with genuine emotion. I didn’t really expect to, but yes, I loved this movie. 

A quick confession: I did not actually love the original Top Gun film. It was very 1980s (which is not my favorite pop culture decade), and often that film feels more like a Navy recruiting video than its own story. Also, the songs “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” are played a LOT. I heard them so much that both these songs have been stuck in my head all week, even though I don’t care for either of them. 

This is not meant to shame anyone who loves Top Gun. There were quite a few people in my showing of the sequel who were obviously big fans of the original, and it was fun to watch them get excited about all the callbacks. Some people like to poke fun at the movie Armageddon and say it’s cheesy, but I absolutely adore that film (if Ben Affleck announces he’s returning for Armageddon 2: A Even Bigger Asteroid, you know I’m there). I just wasn’t feeling that Top Gun magic. 

Which is why the fact I ended up loving Top Gun: Maverick caught me so off guard. It’s one of those rare sequels that manages to appeal to fans of the original while also catching the interest of newer viewers, like myself, without alienating either group.

I don’t particularly love ’80s music (I know, I know, I have terrible taste), so I was glad that the sequel was given a more orchestral score. They did play “Danger Zone” once, but I was willing to concede that, since it wouldn’t really be a Top Gun movie without that song. 

I saw Top Gun: Maverick in IMAX, and all the scenes with the fighter planes in the air were breathtaking. I felt like I was actually in the cockpit with the pilots, and it was so realistic that I couldn’t tell what was real and what was a special effect. The close-up shots of the pilots’ faces – their excitement, fear, and sometimes a mix of both – really pulled me into the story. 

I love films that deal with legacy (that’s why the sequel trilogy is my favorite thing about Star Wars), and this film does a great job grappling with the legacy of its main character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise. By this point, Cruise is almost 60 but is in far better shape than 34-year-old me ever has been (or, let’s be honest, ever will be). He doesn’t have the biggest range as an actor, but he’s always entertaining to watch.

Years later, Maverick is still struggling with the loss of his best friend, Goose, who died in a flying accident. He wants to be a father figure to Goose’s son Bradley a.k.a. “Rooster,” who is himself a Navy pilot now. 

The complicated relationship between Maverick and Rooster is the heart of this film, and I enjoyed their Obi-Wan Kenobi/Anakin Skywalker master and apprentice vibe. 

Top Gun: Maverick really does deserve the positive buzz it’s getting, and it’s a great summer blockbuster. I actually can’t wait to see it again. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the original, it’s still worth a trip to the theaters. 

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