Review: Tom Cruise deals an Ace in Top Gun: Maverick 

Review: Tom Cruise deals an Ace in Top Gun: Maverick 

Words by Anthony Morris

This is the rare recent blockbuster that needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

It’s been a long time since Tom Cruise had a hit that didn’t have Mission: Impossible in the title. The less said about 2017’s The Mummy the better: the follow-up to his 2012 hit Jack Reacher was average at best. Add in that his last film was 2018’s Mission: Impossible: Fallout, and you suspect Hollywood is hoping there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there for Cruise – one of the last remaining old-fashioned movie stars – to do something different that’s also decent.

Does a sequel to a 35-year-old film fit the bill? Somewhat surprisingly, it does.

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Usually this kind of film would be about handing the torch over to a new generation, and for a while that seems the case. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) has spent the last few decades stubbornly refusing promotion – his one-time rival Iceman (Val Kilmer) is now the Admiral in charge of the Pacific Fleet – so he can keep flying. Turns out that’s not a career path with much of a future in an age of drones, so when he’s ordered back to the Navy’s top flight school (that’s “Top Gun” to you and me), it’s made very clear to him that this is his final stop.

There he’s given details of a top-secret, highly dangerous mission to take out a secret nuclear enriching plant that “the enemy” (never named) is using to make weapons-grade plutonium. The deadline to destroy it is only weeks away; fortunately Maverick has decades of experience… that he now has to teach to a bunch of young guns. They’re the ones who’ll be flying it, not him.

Yeah, right: one of the more entertaining aspects of this very entertaining film is the way the usual Hollywood conventions around this kind of story (remember, old guy passing on the torch) are gleefully ignored. This is a Tom Cruise movie: the man might be pushing 60, but he doesn’t make movies where anything slows him down. 

So while he trains the kids – including the perpetually smirking Hangman (Glen Powell) and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller, in a rare likable role), son of Goose from the first film – it’s clear to everyone but commanding officer Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Jon Hamm, in a rare serious role) that there’s only one man for a mission this impossible.

Hang on, where’s the drama if Maverick’s the most brilliant pilot alive? Turns out that Maverick is a bit of a failure as a human being outside a cockpit. His relationship with bar owner Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) is more about her deciding to give him one more try, as a parental figure to Rooster he’s a dud, and it’s not like he’d even have a career if not for Iceman covering his back.

Meanwhile up in the sky, there’s a lot of crazy flying going on. Cruise is notorious for pushing himself to the limit – yes, that’s him in the cockpit – and director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) takes full advantage to go for broke in the extremely impressive aerial combat scenes. Seeing actual planes flinging themselves around the sky remains a very different experience from watching CGI action. This is the rare recent blockbuster that needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

Honestly, none of this is even remotely realistic. Well, maybe the late appearance of an F-14 (the now obsolete plane that was the centrepiece of the first film) is; turns out Iran is still flying them. But as a glossy, fast-moving fantasy this hits all the right notes, serving up cliches with a smile and fan service with a wink while still delivering plenty of thrills. It’s a story where good looking people who are great at their job do impossibly exciting things and save the day. What more do you want from Hollywood?

Top Gun: Maverick is showing in cinemas, including Village Cinemas Geelong and Waurn Ponds Readings Cinema from tonight, Wednesday May 25.