I believe in Tom Cruise and I believe in cinema.
I could end this review with that above statement because it really is the perfect distillation of what makes this film so incredible. Tom Cruise loves movies. He loves movies more than I have ever loved anything and maybe ever will. Tom Cruise loves movies so much that he puts his everything into making them and ensuring that they’re as good as they can possible be. Tom Cruise loves movies so much that he is willing to hang off the side of an airplane as it takes off, scale the world’s tallest building and HALO jump all because he knows that the movie will look better if it’s him actually doing it. For Top Gun Maverick that means Tom and all the actors are legitimately in the cockpit of these military planes with cameras hooked up to film their faces. Why? Because according to Tom Cruise, you can’t accurately act having 8 Gs of force on your face. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not, but movies are better for Tom Cruise believing it.
Top Gun Maverick sees Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell 36 years after the original Top Gun. He’s refused every promotion possible in order to continue flying and is serving as a test pilot. He’s a man holding on to a past that everyone else realizes has come and gone. When an admiral comes to shut down the test program to use the funds for drones, Maverick refuses to just sit and let it happen. He tries to prove that pilots are still the way. That he is still the way. A recurring phrase throughout the film is that it’s not about the plane, it’s about the pilot. It’s easy to see how this isn’t just about Maverick but Cruise himself holding on to the ideal that movies are still about putting your all into something meant to be seen in a theater and not the streaming future that everyone else already seems to have accepted. Over the next 2 hours, Maverick shows everyone that it is indeed about the pilot and Tom Cruise shows us that this is indeed how movies should continue to exist.
Maverick gets pulled back to Top Gun to train a new batch of pilots for a seemingly impossible mission under the request of his old rival/friend Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (once again played by Val Kilmer who appears in a wonderful cameo that beautifully handles Val’s real life problems with throat cancer). Among this batch of pilots is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, son of Maverick’s old wingman Goose, whose death in the first film still haunts him. Not only is Miles Teller the spitting image of Anthony Edwards, but his performance is the most tolerable Teller has been since Whiplash. It’s this relationship that anchors the movie. After Goose, Maverick refuses to let anyone else die and his desire to protect Rooster at all costs is the emotional center that makes all the action that much more thrilling.
Speaking of the action, it’s glorious. The first film featured a song written specifically for it titled Take My Breath Away and with Top Gun Maverick that promise has finally been fulfilled. The cockpit cameras are magnificent, shooting close ups of Cruise and company as they are in the air, their facial expressions the clearest picture possible of the stress and exhilaration that comes with flying these planes. Director Joseph Kosinski breathlessly captures exterior shots as the planes move through the air like supersonic ballerinas. The addition of shots from cameras place on the sides of the planes puts you as close to the ariel action as the cockpit cameras put you to each actors face. All of this is of course heighten by the fact that everything you’re seeing was done for real because that’s how much Tom Cruise loves movies.
Simply put, every aerial sequence in Top Gun Maverick is the definition of movie magic. It’s equal parts gripping and adrenaline fueled. Each one is crafted with it’s own three act structure that dares you not to cheer at the climax and it doesn’t need 20 movies of build up to achieve that reaction. But it accomplishes that because all the action is built upon character. Even if you’ve never seen the first one, the film does a great job of succinctly portraying how those events have impacted the Maverick we see in this movie. Cruise delivers one of his most human and vulnerable performances in at least a decade as he portrays a man who is at once still living in anti-authority glory days while simultaneously refusing to let what happened to Goose happen to any other pilot under his watch.
Every flight sequence is built up to with moments of character. Moments of Maverick being forced to acknowledge his own age and mortality, moments of him forcing these pilots to reckon with the fact that any mistake they make could get their peers killed, moments where he teaches them to bond. All of that heightens the drama of the action. For every bit of resolve that Maverick has to ensure everybody makes it home from this mission, the stakes of each aerial is increased. All that character work, and all the relationship development between Maverick and Rooster create one of the most intense, nail biting and downright thrilling third acts of any blockbuster since Mad Max Fury Road. It will leave you on the edge of your seat, it will leave you breathless and it will make you understand why Tom Cruise loves movies so much.
The story beats might be predictable but that doesn’t matter when it’s this well done. You will get emotional because that’s what great movies do. They make you care so much that even when you can guess what will happen, you cheer or tear up anyway. Tom Cruise knows this and just like Maverick knows it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot, Tom knows the same holds true of film. Movies cannot manufacture audience reaction just because, they’re movies. The people making them must put their all into them and nobody puts more into them than Tom Cruise.
For every bit that Maverick refuses to kneel to the belief that the plane is more important than the pilot and that people like him can be phased out, the more you cheer when he proves himself correct. And for each of those sequences, Tom Cruise is also proving himself correct that movies are still special, movies are still made to be watched in a theater as a labor of love to everyone who pout their all into it and not as content to watched on the whims of an algorithm. There’s a point in the film, where all of Maverick’s and by proxy, all of Tom Cruise’s values are on the line. By the end of it, he person I with turned to me and just said “That’s Tom Cruise” and he’s right. That’s Tom Cruise. Like Maverick, he is a man that puts his all into proving that what everyone else has accepted is the future is worse than the past he’ll risk it all to keep alive.
Top Gun Maverick is in essence, a film about doing everything you can to keep what you love alive. It’s about a character who is watching life phase him out but doing all he can to prove that things will be worse off when that happens. And, whether it was intentional or not, this is a film about movies. About the sanctity of cinema. This film is about Tom Cruise as much as it is about Maverick. Through Maverick, Tom Cruise is not just telling you but proving to you that the future of movies we all might think is inevitable, will never be able to top what Tom Cruise is delivering only in theaters.
Rating: Genuinely Considering Replacing the Paddington Scale with a Tom Cruise Scale
This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post