The original “Top Gun” didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Directed by Tony Scott (Ridley’s brother), I remember it as a solid, if shallow, action flick about naval air jocks at work and play – a combination recruitment ad and beer commercial.
The thing I remember most: Tom Cruise’s teeth.
Throughout the movie, as I recall, Cruise, playing hotshot pilot Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, would flash his bright white choppers with a cocky smile that said, “Yeah, I’m quite a guy. Women want me. Men want to be me.”
Yeah, and I wanted to vomit.
(Let me just say here, at the risk of further delaying where I’m going, that Cruise has often been great, holding his own with the likes of Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” and Paul Newman, in “The Color of Money,” and in many other films, including “Magnolia,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Risky Business.” But, sometimes, such as in “Cocktail” and the original “Top Gun,” the self-love gets to be a bit much.)
Ahem. To continue …
So 36 years have passed, and a sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick” (PG-13, 131 minutes, in theaters), has arrived. I can’t say I was hyperventilating in eager anticipation. But what a pleasant surprise.
Pete, now a captain, still lives up to his “Maverick” moniker, and has a habit of going against orders. But in many ways he’s a much more subdued dude. Considerably older and considerably wiser, he’s weathered well.
Not in his superiors’ opinion, however. He exasperates them with his insubordination, and, what’s worse, he tends to prove them wrong in their decisions. If he weren’t such an extraordinary fighter pilot, they would have gotten rid of him years ago.
As it is, he’s near the end of the road. He’s transferred to his old stomping grounds, the Navy Fighter Weapons School, in preparation for a dangerous, nearly impossible bombing mission. Maverick isn’t assigned as the operation’s team leader, as he’d prefer, but the instructor who will train the young hotshots (“the best of the best”) vying for a spot on the team. Among his trainees: Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best pal, who died in the first “Top Gun.”
Rooster blames Maverick for Goose’s death (now there’s a line I never thought I’d write), and is angry with him for other reasons, too.
Will they resolve their issues?
The rest of Maverick’s students are the usual cross-section of personalities, including Rooster’s rival, the obnoxiously cocky Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell).
Jennifer Connelly appears as Maverick’s love interest, Penny Benjamin, an old flame who tends bar at the local watering hole, and Jon Hamm plays Adm. Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, Maverick’s immediate superior at the school, a stuffed shirt who can’t wait to get rid of Maverick at the earliest opportunity. Both do nothing to enhance the film. Cruise and Connelly have zero romantic chemistry, and even the usually compelling Hamm can’t do much with his stock character.
But those are minor flaws when you consider the highlights of this “Top Gun.”
The aerial sequences, whether depicting training exercises or the real mission, are truly gripping, even for someone who feels he’s seen his fill of action scenes (that would be me). Just strap yourself in and get ready for a breathtaking ride.
Best of all, though, is a heartfelt scene between Cruise and Val Kilmer, who played Maverick adversary Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original film. Kazansky, now an admiral who oversees the school, is struggling with throat cancer – as has Kilmer in recent years (which was detailed in last year’s phenomenal documentary “Val”). Maverick, choked up to see his old friend in failing health, and Iceman, “speaking” with words appearing on a computer screen, express so much here about camaraderie, the passage of time and the bittersweet nature of life. At the same time, it’s hard not to consider what’s going through the minds of the two actors, and how much art is reflecting life.
Wait, “art” and “Top Gun” mentioned in the same review?
Yep. Go figure. ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.