PLOT An aging Navy fighter pilot must train a batch of new recruits for a dangerous mission.
CAST Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly
RATED PG-13 (action, language, mild sexuality)
WHERE Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE A triumphant follow-up to one of the 1980s’ flashiest blockbusters.
Silhouettes of fighter planes shimmer in the desert during the opening credits of “Top Gun: Maverick,” a movie that knows what you came for and isn’t about to disappoint. It takes only a few minutes for Tom Cruise, returning to screens as Navy pilot Pete Mitchell — call sign Maverick — to ride a Kawasaki with the wind in his hair, infuriate his commanding officers, prove he’s the best damn pilot alive and end the workday flirting with a gorgeous woman in a bar.
When a colleague notes that Maverick is wearing his old troublemaking look, Maverick replies: “It’s the only one I got.”
That look hasn’t faded even more than three decades after 1986’s “Top Gun.” This sequel marks not only the return of Cruise’s iconic character but the return of the gloriously superficial ‘80s, complete with Kenny Loggins’ opening theme song, “Danger Zone,” and a retro-rock score from Harold Faltermeyer, Lady Gaga and others. More importantly, “Top Gun: Maverick” feels like the return of the movies themselves. After two years of isolating with an endless stream of small-screen content, this shock-and-awe blockbuster will push you all the way up to Mach 11.
The movie finds Maverick facing obsolescence as the military pours its money into pilotless planes. “The future is coming,” growls Rear Admiral Chester Cain (Ed Harris), “and you’re not in it!” Nevertheless, when the Navy needs real pilots to fly a dangerous mission into “enemy territory” — that’s all the detail we get, or need — Maverick is named as instructor. One of the young recruits just happens to be Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s buddy Goose, who died in the first film.
This is “Top Gun” redux, in the most satisfying way. Val Kilmer is back as Maverick’s rival Iceman (a surprisingly moving performance), but Rooster gets a rival of his own in the young daredevil Hangman (Glen Powell). Kelly McGillis, who played Maverick’s workplace crush, Charlie, is unfortunately out, but replaced by a very good Jennifer Connelly as bar owner Penny Benjamin (a name we only heard in the first film). Jon Hamm plays Admiral Beau Simpson, who exists mostly to bust Maverick’s chops.
The material seems to write itself — a testament to the actual writers (one is Christopher McQuarrie, of “The Usual Suspects"). Cruise and Teller work well together as father-son figures carrying some macho baggage, and the film’s climactic sequence is a white-knuckle thrill, even if it owes a great deal to George Lucas’ Death Star. Director Joseph Kosinski (“Only the Brave”) lovingly channels the late Tony Scott, who made the original “Top Gun” such a glossy, glitzy treasure.
If nothing else, “Top Gun: Maverick” proves once again that Cruise, at 59, is an absolute movie star. For the moment, at least, it’s hard to imagine him squeezed into a Netflix Original or a bite-size streaming series. With Cruise back in the cockpit, the movies seem once again alive.