It was a long time coming.
After roughly three years of promotional clips, delays due to COVID precautionary measures, postponements and endless edits, “Top Gun: Maverick” finally landed in movie theaters. It clocks in at a reasonable 137 minutes but doesn’t feel so lengthy.
As referenced in the overpraised 1986 original – yes, we’re approaching four decades since that blockbuster emerged — Top Gun is the moniker of our Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School for the best aviators.
Returning for aerial combat is Tom Cruise (the actor’s age: 59) as the eponymous fighter pilot, a speed demon who returns to teach the younger generation of hotshots: Rooster (Miles Teller), Phoenix (Monica Barbaro), narcissistic Hangman (Glen Powell, who played astronaut John Glenn in “Hidden Figures”) and Payback (Jay Ellis) foremost.
Their all-but-impossible mission? Targeting an enemy’s uranium-enrichment facility that’s nestled in snowy, mountainous terrain.
The spotlight eventually shines on Rooster, troubled spawn of “Goose” Bradshaw, a wingman who perished in the first “Top Gun.” Right on cue, tensions rise between Maverick and Rooster.
Our hero’s pair of no-nonsense superiors are Jon Hamm, whose character’s nickname “Cyclone” belies his demeanor, and Charles Parnell. An early appearance by Ed Harris comes across as so contrived, the fed-up leader barely makes a dent.
Where’s the love interest? She materializes as Penny (Jennifer Connelly) – the daughter of an admiral – now a single mom and San Diego bartender.
Last but most poignant is the revival of Iceman (Val Kilmer) for a key cameo, in spite of the actor’s throat cancer. His tete-a-tete with Maverick provides a welcome and delicate diversion from the movie’s airborne antics.
Levity isn’t only among the clouds; quips and diversions prove to be as prevalent as the military uniforms and testosterone: We witness bonding on a sailboat, football on the beach and, when anybody says they dislike Maverick’s look, his standard reply is “It’s the only one I got.”
In the director’s chair sits Joseph Kosinski, gradually making a name for himself in the action-thriller world. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda proves he is up to the sky-high task of capturing jets’ maneuvers, while the story’s half-dozen screenwriters toe the line of coherency and credibility.
Although he won’t be confused with legendary director Howard Hawks – best-known for “Only Angels Have Wings” — Kosinski keeps the flying sequences lucid and honors the timeless tradition of male camaraderie.
Long-awaited “Top Gun: Maverick” didn’t crash or burn, and it soars past the 1986 relic in the bargain.